Embracing the Pastoral Life

The last Sunday in May, I completed another interim pastorate (part time). Now our family is in an “in-between” time, waiting for another call. We can’t go back to the church in our city wherein I was the pastor several years ago. They have a fine pastor now, but I wouldn’t know how to be there and not be a pastor while there. We have not yet received “marching orders” for the next chapter. It could be that I go back to being a regular disciple in a church, yet it’s hard to put this pastor-thing back in the bag once it’s out. So, given we are in-between, we are enjoying the summer, waiting for whatever in God’s providence may come along.

This break between calls is giving me perspective on living the pastoral life. Most of my vocational life involves specialized kinds of ministry (Pinnacle), yet it’s fascinating to move in and out of local church ministry at the same time. This movement sensitizes me to the joys, sorrow, privileges, and challenges of pastoral ministry. Perhaps describing some of the major experiences of living the pastoral life will help you embrace your calling more fully.

Pastors are invited into unique and privileged places in the lives of their people.

Funerals, weddings, births, graduations, surgeries, success celebrations, failure experiences….every individual and family has these major experiences in life. And these are just the most obvious ones. There are many other, closer up kinds of experiences wherein disciples in congregations invite pastors. When I worked as a pastoral counselor and therapist, people regularly shared with me parts of their lives others would never know. At the same time, my interaction with them was limited to a very structured one hour or less per week, followed by fee payment. Pastors are engaged with disciples in multiple ways over the course of any one week. Pastors share the major events of life as pastoral leaders, but also as participants, walking alongside their people. Pastors hear a confession shared only with them and God, followed by playing softball with the same person on Sunday afternoon at the church picnic. Pastors are privileged to occupy unique, sacred, wonderful places in the lives of their people. This is a gift to be cherished and honored.

Pastors have the opportunity to be on a spiritual pilgrimage with a faith community, together working out their salvation in real time.

When I’m not serving in a pastoral role, my Pinnacle work takes me to churches frequently. While there, I’m very aware and clear on my role. My role is to lead a particular event, consult in a particular way, or initiate a movement of sorts. These roles are intense, yet temporary. Pastors are those who walk alongside these faith communities, shepherding them from one spiritual milestone to another. Pastors have the opportunity to introduce an idea, concept, growth opportunity in worship and then nurture it forward over time. Pastors can plant seeds, water them, and then trust God for growth. Pastors are there to see the harvest happen. In the process, pastors themselves receive much from their congregations. Those pastors who stay alert are notice their own Christian formation resulting from their engagement with their people. Working out their salvation, step by step, is a privilege of those who patiently and consistently walk with their faith communities into God’s future.

Pastors constantly carry a leadership and shepherding burden which accompanies their calling.

As I was moving toward the end of my most recent interim, I noticed this reality again. When they called a pastor, even though I would be there another two months, the leadership and shepherding burden immediately lightened. Then, on the last Sunday, I felt extremely light. Yes I would miss these disciples, having grown attached over time. Yet, I was keenly aware that I was no longer responsible for leading or shepherding this faith community forward. In the leadership coaching we do, we hear this all the time. Even when pastors are vacationing, they are aware they carry responsibility with and for their congregations. Whether in town or out of town, on vacation or not, pastors carry the burden of leadership and shepherding as part of their calling.

Pastors need a soft compassionate heart, an anchored strong soul, and a straight strong backbone.

There are such highs and lows involved in the pastoral life. When the fit with a church is good, life can be very good. When the fit is poor to bad, life can be excruciating. When people love and adore you as their pastor, it feels so good. When those same people grow disappointed or disillusioned with you as their pastor; that pain cuts deep. To live a sustained, effective, healthy pastoral life, personal maturity and differentiation are required. Healthy pastors avoid becoming cynical, skeptical, and judgmental; nurturing their compassion and love for their people (compassionate heart). Healthy pastors live through the vicissitudes of successes and failures, while their faith remains fresh and alive (anchored strong soul). Healthy pastors can confront when needed, yet in ways which keep the relationship alive, knowing they will rub shoulders with these people again very soon (compassionate heart plus strong backbone). Healthy pastors can receive criticism, depersonalizing the parts which are projections about the church system, and learning from the rest (strong backbone).

This is not an exhaustive description of the pastoral life. These are simply the aspects of which I’m aware as I move in and out of local church ministry. In describing these aspects, I’m keenly aware of the beauty, wonder, and incredibly satisfying kind of life the pastoral calling can be. I invite you to reflect, recognizing the aspects of the pastoral life which are presenting themselves to you most clearly at this point in your journey. May God find us faithful and invigorated by following our passionate callings.

Mark Tidsworth, President