Summer rest, or rest in general, is, apparently, more important than I realized. In mid-July Linda and I took a week to visit my mother in CT and see our granddaughter perform in a musical in upstate NY. On the way back we stopped to see our son in Holden.
But it wasn’t until about 3 or 4 days in that I realized how tired and stressed I was! You find yourself on a treadmill which soon becomes the unwitting norm.
Of course, I also was reminded of something Eugene Peterson once said. In his book, Working the Angles, he openly concedes that he has very little sympathy for pastors who complain about being stressed out!
The reason? For one, he thinks contemporary pastors get overly involved in things that aren’t really their job. He cites as symptomatic of the change in the pastoral role the designation of the “pastor’s office” as opposed to the “pastor’s study.”
For Peterson, the pastor’s job is threefold: to provide pastoral care, pray, and study, ergo, “pastor’s study.” In a related sense the liturgy used for all U.C.C. pastors at ordination challenges us to be “pastor and teacher,” not, notably, politician, social worker, community organizer, or…CEO!
Today, Peterson argues, pastors (and churches) have defined the pastoral role as “CEO,” a term borrowed from the business world. Here the pastor is in charge of everything. He or she is tasked with overseeing every aspect of the church’s life.
Instead, Peterson understands the pastoral office more in the traditional sense. Here the pastor is ostensibly responsible for the spiritual life of the church community. This, it is essential to note, also involves the spiritual nurture of him or herself, which ideally serves as a model for the entire church. If a congregation, stressed out by the demands of this world, sees their pastor falling victim to the same syndrome, where is help to be found?
I’ve long maintained that the proper role of the pastor is to train and equip the saints for the ministry of the church (“to make disciples”). This means, among other things, that most of the work of the church is done by these same saints, i.e., church members. The pastor’s job, in other words, is to teach and equip, and to embody the gospel, in much the same way a coach trains, equips, and inspires a team before they go out onto the field. (Note that the coach is not on the field!)
Ever since entering ordained ministry, and even before, I’ve observed that many pastors have an overly-developed need to be needed. Here the temptation is to respond to every request and every demand.
Though I strongly suspect I’ve failed in any number of ways in terms of keeping these pastoral lines clear (as per my recent stressed-out state), I do know better.
Summer seems the perfect time to reclaim the sacred center in our lives, to find ways to experience God’s presence. Paradoxically in this we discover our need to do a bit less of the heavy lifting by allowing our efforts to flow forth from the source of all of this is!
Grace and peace,
Thomas C. Leinbach, Pastor