I'm a pastor. I am not exactly sure what that means but I'm learning a bit more about it every day.
As many of you may know, becoming a pastor was a career change, something that happened just seven months ago. I serve a small congregation on a Native American reservation in New Mexico. My family and I felt that this was the place and that these were the people that God was preparing us for. Last summer we pulled up our deep roots in the Midwest and headed for what we, like the people we live among, affectionately call "the rez." Life is markedly different here and we are gradually developing new friendships.
So what does a pastor do? That is a question with a very broad answer. In some large congregations there may be a number of people carrying that label, each with a different area of responsibility. In a church at the other end of the spectrum, such as the one I serve, the answer is more comprehensive. One of the things my predecessor left for me was a long list of tasks that are outside of the traditional role of pastor and which land as my responsibility here. Building maintenance, secretarial work and so forth. That is fine with me. I saw the list before we came here, and knowing it was small congregation it wasn't a big surprise.
When it gets down to the basics I would say that my primary roles as pastor are to be the preacher and teacher of the congregation.
Preparing to preach is the hardest thing I do each week. It is my job to dig into God's word and bring back something of substance to my congregation when we gather for worship on Sunday morning. Parts of sermon preparation I love and parts I struggle with. I struggle in large part because I feel that the sermon must be driven by the text. The ideas I am jotting down on paper and the sentences I subsequently type as I write and edit a draft must be connected to the text.
That makes sermon preparation, for me, much more challenging than other kinds of writing, such as writing for my blog. In my blog I can go here and there. I want to be coherent in what I write but there is the freedom to shape my thoughts in ways that differ from the structure of writing to preach.
The other major portion of my role as pastor is to be the primary teacher for the congregation. Teaching happens in the pulpit. It happens in our Bible study. It happens in my blog. And it happens in conversations I have with members of the congregation and people I meet in the community.
I enjoy teaching that is composed of dialogue. I want to listen to the other person and understand their perspective. I want to be able to share with them things that are grounded in scripture and deepen their faith.
And there is one other thing that is key to being a pastor, at least for me. That is prayer. I lead the congregation in prayer during worship. During the week I pray for the concerns they share with me. Some they share publicly and some privately. I pray for things which I know about but that haven't been shared directly with me. I pray with them at the hospital and in their homes. It is a great privilege to pray for, and with, God's people. And I am grateful that God is guiding them in praying for me, for I couldn't be a pastor on my own strength, nor would I want to.
Earlier today I wrote a note to someone who had some feedback on a recent blog post. Here is my concluding sentence to that person, which is perhaps, in my view, the essence of being a pastor:
"Day-by-day, prayer-by-prayer, I am working by the grace of God to guide God's people the their eternal home, to God's glory."