Wherefore art thou Pastor? (What’s in a job title?)

What is a pastor?  What is a pastor for?  Who should or should not be a pastor? What should a pastor do?  Too bad we don’t spend all that much time on these questions in seminary.  For the most part, it seems to be assumed that the answers to these questions are known – that, beyond being able to recite the definitions of our various denominations’ catechisms or other official documents (for United Methodists like me that would be the Discipline), no further existential explorations along the lines of “Wherefore art thou pastor?” are required.

And so, often, pastors find their answers in books that purport to solve whatever leadership problem they are having – books of dubious theology, rooted in the dominant language and narratives of our national faith in such contradictory (and elusive) ideals as freedom, power, rights, and the market.  Marketing is particularly enjoying ascendancy now, as anxieties about dwindling membership have burst into full bloom (they took root a few decades ago.)

My father used to often describe his role as “the CEO” of the congregation.  He’s not the only one.  Whether spoken aloud, or even recognized, many pastors feel the same way.  They see themselves as leaders as one leads a business – which means that their purpose (and aren’t even those of us who have sneered at the idea enculturated to desire a “Purpose Driven Life?”) is to come up with new and exciting ways to re-invigorate the brand, and so bring in new customers.  To be a CEO is to lead the company (the pyramidical, top-down, power driven company) into a future of decreased costs and increased revenues.  But this future had best be a near-future, because the analysts will be closely examining your quarterly results – err… membership rolls – that is, Charge Conference reports.

What happened to “in the world, but not of it”?  Too many pastors are neither!  Not that it is easy, given the many expectations that are placed on pastors from all directions.  And the tendency of many pastors to want everyone to like them.

But perhaps with a new model, consciously explored and adopted, pastors would find themselves with a more God-centered life – which is to say, a less market driven life.  The model I propose is the model of the anchorite.

Anchorites lived a monastic life.  But rather than living that life in a monastery, or in some remote location, the anchorite’s cell shared at least one wall with a church sanctuary.  The anchorite’s life was one of worship, eucharist, and prayer – of total devotion to God.  They were provided for by the congregation with which they were associated.  They were available to the members of the congregation to provide counsel – counsel that was understood to arise from the time they spent in communion with God.

Now granted, anchorites did not lead worship, so that is one key difference.  But I am not suggesting that pastors become anchorites – only that they consider it as a model / metaphor for the pastor’s life.  What shall we consider that the congregation pays you for?  To be a CEO?  To give them a next quarter better than last quarter – on the books, anyway?  Or shall we consider that they provide for you in order that you may devote your time to the service of God, and that your doing so will benefit the members of the congregation (to which you are “attached,” as the cell of an anchorite was attached to the church wall) considerably – especially insofar as they seek you out?

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