Existential crisis is a normal place for a pastor to be most of the time. We’re often stuck in this weird place that we call “under shepherd” that seems to mess with our heads. We’re an insecure bunch, for the most part, because we know the righteousness of Christ very well, and like all sinners, we are not very good at applying His righteousness to ourselves (because it’s something that should come from outside of ourselves). And I am no different - I’m a pastor, and I have my existential crises…often.
The question that usually either triggers the crisis or the first step of the outworking of the crisis (I can rarely tell which it is) is to ask myself the question, “What kind of pastor…..?” This comes in many forms. “What kind of pastor should I be?” “What kind of pastor do I want to be?” “What kind of pastor do *they* expect me to be?” etc etc etc. These are hard questions to answer - partially because they’re not always asking the same persons for their opinions on the questions.
However, in a recent moment of thinking of these questions, I thought to my past. My past includes going to a small Lutheran college where I ostensibly was a “Pre-Seminary” student, which meant taking language courses and some philosophy. It also gained you access to the “Pre-Seminary club”. It was at “Pre-Seminary club” that I began to notice something. I began to notice that there were some people who had much different notions of what it meant to be a pastor than I did. It appeared that this group of people granted access to the “Pre-Seminary club” were like me in some ways, but in other ways, they were very different.
I don’t think that this Pre-Seminary club group was actually representative of most, nor do I entirely trust that my uncomfortable feelings were entirely righteous. What I do know, however, is that I walked away from one meeting saying to myself, “Well, if that’s what a pastor is, then I am not a pastor…”
Obviously, eventually, I got over that feeling some four years later. But as I thought through my current existential crisis, I thought to myself that it might behoove me to actually go back to that rebellious son-of-a-gun spirit and declare to myself once again, not the kind of pastor that I want to be, but rather the kind of pastor I never want to be. What follows are a few of those caricatures in no particular order:
1. The Lazy Pastor - I come from families that were predominantly small business owners and farmers. As a direct result of this, my familial culture has been colored by a manic work ethic. While this at times makes me unhealthy because I’m always searching for achievement, it also confounds me when I find pastors who can’t do simple things like return phone calls. Honestly however, I don’t think that this “pastor I never want to be” is really that common. Most of us work ourselves to the bone for some reason or another - whether it be our own insecurities or our familial cultures.
2. The “I Graduated” Pastor - Early in my pastoral career, I had a conversation with another pastor who confessed to me that he had not read a book on ministry in over 3 years. Now, I’m willing to grant that this guy being older than me and having the years of experience under his belt that he did, probably didn’t need the same kinds of learning that my wet-behind-the-ears seminary graduate did. But I found something disconcerting in the number of pastors who refused any sort of ongoing learning. It baffled me, and still does. I simply do not understand the sort of pastor who stops learning after their graduation date.
3. The Whiner - I once knew a pastor in my childhood who would often be found sipping on the stash of communion wine for the next Sunday. He had a problem and his imbibing soon led to his dimissal. However, I have seen plenty of pastors who imbibe something that is seemingly far more addictive than communion wine - they are addicted to their own whining about how difficult being a pastor is, and how “people expect me to entertain them, not to feed them,” and how all of the forces of the universe are aligned against the poor little pastor. Oh, poor little pastor, you are much more maligned than Luther was and you are certainly in a much more difficult surrounding culture than the Apostles were to bring the Word of God to bear in the lives of people around you. Shut up. As a classmate of mine in the seminary once said, “The LCMS believes that God ordains men in to pastoral ministry, so grow a pair.” (HT: Jeff Hemmer)
4. The Theorist - This is one type of “pastor that I never want to be” that I often get close to becoming. The theorist is the kind of pastor who has developed theories about theology and ministry that sound good to the pastor. They haven’t necessarily been tested, however, and because of that, are often found to be either wrong or lacking.
5. The Know-Nothing Liberal and the Know-Everything Conservative - These twins are often found fighting with one another in the womb like Jacob and Esau. The Know-Nothing Liberal is the kind of guy who has definite opinions on things that liberal folks like to have opinions on - stuff like gender equality and how we treat the environment. Unfortunately, however, rarely are they able to form a reasonable argument for why those things are important that go anywhere beyond the ridiculously underestimated statement “God is love.” He is, but what you’re meaning by that probably is about as vapid it sounds. On the other hand stands the Pharisaical (and lemme tell you, they REALLY hate it when you call them that) “Know-Everything Conservative” whose opinions have been formed and battlehardened by countless arguments on blogs, facebook pages, and any other form of media that does not require this pastor to ever leave his office where things are safe and his books are there.
6. …I’m sure there are a few more, but I should stop here. What’s your “pastor I never want to be” or “pastor I never want to have”? How does knowing what you don’t want frame who you do want to be as a member of the Body of Christ? Looking forward to hearing about it on facebook or in the Disqus comments below.
Posted on Tuesday, May 14th 2013