…one who walks alongside in faith to provide spiritual perspective
When I started the conversation with the team helping me establish and articulate my personal brand, they asked me to describe myself. I instinctively said, “Well, I am a pastor…” As soon as those words left my lips, I knew I had a communication challenge because there are so many preconceptions about what that role entails, and the kind of person that role attracts, AND in our modern culture, it is not necessarily a positive image.
As we continued the conversation, they suggested various other ways to categorize what I do. “So, you’re kinda like a spiritual life coach?” Well… I have high regard for coaches and have benefitted from their investment, but that really isn’t what I imagine myself doing. “Oh, so you’re an inspirational speaker.” Sorta… I do hope to do some speaking, and I hope it’s inspirational, but again that is not exactly it. Finally, we talked about my writing and poetry, and it was suggested I consider the Christian author/blogger space. Again, close, but not totally there yet.
After a long pause, I felt compelled to share a story.
A little over 10 years ago, our whole family was together for my father’s funeral. It was a very sad occasion because he had passed suddenly in a boating accident. We did our best to be there for each other and console my grieving mother. It was both a cathartic and heart-wrenching affair. On the day we were all headed back to our respective homes, we got a call that my brother’s son died tragically in car accident (falling asleep at the wheel on the way home from a church event). We made a quick change in plans and headed to Austin for another funeral. It was harder still. My brother is a pastor of a larger church, and so many Christian leaders came from around the country to be at the service. On the night before the funeral we were gathered at my brother’s house, and these highly-regarded leaders collected at the kitchen table. The conversation was stilted and awkward. Finally, one of them said, “It sure would be nice if we could find a pastor right about now…”
That statement sent shivers up my spine, and in that exact moment, I was reminded of my own calling. A pastor is one who walks alongside through the ups and downs of life, providing a helpful spiritual perspective along the way. It’s not just about coaching, it’s not just about inspiring, and its not even about having all the right words at the right time. It’s essentially about sharing the path of life with people; being close enough to know, empathetic enough to care, and mature enough to provide the appropriate encouragement and challenge along the way.
What I am not
One of the reasons that the label ‘pastor’ is a bit off-putting is because pastors are perceived as above and beyond everyone else. They can’t really relate to people who live in the real world, because they work at a church and study their Bibles all the time. When they stand before their congregations on a Sunday morning, they appear to have it all together. They know the answers and can sound so confident. Many pastors have been trained to be that way. There is a school of thought that says, as a pastor you need to be strong for your congregation. The pastor must hold it together so that their people can keep their own shit together. People need to be reassured and uplifted, and if the pastor shows weakness and doubt, what hope is there for the rest of them.
I tried to be that, and it didn’t work out so well – for me or my congregation.
Therefore, over these last number of years, I have tried to live a bit more authentically. It is always risky because it feels uncomfortably vulnerable. It also means I have had to confess my own sins alongside hearing others. It has meant I have hurt and disappointed people because I wasn’t all they hoped I’d be or felt I should be. I continue to disappoint people, not only because I don’t meet their expectations, but because I am also still a sinner. That only reinforces the stereotype that most Christians are hypocrites and pastors are the worse of them all. The media is replete with stories of fallen heroes of the faith. When you pull back the curtain, we are all painfully human.
What I am
I am a pastor and I am a sinner.
I have been weak, and I have been strong, and I like strong better. By God’s grace, I’d like to hold on to whatever strength I have gained – and build on it. I’d like to help some friends do the same. Staying strong isn’t easy. Ironically, strength is fragile. I’ve often been haunted by the passage out of I Corinthians 10:12, which states, Let those who think they stand, take heed, lest they fall.
As a Christian and a pastor, I have been at this for 40+ years. I have lived enough life and battled enough of my own demons to know that becoming a person who is strong (more often than weak) is a life-long journey. It is about walking in the middle of the already and not yet. It is about having spiritually mature friends and mentors. And mostly it’s about being courageous enough to hold on to what you know and humble enough to keep growing into who you are called to become. This is where I’d like to try and be of help to others. Because of my own failings, I have a genuine appreciation for human frailty. Because of my commitment to not to give up, I have learned about getting back up and failing a bit less often. I’d like to share those lessons with those who are similarly motivated.
In my pastoral tenure, I have led and served in what many would consider “significant” churches – mostly because lots of people attended them. I am grateful that I have had the chance to do that. Not many people have had the opportunity to see/do the things I have seen/done. I consider myself unusually blessed and am exceedingly grateful for the people with whom I have had the chance to do these things. Hopefully, I was somewhat helpful along the way.
The inherent problem with bigger is that there are built-in limitations to one’s potential helpfulness (due to time constraints and span of care capacity). One can only be so helpful to so many. Ministry to a larger group is mostly about disseminating information and contributing to inspirational environments. I’m not being critical, because that has real value. I know I need both information and inspiration. However, it is also unrealistic to think that one can legitimately pastor that many people. I know I can’t. So, in this next season, I want to narrow my focus. I want to be more helpful (hopefully) to fewer people. Therefore, my prayer in this last season has been, “Lord, lead me to those who you would have me serve…” It doesn’t matter where they are, technology allows us to broaden the territory, even though I am transitioning to a smaller group numerically.
We live in a day where there are numerous Christian resources. We are blessed (beyond any other generation) with access to great teaching materials, books, retreats, courses, libraries, videos, and conferences. In that broad cross-section of resources, there are a wide variety of things that God uses to speak to our souls in a way that moves us and transforms us. Alongside that, we also need mature people who can help us process what we are learning. A person who can provide perspective on how these truths apply to our own unique situations. In short, we need a pastor, and surprisingly, those folks don’t seem to be as readily available – at least not ones we can relate to or trust – and this is a gap I’d like to try and fill.
If this is a need you think I might be able to meet, I hope you’ll feel free to send me a note or set up a time to chat, and perhaps by God’s grace, we can walk a bit of the path of life together.