Role and Relationship: by PW

Role and Relationship: by PW June 8, 2009

I wonder about this myself quite often: Do pastors struggle dropping their “role” as pastor when they come home? When they are talking to their children and neighbors and spouse? Are pastors, as it were, always “wearing the collar”? Did you have a pastor for a parent? Here’s a brief note on this by our friend “PW”:

Collar.jpgI heard comments being made regarding a devout Christian, who I knew to be quite a force of a personality, and who often mixed her faith right into her personality. A family member of hers mentioned to me, “…just once, I wish she would have shown up in my life as just my grandmother. That’s all. There was always this false front. A wall. I wished that the harping, preaching, truth-spewing Christian, who had to have the last word on all truth on this side of heaven, would just take a rest and be my grandmother.”

Maybe we ministry people have our own moments when we may confuse our passion for ministry with our family responsibilities and relationships.  Ministry families could probably fall into the same category as above.

Is the pastor able to just show up as a husband, a dad, a son, or a friend? How do you make room for important relationships in your life as ministry people and as ordinary people? What do you do to make sure you are “not the pastor” in certain relationships? Or, do you think you are always a pastor?

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  • James Petticrew

    Its a struggle but I think we have to be the same person to our families we are to our congregations otherwise a dangerous gap opens up and we begin to live a double life in which we can justify doing things differently in each section.
    That doesn’t mean we preach to the children at home or go round hugging everyone at church (I’m Scottish my hugs are for family!) It means authentically expressing our character as a Christ follower in which ever role we find ourselves in, counselling someone in the congregation or disciplining our children at home.

  • The most effective “pastor” I have had in my life never acted like a “pastor” in the ways you are referring to. He is a seminary graduate and leads a small church and other ministries. Instead, he has consistently been a good and open friend.

  • As a working pastor who doesn’t always come off like one, this is a constant question (struggle?) for me. On the one hand, several years working in construction and more than 10 in professional work outside the church have given my language some texture that I have to control, er, fairly often. On the other I recognize that people occasionally have a deep need for someone who can take on a priestly role on their behalf.
    In my job I have to be pastor, scholar, working guy, husband, dad, CEO and a handful of other things. Because I am all of those things, I can present them genuinely as I interact with people. The trick is to be the right one (with authenticity) at the right time. The best analogy for me comes from music performance: As I play through a set of different songs, I have to adjust the tunings, capo placement and amp settings each time, or the songs won’t sound right.

  • Jim

    Thirty-seven years ago, about 6 months into my first ‘pastorate’, I realized that my job was to be a Christian and not a ‘pastor’. That insight has helped me all these years. Be a follower of Jesus everyday, all the time and the ‘pastor’ thing will take care of itself. I think my 31 year old daughter will testify that that decision on my part worked out well for her.

  • christina

    John, your thoughts are good. In my opinion, it’s just not possible to be in charge of my own hats, so to speak. In other words, I can never say, “I am being a pastor now,” or “I am leaving ‘the pastor’ at home and being a ‘daughter’ today,” because the vocation is far too nebulous for that.
    I was on a plane a few weeks ago and a woman fainted on the jetway (she was fine). A nurse who was on board went and checked her out, even though she herself was most likely on vacation. A minute before, she was just a passenger, but suddenly, she was a nurse. when a man waiting at the deli counter with me a couple weeks ago saw the theology book I was reading and started telling me about his battle with alcoholism, I was no longer just a woman waiting for her lunch, I was a pastor, whether I was ready for it or not.

  • Carlo

    maybe this is about a need for more ‘real’ pastors. perhaps the proper question should be, “does the husband, dad, son, or friend show up as pastor?”

  • Andy W.

    I went to a Memorial Day Parade and there is a church right there on the main parade route. The church was passing out free water, which I thought was great. Then I saw the Pastor. He was the guy wearing a suit (on an 80 degree day when everyone else is in shorts and T’s) and carrying his Bible! And this is in New England, not the Bible belt! Can you say any more loudly to everyone “I’m different than you” Do you think he “closed the gap” between himself and others or created a barrier. Jesus was all about “closing the gap” and tearing down barriers. I know this is not the norm, but I was just so floored by this. There was a day…a long time ago now, when Pastors had the respect of others merely because of being a Pastor. That is no longer the case, in fact it’s probably the opposite in most places. We need more pastors to be real, authentic, vulnerable. We all know that they have the same struggle as everyone else…there is no need to pretend.

