Christ Between Us by Joseph Seger
“Good morning, pastor.” “I am so glad you are my pastor.” “If only we had a different pastor.” “It must be nice to be a pastor and work only an hour a week.” “Sorry, I shouldn’t say that in front of a pastor.” “You, are a pastor?”
I have been a pastor for more than a decade now. The comments no longer surprise me even if the emotions raised may linger. The blessings of the calling far outweigh the predictable misunderstandings of the many. I get to meet so many gracious people and bear witness to meaningful moments in their lives. Through this, I have learned the intimacy held in sharing the gospel is not so unique. I joke with people that I get to be a ‘professional Christian.’ Laughter often follows, but then a pause, as the thought clicks. There is something about pastoring that all Christians can be about. It can be found by anyone who places Christ before them. And this is good news for all.
As a pastor, I have many stories and received many blessings as I attempt to be faithful to the office. I appreciate Eugene Peterson’s vision of a pastor, “The role of the pastor is to embody the gospel. And of course to get it embodied, which you can only do with individuals, not in the abstract.” Diving into the everydayness of people’s lives creates an intimacy which is singular, and ever present. The uniqueness comes with the privilege of the calling. People who love Jesus grant me an unearned peak into the vulnerability of their lives. The good, the bad, the ugly, the downright scary, and the tucked-away, hidden dramas that yield great hope and great pain in what’s to come.
I knew of this before being a pastor, but it becomes more profound as each encounter reframes and refreshes this truth. Encounters made possible by the name of Jesus – not me and my own glory. Many of those I encounter are meeting me for the first time. Why would I have any intimate connection with the person who just met me? Why would anyone feel at ease in sharing guarded truths of life and the longings of the heart with a stranger?
I can point to training, title, theology – no matter. It’s not earned. It remains a privilege. Because of Jesus. One more closely guarded the more we hear of people who abuse the office of pastor. (Lord hear our prayers) Peter knew long ago the temptations which come with such unearned trust, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:2-3)
Before being a pastor, I thought they (do not ask me to tell you who I thought ‘they’ were) taught pastors exactly what to say to earn this trust. Like a reference book in which one could look up ‘teenage drama,’ ‘dying friend,’ ‘’moving across the country,’ ‘childhood trauma,’ ‘wedding nerves,’ ‘unexpected cancer diagnosis,’ ‘family dysfunction,’ etc. – find the phrase, posture, or prescription – and then fix what is broken. Indeed you can find these books on shelves, but no matter how many are obtained, are appropriate, or have the perfect post-mortem point – none ever fit. Real life never imitates the precision of a crafted scenario or the cold analysis of what should have been.
Seminary does not prepare you for the intimacy the gospel provides in ministry. It can be a wonderful and formative experience. It can teach all about how others have thought and acted throughout history about matters near and dear to your life. Indeed good seminaries will open, challenge, and guide your perspective into expansive mysteries previously unknown. However, they do not then live your life, make your decisions, or wrestle with the reality of a broken world in real-time. They do not address the administrative challenges, random conversations, and frequent interruptions to a perfectly planned day of abstract theological reflection. Only time with Jesus and others does this. And this happens in the reality of everyday encounters common to all.
Real life is so much better than ivory-tower abstractions and self-help scripts. There are imperfect people sharing with each other about real matters which have temporal consequences and eternal implications. I have found the words shared in those holy moments often seem unpolished and sparse, far from the theological precision and self-help wordsmithing of the guidebooks and classroom. Yet, they become the right words, for they bear witness to the uniqueness of a moment entrusted to our mutual faith in Jesus. And though I can share the entire journey and humbling experiences which brought me to my current role as pastor – it is still the people’s love of Jesus, entrusted to the local church, which connects us.
I thought this was unique for the few called and privileged who got to be a “professional Christian.” Only, I hear stories. Good news about how God is working in and through people who never went to seminary. People who often could not quote chapter and verse to back up their unorganized theology. They have the audacity to believe their love of Jesus and His love of them is enough to meet strangers on the road of life. Without theological training, prescribed psychological approaches, or prior experience they sense the Holy Spirit calling them to share their love with others. Because Jesus is enough.
Venturing into the real world, I hear of prayer in office break rooms and school hallways. I know of studies amongst friends and families which no church has organized. I see testimonies on social media which no pastor curated. I know of strangers who have prayed for me in public. Time and time and time again, without knowing who I was or what I did, people have prayed for me in airports, provided for my family in a moment of need, and ministered to me because of their love for Jesus. Jesus is a bridge between us all.
As a pastor, I am deeply moved and humbled by this. I still see clearly the need for pastors in Christ’s church in this muddled, distracted world. It remains a privilege to ‘professionally’ preach the Word, sit with others, listen, share, and challenge to live like Jesus. I am just astonished and joyful this ministry happens so often outside of the church, and by so many. God may have known what He was doing when he put the world peace plan on the line with ‘love your neighbor.’
There is something about the good news of Jesus which compels us – no matter our calling – to share beyond ourselves and into community with others. There is something about Jesus that connects us, no matter our calling.
And this is good news for all.
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