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The title of “Pastor”

Technically I can put the letters “Rev.” in front of my name.  That is because the United Methodist Church recognizes me as a pastor.  Although I am not employed by a church, I am appointed as a local pastor to a church.  Practically this means I can marry and bury, consecrate communion and baptize.  Sometimes it also means people look at (to) me differently.  I am not sure how I feel about that.


Today I was in a meeting at church when one of the people there received the awful news that her mother had passed away.  She took a phone call in the hallway and instantly began sobbing.  Someone commented that it was unfortunate that all the other pastors were away meeting with the Bishop.

That bothered me.  Not because they were gone, or because I was viewed differently than the “employed” pastors.  It bothered me because I realize there is nothing special a pastor could do in that situation.  What this person needed was a shoulder to cry on, and someone to pray with her, and people to support her.  It doesn’t take someone with a fancy white collar or special letters in front of their name to do that.

A friend of mine passed on a thought to me the other day.  He was talking about the formation of the Quaker church and the way it was received.  At one point the Quakers, who function largely under the guidance of the congregation members, are asked why they are trying to get rid of the clergy.  Their response was this: “We are not trying to get rid of the clergy, we are trying to get rid of the laity.”

Wow… that is big stuff.  It is not that pastors are unimportant, it is that everyone is important… and called… and empowered.

I left the full-time ministry nearly 2 years ago.  One of the main reasons I left was because I was not comfortable with being paid to “pastor.”  I felt weird taking people’s tithe money in exchange for services that all Christians were called to do (i.e. visit the sick, help the poor, study and proclaim the word, etc.)  It wasn’t just that I felt I should be doing these things without pay, it was that I realized I was in a very real way preventing others from doing what they needed to be doing.  It is easy to pass things off to a pastor when you don’t feel comfortable with doing them (after all, it can be awkward to talk about Jesus, or counsel a person who is dying, or pray with a grieving spouse).  Plus… isn’t that what we pay pastors to do… might as well get your money’s worth.

Now I realize that some pastors have extensive training that the average parishioner does not have.  I think we need people who are well trained to teach the scriptures, and I think we need people with special talents and skills to provide loving counseling.  But at the same time, when people look to pastors instead of to themselves to be the hands and feet of God then we are in trouble.  Anytime a person pulls back from ministry because they feel they can’t do it because they are not a pastor, we are all the lesser.

Pastors have no special line to God, their prayers are no more effective and their crap still stinks.  You should avoid at all costs a pastor who tells you otherwise.  If you knew the problems I deal with and the doubts I still have, you would not look up to me with special eyes just because of a title (and I would guess this is true of most pastors).

What was great to see today was that in the end, no one disqualified themselves from ministering to this woman because they lacked the title.  No one called for a pastor in the same way you call for a doctor when someone is having a seizure.  No one hesitated in offering their care because there was not a staff pastor on site.

That my friends is how the Body of Christ is supposed to work.  That is what things look like when we all realized we are called to be a redemptive force in the world.   And that is what happens when people realize that just because pastors can sign a wedding certificate and bless the bread, we are all called and empowered to be agents of restoration and redemption.

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