  • I think that sometimes my kids wished I was more like a pastor to them, as to the rest of my congregation– funny, patient, listening, and sometimes wise counsel. With my kids I am sometimes what I am not as a pastor– demanding, angry, commanding, isolated. Being a pastor isn’t so much putting on a role, it is being the most Christlike one can be. Would that I could be like that all the time.

  • I thank my lucky stars (oh! can a pastor say that?) that I had Dr Howard Hendricks as a professor in seminary. He could smell phoniness a mile away. He drilled into our empty seminarian heads that we had to be ourselves–as Jesus followers–no matter what “role” (I hate that word) we were playing. The opening story in the post is spiritually revolting–“…I just wish grandmother would show up…” Pastoral ministry like all ministry, like all of life flows out of being, out of relationship to the Father in the sensitive leadings of the Spirit, not out of some theological, ecclesiological, sociological constructed “roles.” I think Jesus intentionally avoided entering into the culturally accepted religious roles of his day in order to reframe ministry as daily stuff in the rough and tumble of relationships as they happen. *We* are the ones who have made ministry a “business.”
    I cringe when I am speaking to fellow pastors–shooting the bull, so to speak, and then one of the pastors is asked to “perform” and his voice inflection changes, you know what I mean? He/she gets “the holy voice” on. What idiocy.

  • Jim

    Andy…I have often thought that seminaries train Christians to become pastors who are less and less like the people they will serve and then release them from seminary so they can spend their lives trying to become more and more like them.

  • scot,
    this is a great discussion topic. as a younger guy who has pastored churches in arkansas & missouri, my problem is not so much that it’s difficult to take the pastor persona off. to the contrary, it has always been difficult to put it on! it took both churches time to get used to me showing up on, say, a weeknight home visit acting casual, having fun, praying in a regular voice, giving an elderly lady a hug, scratching a dog’s belly, and heading off. i’m always careful not to do anything innappropriate . . . unless enjoying life is innappropriate for a pastor!
    maybe the problem is that a pastor’s persona exists in the first place. i’m a baptist, and we emphasize the priesthood of all believers. you’d think we of all people could slay the pastor’s persona, but alas, not so, not even close.

  • Great question and issue. Mostly, I think it’s crucial for family relationships and for the health of a pastor to stop being “the pastor” at home. For one thing, at larger family celebrations (Thanksgiving, etc.), I almost never offered the prayer before the meal.
    For some pastors, though, it’s much easier being “the pastor” than being “just a Dad, just a brother, just a grandmother, just a friend.”

  • T

    Great comments and question.
    Scripture seems to talk about being an elder as if it’s the same job as being a parent and spouse, just on a larger scale, hence the requirement that potential nominees deal with “their own family well.” If they can’t do a good job of parent/spouse/companion for a few, how could they do it for many? If you wouldn’t trust a person to raise (sorry, rear) your kids well in your absence, you don’t want him/her as an elder/pastor in the NT way of thinking. It’s a long-term, formation-in-relationship kind of job.
    IMO, our whole idea of “pastor” needs major adjustment and one part of it would be to make the concept more focused, in terms of qualification, on what makes a really good parent/spouse/friend in Christ and less on being good in front of masses that don’t get to know the speaker. That, and a shift of focus from ‘head’ to ‘team’ would be really helpful.

  • Kelsey

    As a female seminarian who is intending on going into pastoral ministry, could we please extend this question to what it means to be a wife, mother, daughter, or friend as a person in ministry? The wording of the question seems to assume that pastors are men…
    Just a thought.

  • I would suspect if the pastor and the parent are not one and the same, then one of them is a fraud. I see many who, “play pastor” and several who, “play parent,” and have to admit that either are just as tragic.

