I remember the first time I was told I had “a pastor’s heart.” It was a very affirming moment for me. Like many pastors, I have experienced those “dark nights of the soul” where I was not sure if I was cut out for this work. Ironically, those times are evidences of the pastor’s heart. “Pastor” is a uniquely Christian role in the community. The role of the pastor connects the person to the heart of Jesus. St. Peter refers to Christ as the “chief shepherd.” (1 Peter 5:1-5) Many Christians have an image of Jesus that they expect to see in their pastors. They should be able to see Jesus reflected in their pastors according to St. Peter. What does he mean?
A Big Mistake
The first big mistake is for the pastor to try to live up to other people’s ideas about Jesus. Lay people think about Jesus in non-theological and ahistorical ways. During the last several years, evangelical and charismatic teachers have given lay people an idea of Jesus that is primarily relational. Church people and preachers talked about having a “relationship” with Jesus. Others emphasized “a personal walk with Jesus” understanding of Christian living. These ideas are very seventies oriented. They were popular in the seventies and continue to appeal to people who are now in their seventies. Lay people immersed in these ideas believe they and their pastors should share some kind of special connection. It is hard to fulfill that expectation with everyone.
Another Big Mistake
The second big mistake is lay people often think salvation is a contractual relationship. Evangelicalism offers salvation in an ironically Islamic way. A person must confess to believing in the one God and in Mohammed as the prophet of God in order to be a Muslim. Evangelicals have taken the words of St. Paul’s words, “For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved…For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:10-13).
Christians who live in a world of contractual obligations to maintain economic benefits with other people can be forgiven for believing that is how the connection to God works. This “sign on the dotted line” approach to salvation mistakes divine grace for a contract. Lay people who are disappointed with their pastors seek others because they see their relationship to the pastor as contractual. Pastors who view their relationship with the congregation in this way should not be surprised when lay people do as well.
The Great Task
Pastors know they are human beings who need fellowship, connection, rest, exercise, and spiritual development. Lay people also acknowledge the humanity of the pastor. The first duty of the pastor is to the Divine Will. And this duty is forgotten by both pastors and lay people.
Work and play are spiritual in nature. They are essential. People want to know that their concerns are important. Pastors want people to know their work is just as important. I want people to believe what I do is important. Doing the will of God is important even if it is not immediately recognizable or tangible.
The Apostles argued with the early disciples about the importance of their role, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables.” (Acts 6:2) The Apostles make an important distinction here. It is not that they are too important to wait on tables. Waiting on tables, the distribution of the daily food to widows and others in need is essential. They would no doubt do this willingly and happily so long as they do not neglect “the word of God” – the expression of the Divine Will in Jesus Christ.
The Heart Matters
Lay people feel at certain times they are being neglected by their pastors. It could be that someone else requires more attention. The pastor just can’t sit down for a chat at a particular time for many reasons. The lay person may not understand why because the pastor is keeping someone else’s confidence.
Pastors will lose their hearts by neglecting to nurture them. I know this from personal experience. The pastor’s spiritual redevelopment takes priority over everything else including the needs of the church if it is ever to be regained.
Does that sound like something Jesus would do? Perhaps, we should ask Lazarus about that. St. Stephen, who was able to wait tables and bear witness to Jesus, knew the Divinity was not interceding for him before his execution. Rather, God waited to receive him.
The pastoral heart discerns between needs and prioritizes based on the spirit of lovingkindness. The pastor cannot meet either the needs or wants lay people have when that ability is lost. Let the pastors have these needs fulfilled to do their work better.