I always find it fascinating in my life when two unrelated conversations happen to converge on some of the same subjects and material, especially when I wasn’t the one to have steered them that way.
I think that I can safely say that all of us continue to use words like “interesting” and “challenging” and “unprecedented” to describe the days in which we are living. I’m pretty sure that I would have been feeling that regardless of the situation I’m in, but the situation that I am in, being the pastor of a six month old church start up, has made all of those descriptors seem more apropos.
The other day, I was in desperate need of getting some work done, a need that was being elusively filled at my house. I still share an office with the church who sent us out to plant our new church. I decided to go to my office as I knew no more than one person would be there.
After finding myself more productive than I had been at home, I walked down the hall to poke my head in on one of the other pastors working in his office. As we talked about our own experiences and families from a safe social distance, he made a statement that stuck with me for the rest of the day. He said, “It seems like there are a bunch of pastors who are trying to justify their jobs during this time.”
He went on to say that he wasn’t feeling that at all but instead was feeling like this time, in many ways, was justifying and even demanding more of him. When he said that, it hit me right between the eyes as I realized he had articulated something that I had been feeling over the last few weeks.
I’ve been exhausted on so many levels over these past few weeks. To start, this is one of the worst times of the year for me and my allergies. While I’ve been getting allergy shots over the past few years and I take allergy medication, my allergy doctor has reminded me that there are always reactions and symptoms of those allergies. I’ve been feeling those big time.
I’ve been emotionally exhausted while five of us share the same space. While we all love each other, there is a new normal to acclimate to which is just different. That adjustment has been exhausting.
There’s the unknown which in and of itself is something to adjust to as well. That’s exhausting. My friend and fellow pastor described it best as going on a foreign mission trip and having to learn and adjust. All good things, but very tiring.
But my friend’s statement about pastors feeling the need to justify themselves and their existence, it struck me. I’ve seen it and it reminded me of a line from “Blazing Saddles” where Mel Brooks’ character tells his team of advisors, “We’ve got to protect our phoney baloney jobs.” I wondered to myself, how many pastors are out there right now who are feeling that same sentiment?
Thankfully, I haven’t felt that as much. What I have felt is that the needs of the people have skyrocketed. I’m not talking about people within my congregation, although they can be included, but the needs of people in general. People are scared. People are worried. People are depressed. People are angry. People are grieving. People are really experiencing the stages of grief as we journey through the unknown.
Those are the things that I’ve sensed in my reading, in my conversations, in my journeys through the community. If meeting people who are scared, worried, depressed, angry, and grieving doesn’t cry out for the presence of a pastor who can bring a message of love, hope, and peace, then I don’t know what does.
It was right around the time of this first conversation that another friend sent the lyrics to me from a song from one of my favorite bands, the Avett Brothers. We had a conversation here and there about it before, but she was pressing on me for my thoughts on the words.
The grandfather of the Avett Brothers was a pastor, so there is a deep faith rooted in them that they sing about often. On the song in question called “Me and God” they speak about a pastor who is a good man but express their belief that they don’t need a “middle man.” They can experience God in the various things of life, romance, music, work, and other things. They talk about going to church and even swearing when they pray, and the song concludes with them repeating the refrain, “My God and I don’t need a middle man.”
Why did this song hit me like it did when it did? Well, I agree with them, we don’t need a middle man. It kind of goes back to why the Reformation happened. Among the things that defined the Reformation was the priesthood of all believers, the fact that the only mediator we need is Jesus Christ, so we don’t have to pray or confess through anyone else (although there are commands to confess to one another in the Bible).
You see, I don’t see pastors as middle men, I see them as side men. There may be times when it seems like they’re leading the expedition and no one else can do that, but if that’s the position that they always find themselves in, then they’re doing something wrong. There is education and experience required for being a pastor, but the calling of a pastor is to discipleship, to teaching others how they can look more like Jesus and follow him more closely.
It’s kind of like parenting, when your children are young, there is a need for more guidance and instruction, but at some point, if they grow and mature the way they should, it becomes more of a growing with them, a walking with them, rather than a directing and guiding.
Maybe one of the reasons this whole season is uncomfortable for some pastors is because they’ve forgotten why they’re doing what they’re doing. Maybe they forgot that it wasn’t about always being in front but more being alongside. I don’t feel like I need to justify myself to anyone, instead, I feel like I need to lead in such a way that others will follow. And once they’re following, the positions and postures change and we find ourselves walking alongside each other on this journey called life, helping each other to become more like Jesus.