Sometimes I don't feel like being a pastor.
There are some Sunday mornings at 6:00AM when I don't want to preach.
Sometimes I dread walking into a meeting.
Sometimes I walk into a crisis situation already emotionally exhausted.
Sometimes everyone is looking at me for direction and I don't feel like talking.
Let me be clear: I love being a pastor. There days of absolute abounding joy. There are also days of complete deficiency. I'm left wondering, "Am I making any difference?"
There is a myth that a pastor is somehow above the flock, as if we are suspended above the dust clouds of life's toil and trouble. We are heroes come to the rescue, and we don't need any help to do it. We are not dependent on anyone for anything.
The myth of a lone ranger pastor is a dangerous lie. Pastoral ministry dare not be done solo. Ministry is not one-way work, the pastor to the people. It is mutual, pastor and people.
Paul addressed churches in ways that reflect this relationship. As much as he gave, Paul received. "I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf" (Rom. 15:30). For him, ministry was "with," not "above." Prayers were not only "pastor on behalf of people." There were prayers from people on behalf of pastor.
Furthermore, Romans 16 is an index of relationships. Paul gives personal and detailed greetings to a list of people. We see a ministry that is:
Interdependent: We need one another. We cannot do life and ministry alone. We are necessarily dependent upon one another (I Cor. 12). Isolation is a place for the devil to work.
Mutual: It is not the pastor's church. We first belong to Christ, and then to one another. It is not "mine," but "ours." We share joy and suffering together, bearing with each another. We are intertwined in relationships of giving and receiving.
A Dialogue: Preaching is a particular word from the pulpit to the pews. But the word is not manufactured in an isolated study. The preached word is the outcome of a dialogue Monday through Saturday. My preaching gains depth and credibility because I am in a relationship of speaking and listening throughout the week.
Transparent: St. Paul was appropriately transparent, even sharing thoughts of despair (II Cor. 1:8) and an agonizing "thorn in the flesh" (II Cor. 12:7). We admit, and at times share, our own weaknesses and temptations. The pastor is not immune from that which is common to all.
"With": My congregation has called me, set me aside for a clear and specific role. I bear word and sacraments among them publicly. At the same time, I stand among them as one in need of the same Remedy, Jesus Christ. So I walk, struggle, and share with them - not apart or above.
When I most feel the burden of doing ministry for my people, God sends someone to minister to me. On a recent Sunday, Scott was on duty to be the elder to pray with the pastors before the service. It was a particular Sunday that I felt overwhelmed and under-prepared to stand in front of hundreds of people.
Scott placed a hand on my shoulder and spoke to God with sincerity. He called on God to protect my family, to give me words to speak, to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Without knowing it he prayed for all my weaknesses. God sent him to me in that moment. After the "amen," I was empowered to preach and lead.
The longer I am in one congregation, the more tied I become to my people. There is beauty in relationships matured by a shared life. We have experienced joy and sorrow. We have witnessed the mighty works of God among us. We have received grace when we didn't deserve it.
It is a strangely mysterious thing, this Christian church on earth. By it (messy as it may be), we get a glimpse of heaven.