Knee deep in paperwork for ordination, I find it is time to remind myself that becoming an ordained pastor is not supposed to be as easy as printing a certificate from a website. I am grateful for this opportunity to dig deeply into my faith journey and reflect on my calling to ministry. It's just that doing so in the middle of pastoring full time, chairing the board for Missouri Ministers' School, serving as secretary of the District Board of Church Extension and Mission, ... and oh, yeah ... being a husband and a father, too, is a pretty stressful experience.
Anyway, here's another of my answers. Let me know what you think!
9. Describe your style of ministerial leadership in relationship to your congregation/setting.
No higher compliment is paid me than by the one who says with disbelief in their voice, “You mean YOU are the pastor?!” Last winter, a church member called me to say he had tickets to the Missouri Tigers basketball game, and to ask if I would like to go along. Two other guys from church were going, and I would be the fourth. The trip was great fun, and on the way home, I thanked the three men for helping me to feel “like one of the guys.” In response, one said, “But you ARE one of the guys.” I suppose I carry that “one-of-the-guys” style of ministerial leadership with me wherever I am, which makes it easy for me to relate to many different people, be they preschool kids or retirees, upper/middle class suburbanites or homeless sojourners stopping by for a cup of coffee, the longest of long-time church members or the newest of recent converts, and so on. I find that what happens when I relate well with others is that mutual trust is built within the relationships, and there is no more precious aspect of a pastor’s relationship with the congregation than trust. And there is no aspect more fragile.
The danger of a style of ministerial leadership like this is the potential deterioration of healthy boundaries. Although I may act like “one of the guys,” really I am not. I am the pastor, set apart for a lifetime commitment to ministry of service, word, sacrament, and order. I am the one people will look to for theological guidance, spiritual nurture, pastoral care in painful moments, and so forth. And this kind of role cannot be played by just any friend among many. Yet if lived out with integrity and sensitivity, an informal, familiar leadership style with the congregants may in fact enhance our relationship, thanks in large part to the trust that is established. It means that, as I engage and equip others for ministry, as I speak prophetic truth shaped by the ongoing mission of God, as I provide comfort and care for the afflicted (and occasionally provide affliction for the comfortable!), I do so upon the foundation of strong trust. They know me and I know them;we trust each other. It is a trust I am careful never to abuse, and never to take for granted. There may be some who do not take me as seriously as they would if my style was more authoritarian or managerial, but there are many, many more who respond affirmatively. (Plus it is just a whole lot more fun!)