One of my favorite bloggers is Adam J. Copeland. (The fact that he is also my son has absolutely nothing to do with my admiration for his writing.) In a recent blog Adam asked “What’s the Point in Being a Pastor?” A fair question.
John M. Buchanan, former pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago, and editor of the Christian Century, views the issue through the lens of retirement. John struck a chord deep in my own pastor’s heart when he wrote:
I love the way Barbara Brown Taylor described her vocational decision in Leaving Church: “Being a priest seemed only slightly less dicey to me than being chief engineer at a nuclear plant. In both cases, one needed to know how to approach great power without loosing great danger and getting fried in the process.” The pastor lives and works close to the heat: the passion, tragedy, and exultation, the pain, loss, and indescribable joy of human life. People invite us into their lives at a level not accessible to anyone else. They tell us things they tell no one else, things we must never tell anyone (even our spouse), things we carry around the rest of our lives. They call us when they lose their jobs or a spouse dies. They tell us that sex is no longer interesting, that they can’t believe in God any longer, that their teenage daughter is doing cocaine. They want us at their bedside when they are critically ill and invite us into the most intimate space in all of life when life comes to an end. They turn us into addicts with their postworship compliments, and then devastate us with criticism when we’re most vulnerable. They know our salaries, what kind of car we drive, and where we go on vacation. And, remarkably, they also come week after week to sit quietly and listen to us talk. If there is a more astonishing fact and more unlikely honor, I cannot imagine what it might be.
I’m aware that the culture is changing fast, that many congregations cannot afford to pay a full-time pastor, and that seminarians are being told that they must prepare to be “tent makers” or “bi-vocational ministers.” For myself, I count myself extraordinary blessed to be able to serve in what we old-timers used to call “the full-time gospel ministry.”
No one but a pastor knows the terrible responsibility of preaching week to week and of providing pastoral care. On the other hand, no one but a pastor knows what a gift it is to be called to that terror.
John is right. The pastorate is an “unlikely honor,” but honor it is.