What do you think is the role of the pastor in a church? Are we prophets? Are we priests? Are we bearers of the light? Do we embody and carry tradition with us? Are we all of these things?
I took a ride after eating lunch today so that I could think about these questions. I preached a particularly somber sermon in church today about the importance of Memorial Day. I remembered the lives of folks who gave their lives for this country and I encouraged people to think about the reason we have this holiday. I encouraged people to seek peace in their lives and to work for a day when we no longer need to add names to the list of loved ones who can no longer come home to their families.
I was immediately questioned about my viewpoint after the service ended. I needed to know more history, I needed to change my point of view, and I needed to change what I believe. To be fair, I had been expecting someone to say these things, so it wasn’t a real shock to me. These kinds of conversations happen pretty often in the life of a pastor.
The conversation did raise questions in my mind though. I don’t require people to agree with me. I do my best to be humble and to consider other points of view, but sometimes I wonder what people actually want out of me as a pastor.
I went to Roberts Wesleyan College and Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. My education at Roberts Wesleyan would come to $151,976 in today’s economy. My seminary education would cost $57,440 plus the cost of books. Effectively, the educational process I have undertaken would cost around $210,000. I underwent this educational program willingly and without regret. I began ministry as a pastor when I was 26, so that effectively means that my education would be about $4,500 dollars for each year I serve (If i make it to mandatory retirement at 72). Effectively that’s a little more than a tithe of my income every year just to pay for my education even without student loan interest.
On top of this educational requirement I am required to undertake ongoing continuing education and development. I take all of this education and I am sent out into a local church where I am expected to help educate my congregation. I am trained to teach orthodox beliefs and to teach practices that line up with the best traditions of orthopraxy.
So, why are people continually surprised when I do my job? I don’t have my master’s degree because I was bored one day. I earned my degree in order to use it and hopefully use it well. I am not studying the spiritual disciplines because it is something to do or because I need to continue to engage in continuing education. I am training so that I can teach the practices as well as put them into practice in my own life.
I am a pastor. I do not get paid a ton of money and a lot of it goes to pay for both my education and my wife’s education. I do not have easy hours or a cushy job. I carry God’s love into the world in courtrooms, coffee houses, and to people’s porches. I sit with the sick and dying. I visit with those who cannot come to church anymore. I grieve with the mourning and I celebrate with those bringing life into the world. I am a pastor because I am called to be a pastor. I am a pastor here and do my job here and now because this is where God has sent me for this season in my life. I am right where I am supposed to be at this point in my life.
So, why are people so surprised when I do my job? I wouldn’t be being faithful if I did not take what I do in my ministry seriously. I would not be being faithful if I didn’t tell the truth even when it doesn’t line up with people’s preconceived notions. I would not be being faithful if I did not occasionally raise the questions that absolutely need to be raised.