I am not sure . . . pastoral life is difficult to describe. If congregational life is like a marriage then you might be tempted to think of a pastor as spouse (no!), parent (no!), older sibling (no!). Again, it’s complicated.
Although in United Methodist circles we speak of it often our pastoral calling is truly grounded in our baptism. To me this means that it is rooted in my own encounter with the Risen Lord and my own grafting into the body called the church. So it is rooted in my belonging to this body and my discernment around what role I will play–what part of the body I am–and how is that role beneficial to our call from God.
So pastors are part of the laos (λαός), the people of God. From within that body we are indeed set apart by that body, by God’s people called the church, not to be something other than God’s people, but instead “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”(Ephesians 4:12, NRSV)
Among God’s people some are ordered to the set apart role of leading the Christian community into God’s call for God’s people. The reason for establishing a set apart, ordered, and anointed group of people whose discipleship role in the community of believers is the gathering of the body around the story of faith (worship), nurturing the soul of the body (sacrament & sacramental acts), and making sure that the body is functioning in a healthy and fruitful way (ad-ministration) so that they can be God’s people in the world.
“The focus of pastoral leadership is on the people because all Christians, not church leaders as such, are the primary ministers of the gospel. It is the church as a whole that is God’s “chosen race, royal priesthood, and holy nation” (2 Pet. 2:9). Pastoral leaders serve to build up the body of Christ, so that the entire church can bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to a very broken world.”
Christopher A. Beeley
in Leading God’s People: Wisdom from the Early Church for Today
Just like any leadership role, leading a faith community is messy work. Often pastors find themselves in the midst of the multitude of expectations found in any gathered body. Expectations that at times have little if anything to do with God, God’s kingdom, and our identity as the body of Christ in the world.
These competing expectations give us clues about the need for pastoral leadership. For even when difficult it is our task to gather the community to be reminded of our common story of salvation, to receive the medicine for our continued growth in holiness through sacraments and other means of grace, and to being persistent in ordering the shared life of the body beyond itself into kingdom activity.
In order to remain rooted in the work of equipping the saints, the pastor must be diligent in their own sanctification. We must model the rhythms of life in baptized community, as we live every day renouncing, rejecting, repenting, accepting, resisting, and confessing.*
Rootedness in our equipping work is hard and everyday I am more convinced that this is why the Holy Spirit was called upon us again at our ordination. The Holy Spirit does not just connect us to the community of the ordered, but also provides us with a double portion of the Spirit so that we can indeed guide the body into holiness of heart and life. It is in the difficult moments of pastoral life that I look at the picture of my ordination and I’m thankful for the hands that were placed upon me, for their heaviness, for the yoke placed, for the passing on of the charisms (gifts) needed to live into this role and identity in the community of the baptized, in the body of Christ.
“Listen. Dear pastor, this too is for you. Your baptism has joined you to Christ, gathered your death and your little deaths into his, raised you up with him and surrounded you with the mercy and the presence of this triune God. The Holy Supper feeds you with the bread of life and the cup of salvation. And the words of absolution–the ‘keys’ given to Peter and to all of the Christians as they speak to one another–announce forgiveness to you. Let someone speak them to you.”
in The Pastor: A Spirituality
Pastoral life it’s like nothing else and like everything else. It is deeply communal, yet deeply personal. It is filled with joy and filled with heartbreak. It is simple yet deeply complex. It is a calling from God but the more I live this life the more convinced I am that it better be a calling from the community of the baptized, from the body, that has discerned from God that they need someone(s) in the midst to lead them into their calling as yeast, salt, bread, and light of God’s reconciling, forgiving, and redemptive work for all of creation.
How do I know if I am fruitful in equipping the saints? Well, I ask, are we the body of Christ or is there another?
“Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. And he answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.'”
Luke 7:21-22 (NRSV)
I’m sure there is more to come . . . I’m still thinking, still allowing the Holy Spirit called at my baptism, again at my marriage, then again at my ordination, to help me become that which I am unable to become, to grow deeper in my relationship to Jesus, to live faithfully in my covenant relationships, and to lead God’s people into a deeper life, a communal life, a transformative and transformed life.
* These are the words that root our baptismal vows as found in The United Methodist Hymnal.