The Pastors Workshop
Nine Stereotypes for Pastors
Whereas some people expect you to be their therapist, others want you to be their teacher. They want you to instruct them in spiritual truths and to connect these truths to their daily lives. As our culture drifts farther and farther from any notion of truth beyond subjective feelings, fewer people want their pastor to be their teacher. But, at the same time, a strong segment of the population has an even greater desire to be taught the truth from pastors. This is true even and especially among the young. If you pay attention to the some the pastors who are most popular among Gen-Xes and Gen-Y/Millennials, you'll find that they tend to be teachers, often in quite an authoritative mode. Whereas my generation (Boomers) want theologically-lite and practically-heavy sermons, the next-gen folk, if they're not sold out to postmodernism, want more theological substance.
Many people look upon pastors as professional friends. Your role is to be nice to people, to hang out with them, to laugh with them, and to be there with them in difficult times. One of the most unmanageable parts of pastoring Irvine Presbyterian Church was dealing with all the people who wanted me to come over for dinner or for their daughter's birthday party. I liked doing this, but could never fulfill the hopes of the 1,000+ people who called Irvine Pres home. I ended up disappointing a multitude because I wasn't a good enough friend.
Once, an influential church leader came to tell me she was leaving the church because she was unhappy with me as her pastor. (Ouch!) When I asked what I had not done that she wished I had done, she answered simply: "You never sent me a birthday card. I need my pastor to know when my birthday is and to send me a card." In a nutshell, she wanted me to be her friend. I failed at that role.
A handyman is a good person to have around when you need one. A handyman is always on call to fix broken things. He (or she, if we're talking about a handywoman) has a wide range of knowledge, though not a lot of depth. He has the tools and the experience to get things working again. Many people see the pastor as a spiritual/relational/emotional handyman. Got a problem with your teenager? Call the pastor. Marriage struggling? Call the pastor. Feeling unhappy about your job? Call the pastor. Struggling with doubt? Call the pastor. The pastor can fix it.
Lots of pastors like being handymen and handywomen. If feels great to be needed. It feels even better to help people get better. People will love and appreciate you if you're a handyman pastor.
No, I'm not thinking of the illusionists who saw people in half and pull rabbits out of hats. Rather, I'm envisioning real, though fictional, wizards like Gandalf or Dumbledore. These folk have special powers to do all sorts of amazing things. Some people think of pastors this way. They think we have a more direct line to God because of our position. They believe that we can exercise our spiritual powers at will. Once a man in my congregation was talking with me about a memorial service I was to perform for a member of his family. He said, "Then, after your sermon, you can wave your hands and do that magic stuff you do so people can feel better." Usually, I didn't hear this sort of thing so bluntly. But many people thought of me as more than a handyman. I was God's magician.
Mark D. Roberts is Senior Director and Scholar-in-Residence for Laity Lodge, a retreat and renewal ministry in Texas. He blogs at Patheos and writes daily devotionals at www.thehighcalling.org, and he can also be followed through Twitter and Facebook.