In an era of increasing specialization in virtually every field, pastors are among the few remaining “general practitioners.” Typical job descriptions run a couple of pages and require a fairly extensive skill set. In any given week, a pastor teaches, preaches, counsels, oversees staff, manages finances, provides vision, sorts through conflict, and performs weddings and funerals. There is always a lot of unfinished business, and the “to do” list is never-ending.
Complexity adds to the work load. All pastors have to navigate the maze of spoken and unspoken expectations of their congregations. Every church member has an idea of what the pastor ought to be doing. Every church member has an idea of where the pastor should invest his or her time. Every church member has an agenda item they want the pastor to address to their satisfaction. Pastors who try to fulfill everyone’s expectations will never be able to chart a direction for the congregation and will never be able to help a church take hold of its God-given mission. Pastors who attempt to keep everybody happy eventually lose their souls.
These realities illustrate something the author, minister, and professor Howard Rice articulated years ago:
The practice of the ordained ministry today is in constant turmoil and confusion… There is confusion about what a pastor does; there is confusion about how a pastor is to perform ministry.
In other words, despite the detailed job descriptions and despite congregational expectations, pastors may ask themselves, “What I supposed to be doing here?” What is my first priority? In that light, I wish to call attention to an insight Barbara Brown Taylor offered in her compelling memoir, Leaving Church:
…being ordained is not about serving God perfectly but serving God visibly, allowing other people to learn whatever they can from watching you rise and fall.
Making the call visible is “job one.” Whatever else the job description says, our first priority as ministers of the gospel is to show our congregation and others what it looks like to follow Jesus. Our most critical task is to put ourselves forward, not as the best preacher in the world or as the most compelling visionary leader, but as a person who seeks every day simply to follow Jesus and be obedient to him. We won’t get it right all the time. There will be moments when we rise and moments when we fall. But unless we show our people what a Christ-follower looks like, all the other stuff won’t amount to much.