Being a pastor is a lot like being a sports coach or a referee. I've been all 3. I’m not sure but that probably says something about me.
When I reffed basketball almost every dad in the stands was sure they could do better than I was doing and they offered loud, verbal suggestions confirming their expertise. Nearly any sports game I’ve been to or watched on TV there are fans and announcers who feel competent to coach as their comments make abundantly clear. Being a pastor is like that. Almost everyone in the church knows what you should do, should have done, what would be better or at least not as worse. They know what you should have said in your sermon, how you should have counselled that person and what your real motives are behind what you said, did, and/or wrote.
I am meeting people all the time who are pastors who have no theological training, have never went to a single class on pastoral care or hermeneutics, and didn't let silly things like that keep them from their calling. “The Holy Spirit is my school!” Words you never want to hear from your surgeon or your pilot. But pastor, c’mon, anyone can pastor.
I've sat in board meetings where farmers, mechanics, accountants, homemakers, insurance agents, data processors and daycare workers have all critiqued my work, suggested areas of improvement, voted on and evaluated my performance over the previous year and given me books on random occasions that they thought would “help”. My recurring fantasy was to show up at their place of employment to offer them some constructive criticism on how they could do their job better and make suggestions I clearly expected them to follow despite having no experience whatsoever in their field.
But pastoring is different. Anyone can do it. Everyone inherently has the knowledge base and skill set to do my job the moment they decide to follow Jesus. Which is cool.
And then you come across a book like “Care of Souls in the Classic Tradition” and you think maybe, just maybe, your vocation is specialized and maybe, just maybe leading a church is anyone’s job but pastoring a church is quite another thing. Oden’s unpacking of Gregory’s insights into the care of souls has been an encouraging, inspiring, challenging and affirming read. A short book, I've been reading it slowly, savouring each page – which is not good for my assignment list but is good for my soul.
At the same time I'm reading through the prophets and the recurring theme – Jesus, yes but along with Jesus – is that the pastor/shepherds have really let the flock of God down. Those meant to protect, feed and guide the flock have fleeced them and sold them to the wolves for a profit. This is the other part of the pastoral picture that is intimidating. It might be my vocation but these people belong to God – and he’s watching. To be invited and welcomed into someone else’s life is sacred ground. We trample all over people and fail to realize that every life is a “take off your shoes” holy place, every story is sacramental.
Perhaps we pastors are responsible for the demise of our own vocation. Perhaps we have lowered the bar by our own behaviour, attitudes and misdeeds that we've created an atmosphere where it’s easy to believe that anyone can do this job. At least anyone can’t do worse.
I've still got a lot to learn but this much I know, leading a church and pastoring the flock of God are not the same thing.
(NOTE: the above is a reflection that comes out of my current reading. I am currently experiencing a supportive, encouraging, generous, patient, loving church full of leaders and work with a leadership team that has only been honoring and caring.)