once a pastor always a pastor

once a pastor always a pastor June 27, 2012

… those who believed themselves to have a vocation, a call, needed to reach a stage in their development when they knew that the constraint had not been quite of the kind they originally thought, but rather an inevitable outcome of their temperament, upbringing, and the particular problems they had (Monica Furlong, Merton, p. 334).

I’ve appreciated that quote for years. At first I didn’t because it challenged my super-spiritual belief in a supernatural call to the ministry. But after years of hard labour in the church, lots of humiliation and a radical change in my theology, I came closer to agreement with it. Now that I have left the professional ministry, I’m in complete agreement. I see the deep wisdom it contains.

It challenges those in the ministry, especially those who take some sort of assumptive pride in their call. I conclude, conversely, that it can encourage those who’ve left the professional ministry, especially those who feel like failures.

Here’s why:

  1. It means that if your ministry was the “inevitable outcome” of your life, then you were a pastor before you were called one, recognized as one, ordained as one or paid as one. It means that your pastor’s mind, heart and gifts were already brewing long before your were served up to the church. The official sanctioning of your call is only that: a public and authorized recognition of something that pre-existed. You, like so many courageous men and women before you, must walk out and live with a confidence that you are who you are, someone that looks and acts like a pastor, even if you don’t carry the card, wear the uniform or occupy the office.
  2. It means that no matter where you find yourself, you can be who you are… a natural born pastor… in the midst of it. It doesn’t mean you “act like a pastor”. I’ve seen that kind of religious behavior in a secular work place and it’s sickening. But you can really care for people. The church isn’t the only place where people look for compassion, care, understanding, wisdom, unconditional love, a listening ear. The people around you are like you… hurt, confused, lonely, suspicious, unhealthy, sick, dying, and embroiled in the overwhelming complexities of life’s drama. There’s nothing sweeter than someone who will listen without judgment and inject words of care. Believe me, unconditional love with an open mind and heart and ear is a hot commodity because it is extremely rare.
  3. It also means that you can use your pastoral wisdom and knowledge. You have been theologically and spiritually trained. I’ve concluded that this hasn’t been a waste for me. Everyone talks about spirituality. Everyone is interested in mysteries. Almost everyone talks about ghosts, spirits, the afterlife, eastern religions, God, atheism, what’s wrong and what’s right, justice… you name it! It’s endless! As long as you can keep your evangelizing to yourself, your studied opinion of these things will be appreciated. Especially if you are humble about it and offer your thoughts, like most other people do, as just your opinion. Once you claim it is THE truth, you will never be included in those discussions again. Promise.

So there’s just 3 simple ways to be a pastor wherever you are. Maybe your call wasn’t as supernatural as you thought. Maybe the whole notion has been undermined. Maybe you were born a pastor. Now you are, like me, churchless. However, if this is true, then you are still a pastor. But only if you want to be. You might not be getting paid for it. No one calls you “Rev” (unless it becomes a nickname, endearing or otherwise). There’s no official recognition. But you’ll be functioning as a pastor.

The meaning you will find in such encounters may remind you of why you went into this business in the first place. You might be surprised at how much more fulfilling it is.

I provide one on one spiritual coaching. Especially for those going through spiritual transition. Would you like to talk? Click here.

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  • roger flyer

    I’m a professional pastor again after a few years away. Didn’t go looking for it.

  • I left…but i don;t feel like a failure. As Joan of Arc said, “I’m not afraid. I was born to do this.” ‘Pastors’ forget that it is a servant ministry.

  • Mark Smith

    Are you saying that evangelism is not part of being a pastor? You mention having to set it aside in order to act pastorally towards people.

    This is not asked as a criticism, but rather by someone in “the process” who is discerning his feelings about evangelism’s role in pastoral ministry. And also discerning the place of humility and being open to being wrong (even as you fervently believe that you are likely right) in evangelism.

  • just be a normal human being who isn’t trying to convert someone to your point of view or lifestyle. that’s not saying some might not want to invite themselves.

  • I left the professional ministry 36 years ago. I have had and still have plenty of opportunities to “pastor” folks, regardless of their theology. I am able to celebrate folks where they are as human beings if they are not pretentious; and if they are, I am able to let them be. I have no need to convert anyone and really never did. My theology has always allowed me to accept folks as they are, because that is what I thought Jesus did. That does not mean that I do not disagree with folks. I do, and I say so when I think it would be wrong not to disagree; but I do not go around looking for any arguments. however, evangelizing to me is about engaging folks in discussions about what might be a good course of action for humanity and for life on the planet. I do not need to be right, but I do need to be forthright. I figure it is the job of other folks to engage me, too, and correct me if need be.

  • Syl

    What David said – yeah, brother. It’s not a job role, it’s who you are.

    And not only might it be more fulfilling for the “pastor at heart” but you might just find yourself connecting with and reaching people who you’d not otherwise get to know – a win for everyone involved.

  • Jim

    That you David, this post is so timely for me.

  • you’re welcome jim.

  • Amen David to all the above!