By Pastor Mark Combs
I had a conversation with another pastor recently, and he started to talk with me about the expectations that his congregation wanted him to take as his responsibility. We had a long conversation, and I began to think about all the things we are called to do together as
the body of Christ. I also started to look at myself and evaluate the things that I do, so as to
see if I was taking care of all the things for which I am supposed to be responsible.
I know that when I stop to look at what I do, that it becomes quite obvious that I can easily get
tied up in the day to day demands of the life of the church. When I really stop to examine what I do, I find that I am often in need of a good reminder about what I am supposed to be focused on. I subscribe to a publication called Forum Letter, and several years ago there was just such a re- minder that I have saved. I would like to share it with you. It is from Eugene Peterson’s book, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity. He writes:
Yet century after century Christians continue to take certain persons in their communities, set
them apart, and say, “We want you to be responsible for saying and acting among us what we believe about God and kingdom and gospel . . . We need help in keeping our beliefs sharp and accurate and intact. We don’t trust ourselves – our emotions seduce us into infidelities. . . We want you to help us: be our pastor, a minister of word and sacrament, in the middle of this world’s life. . . . This isn’t the only task in the life of faith, but it is your task. We will find someone else to do the other important and essential tasks. This is yours: word and sacrament. . . . We are going to ordain you to this ministry and we want your vow that you will stick to it. This is not a temporary job assignment but a way of life that we need lived out in our community. . . There may be a time when we come to you as a committee or delegation and demand that you tell us something else than what we are telling you now. Promise right now that you won’t give in to what we demand of you. . . . With these vows of ordination we are lashing you fast to the mast of word and sacrament so that you will be unable to respond to the siren voices.” . . . That, or something very much like that, is what I understand the church to say to people whom it ordains to be its pastors.(1)
I think this is pretty clear definition and description for the job of a pastor. I shared this
piece with my colleague, but it did not seem to put him at ease. He began to relate a great deal of frustrations about the expectations that his congregation was placing on him, with the seeming
understanding that it was all his job to do the work for them.
The problem is that it is so easy to forget about what we are called to do as a member of the body of Christ. I encouraged my colleague to remind his congregation of their own unique spiritual gifts, because it is quite clear that we all have a part to play in the work of ministry that our Lord has given us.
(1) Eugene Peterson, “Lashed to the Mast,” Forum Letter Nov. 2005: 1.
Here at St. John’s we have so many opportunities to share in this work of ministry! We are daily
called to do this work — carrying the message of the Gospel into the world around us — and reminders are important for all of us in our work together. I am excited by the opportunities we have together, and I am thrilled to see things happening here at the church, like the addition of a new Sunday School class for our preschool and kindergarten students!
Yes, it is true that we all sometimes need a reminder of our calling. My colleague led me to share this with you. I continue to pray for our congregation that we will continue to live out this calling as we carry the Gospel out into the world. Until next time.