I am a pastor. That sentence seems so simple. But it is quite a journey to get to an appreciation of that what statement means. To find my identity as a person and as a professional in that statement is to set out some boundaries. It is to bring focus to what I am and what I am not, to what behaviors ensue and what do not.
There are needs impinging upon the role of pastor that push us into specialization. Are you an evangelist? Are you a church administrator? Are you a church growth specialist? Are you a mission motivator, a teaching pastor, a counselor, a political activist, a Bible scholar, a theologian? These are but a few of the many ways a minister begins to identify herself or himself. And with all these variations, what has become of the identity of pastor?
Is the term just a catch-all, an umbrella title that includes something of all the specialties? Is it a foundation from which one moves on (with experience or additional training) to particularity in ministry? Is it simply an ecclesiastical term for a category of ministry? Looking at a parallel in medicine, is a “pastor” to be equated with generalist, (and thus relagated to a lower professional status, similar to a General Practitioner versus a Specialist)?
Or is the Pastoral role an identity in and of itself? The long journey of identity in ministry brings me to assert that it is indeed a ministerial identity that can be clarified, claimed and lived out. It is highly useful for providing a sense of purpose and fulfillment in living out one’s call.
To be a pastor is to be one whose prime concern is the spiritual care and formation of the people. It is to “tend the sheep.” It focuses on the person and the relationships. To say spiritual care and formation does not mean that the pastor is not concerned with the physical needs or other needs of the person. It is to say instead that all issues and needs find their connection to the spiritual journey of the individual or group. Theology, praxis, visioning, and development all play a subservient role to the spiritual journey of the people.
The image of the shepherd may prove helpful. One who knows the weather, the terrain, the physical attributes of the sheep employs all the variety of knowledge to one end, the tending of the herd.
The pastor dabbles in the specialties, but sublimates them to the pastoral need. What is the point of church growth? Is it to report numbers and receive approval from supervision, local or connectional? Or is it to both lead new persons to an engaged journey of faith, and re-energize the community with the necessary adaptation to new persons? Similarly, the pastor does not establish a counseling practice, but counsels regularly with her people in the midst of their daily lives.
The message of the incarnation, that God has chosen to “pitch God’s tent” in our midst, that is, to dwell with us, is a powerful Biblical revelation. God has chosen to be with us in all circumstances, good or bad. Of all the callings in ministry, is it the pastor’s particular call to make this theological truth tangible in the lives of people among whom he or she serves. It is a calling not to be the way, or even to make a way for others, but to point to The Way.