  • Spiritually speaking, if the pastor is a man he is the pastor of his home regardless of if he is professional clergy, or a trashman. So in that regard, once a pastor always a pastor. However, and I think more to the point of this post, I believe that there are pastors out there that win the flock and loose the battle at home because they never differentiate, they talk openly about parishoners to their spouse in front of the family, they never talk with the children about being a “PK” and the additional scruitny that it brings. These things can all add up to make a family break.
    I am training to be a pastor. I intern now and may or may not go into a pastoral position soon. I might not partially because I will not ever go into a pastoral position that eats up my time to the point that I can not come home, take the collar off, and play ball with my 7 year old son and just be dad. If my ministry requires so much of me so as to never be a dad, my ministry is to be a daddy. After my son grows up, then I will lead a congregation.

  • Scott

    My father is a pastor of a large church in Western NY. As a boy my dad was always dad. I don’t ever remember looking at my father as my pastor, probably because he treated me like his son and not his sheep. As I went off to college my father remained my father. He supported, advised, affirmed, and corrected when necessary. When I went to seminary our relationship as father and son and friend really developed. His genuineness is as real as it comes in my opinion. My father has always been my dad, though there certainly was a noticeable tie between his vocation and his parenting it was rarely out of balance. I think I am very privileged to see my dad not only as pastor, but also as father and friend.

  • T

    Amen, again, to so many comments.
    Isn’t it deeply ironic that we’re talking about how pastors should behave “When they are talking to their children and neighbors and spouse,” that how they’ve handled those very relationships is supposed to be what qualifies them as an elder in the first place!? Can we fully appreciate the serious danger this irony reveals?
    It’s a sad comment on how far our idea of ‘the role’ has drifted from the NT concept that so many within it don’t know how to act fruitfully within such relations anymore, if they ever did.
    The ‘role’ is those relationships, multiplied.

  • T

    Sorry, the ‘that’ after the quote was supposed to be ‘when’.

  • scot,
    i wish on posts like this you would read comments and respond to them; just a thought

  • Scot McKnight

    mike, I’ve thought about it but I have to say I’m drinking in the wisdom of these pastors.

  • I usually say that being a pastor is what I do not who I am. Being on a credentialing team, I seen men (I can’t recall a woman pastor with this confusion) be totally destroyed when they can’t be a pastor for some reason. They don’t know who they are. I try to live and pastor according to my personal motto, “Man of God, Full of Faith.”
    As for family, I try not to “pastor” my family especially my wife. We are partners in life, in marriage, and in ministry. However, she is my partner in my pastoral ministry as I partner with her in the ministry that God calls her to work. In a limited sense, our pastor is our state director. He has been there for us when we needed him.
    With my kids, it is a struggle because there are times when I have to seriously reflect on whether my pushes are done as a father or as a pastor. A lot of times it is a mixture. Therefore how hard I push may depend on how much I am invested as a pastor in certain direction that I hope that they choose. The more I’m vested as a pastor, the less that I try to push.
    In Christ,
    Mark Eb.

  • Jeff

    I think a nuanced view of this discussion is probably required.
    I think you would be hard pressed to imagine the apostle Paul saying “being an apostle is what I do, not what I am.” When compared with Ephesians 4, for instance, I think it is safe to say that for some in the church, their very identity as individuals is dependent upon the fact that they truly ARE “apostles, evangelists, prophets, pastors and teachers.” This is not a “job” that they leave behind after “office hours” are over. It actually is who they are. And, being who they are is in fact a way that Christ provides for the church (their families included).
    Alternatively, there are some places of leadership that seem to offer a different kind of commitment (though in no way less serious or sincere). The position of overseer, 1 Timothy comments, is subject to the person’s desire, among other things. This suggests it is less connected to identity and perhaps more to be thought of along the lines of function. And, though the Spirit definitely can be said to call elders and overseers (Acts 20), it is not clear whether this is as intricately connected to identity and mission as Paul’s vision of apostleship. I don’t in any way wish to say that the role of eldership is to be thought of in contrast or distinction to the way one fulfills his or her other responsibilities in life (indeed, this is part of the point of 1 Tim 3!). But, I think it may be useful to consider the various ways leadership is expressed in the earliest churches.