One of my hopes for this new year is to write more. For a while now this blog has consisted mainly of my morning reflections, which are really just a public invitations to my devotional life. A friend has inspired me to step up my creativity by creating "themed days". I'm still in the midst of brainstorming my themes. Right now I plan to continue sharing devotional reflections on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but I thought it might be fun to create something called "Churchy Word Wednesday." There is lot of vocabulary we begin to take for granted the longer we hang around the church. We use words like "grace" and "faith" and countless others, sometimes without any real thought as to what those words actually mean or the fact that they may mean nothing to someone outside christian circles. So, I'm going to give this a go.
The "churchy word of the week" is… PASTOR
I figure I might as well start there. After all, many people refer to me as "Pastor Brian" (a "title" I have reluctantly accepted BTW), so I might as well say a word or two about the word that precedes my name. When we first started graceway I tried really hard to get people to just call me Brian, but that is not within the comfort zone of many of the people I serve. From my perspective "pastor" makes a much better job description than it does a title. In Ephesians 4:7,11-13 Paul describes 5 particular ministry roles (apostle, teacher, prophet, pastor, evangelist), each modeled for us by Jesus throughout his life. Each one of these roles has a function or functions in the community we call the "body of Christ" (another "church word" for another day). It is not a hierarchy. None of these roles are more important than another. In fact, each one is needed to fully function as community in the way Jesus intends. Simply put, "pastor" means "shepherd"… but how many of us actually know any shepherds? or know anything about what a shepherd actually does? So maybe that doesn't really help, although if you want to know more about why "shepherd" is a good image to describe "pastor" I would recommend the book Scouting the Divine – A Search for God in Wine, Wool, and Wild Honey by Margaret Feinberg. Probably the best way to understand "pastor" then is simply to describe the function of a pastor. A pastor tends to the needs of people. A pastor sees needs and provides comfort. A pastor encourages others and communicates God's hope and encouragement and love and grace (CHURCHY WORD ALERT!!!) into people's lives. This description is not exhaustive by any means, but you may notice that there are some things that I left out. What about preaching and communion and baptism (CHURCHY WORD ALERT!!!!)? What about leadership? What about administration? The distinction that I think needs to be made is that "pastor" is not synonymous with "organizational leader." It often gets thought of that way — and if one is a "pastor" who also happens to lead a faith community it certainly helps to have leadership gifts and skills — but one doesn't need to the leader of a local church to be "pastor" in the biblical sense. While one may pastor (BTW in a lot of ways it makes a better verb than it does a noun) another person or a group of people and not preach or administer the sacraments (CHURCHY WORD ALERT!!!! See why I want to do this?!), the reason why many who pastor do assume those roles (and why many faith traditions — including my own — incorporate them into the definition of the role) is that preaching and the sacraments (communion and baptism) are "means of grace"… or ways that God assures us of his presence with us and assures us he is good. Since one of the things a "pastor" does is communicate God's grace, it makes sense to do so using means by which God promises to be uniquely present.
So that's it for today. Even in this post I have become keenly aware of how this pastor needs to discover some different ways to express some of my "Churchy" vocabulary. In all I hope Church Word Wednesday will bring a little light-hearted clarity to some of the "insider language" of the church for us all!