I’ve made it through two Easters now, and have had a little time to reflect on my calling as a pastor. Specifically, I’ve taken some time to look at my call papers, my ordination vows, and St. Stephen’s “Mission Plan.”
One of the things I’ve learned is that there is always more to do, and if I’m not careful I’ll try to do all of it. And that would be great, if my time was infinite and my skills and strengths perfect, but they are not.
So, below are the bare bones of what a pastor needs to do, the essentials of our task in ministry, as I understand them at this time.
I’m writing this thinking for folk embarking on first call, but also as a reminder for myself, because recognizing these bullet points and doing them are two different things.
Preach Well—You have to churn out 1,000 words that will come out well orally, are faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, considers the world as it is, and is contextually relevant, each week. To do this well you need to get started early each week—preferably starting the process of reading and contemplating and questioning the text as early as the Saturday night the week before (as in 8 days before you preach the actual sermon). I know, it might seem excessive, but it can shape your week and ensures the sermon—which must be done—will get done, even if multiple emergencies occur throughout the week.
Be awake on Sunday—This means going to bed at a decent time on Saturday night. This means having everything prepared ahead of time. This might sound obvious, but again, if you try to do everything, and your time isn’t infinite, you end up doing really important stuff even at the last minute… then you preach and preside poorly on Sunday. For that matter, Sunday is Game Day; the majority of the issues that will arise in your upcoming week will show themselves on Sunday. If you’re not entirely clearheaded when you initially engage with these issues they will be harder to resolve later in the week, which means you’ll be resolving them late in the week… which means you won’t sleep Sunday… which means you’ll not engage well with the new challenges which arise on Sunday which means… well you get the idea. Also, your church might start to think of you as the-jittery-coffee-pastor.
Teach the faith in multiple venues and ways—Teach the young, teach the old, teach at bars, teach in your office. We are to equip the saints to act faithfully as the body of Christ in the world; there are many different types of people with different needs needing to be equipped. So we teach in a multitude of ways and places for the sake of the multitudes.
Don’t be afraid to widen your flock’s perspective—It is a great temptation to be parochial, after all it makes you more relatable, and that’s necessary in this job too. But part of being faithful Christians is interacting with the whole world.
Be kind to your flock, forgive much—In a wide variety of ways you’ll be hurt by your folk. Modeling graciousness in the face of such hurts, pointing out bad behavior, but also forgiving much, is part of your calling as a leader in the church. This may be the hardest part of being a pastor.
Be genuinely interested in them—Especially as an introvert it is easy to keep things professional and surface level—in fact Seminary boundaries workshops, while very valuable and necessary, can foster aloofness. But knowing and caring for your people makes you relatable in a way becoming parochial does not.
Even be interested in the absent ones—Again, home visits, especially to people you know only because you pray their names when you pray through the church directory (cold calls), can be emotionally taxing for introverts, but it's necessary. It is more personable than a phone call and lets people know the church cares for them more fully than a parishioner visit (though that should be happening as well). I know pastors who, if they don’t make 27 home visits a week, ask God to forgive them for their misanthropy—this seems excessive, but is probably closer to what you should strive for than you’d want to do without such a goal.
Celebrate with them—A fair bit of what you do is jump into people’s lives when an emergency happens, when the worst is upon them. Don’t forget to be with them in the good times too. It might feel like your time could be better spent, but celebration is part of being community together too.
Be interested and involved in the wider church—Again there is a temptation to be parochial, it scores you points at home, but your ordination is to the church at large. There is a whole big world of interesting fellow workers out there who can help you with ministry and who you can partner with. For that matter, the simple fact is the wider church needs us too.
Remember you are a person of faith—You got into this gig because you love God and love your neighbor, or at least yearn to do both. You were whisked away by powerful story, with an order of service, which orders your life. Don’t lose that. Continue to read scripture outside of sermon prep. Attend worship services in which you aren’t presiding. Not only will this feed your soul, but it will also give you insights into the experience parishioners are having in worship. For example, it can be tough to make it to Saturday Night services at the church in Edison… it can be tough for your folk to make it to Sunday Morning too.