Is the Pastor Relevant?
Every Sunday Christian pastors around the globe stand before their congregations to speak a word that pastors and congregants alike hope is pertinent to life in this world. Relevancy is a heavy responsibility.
The ambitious preacher must somehow build a bridge to the 21st century from an ancient tradition with tribal and mythic antecedents, and do so in a way that clarifies corporate understanding on Sunday and personal application on Monday, all in the space of 15 to 20 minutes.
The task requires the diligent preacher to approximate, or at least reference, the anthropologist, the sociologist and the psychologist.
If that weren’t enough, the sensitive pastor feels increasing pressure to follow her flock into Monday, to witness firsthand the challenges they experience at home, school and work, to observe the difficulty of translating Sunday into every weekday.
And if that weren’t enough, the minister who knows she cares for souls and systems must achieve the flexibility to move with grace from the counseling session to the church council to confrontation at the capitol.
And — Lord, have mercy — if that weren’t enough, the minister who hopes to truly make a difference in the world must figure out how to become a social entrepreneur whose innovations incarnate justice and equity while she puzzles over the next sermon — lest she face the charge of irrelevancy from people like me.
I want to confess my part in parsing the parson. I have cleaved this call into multiple pieces a single personality cannot contain. Now I want to lighten the load. I want to lessen the burden of expectations and instead inquire into the integral role of the minister — integral as in necessary and integral as in whole: connecting, cohering, completing.
My confession comes from recent conversations with others who, like me, have attempted to turn pastors into savvy business leaders. We are beginning to recognize the limitations of our leadership formation project as we have framed it. That’s our emerging awareness even as the project gathers momentum in philanthropy, theological institutions, denominations, congregations, and among pastors themselves.
Is it time to put the brakes on? If so, what then?
There is a vocation of the entrepreneur; it is holy and it is necessary to make all things new in the marketplace. And there is a role for the pastor in creating this commonwealth. We need more conversation to cull the role from all that we layer on it. But today the pastor’s particular work appears to me as the integral tasks noted above: connecting, cohering, completing.
Connecting: bridging tradition and innovation; linking congregational resources with the wider community; relating texts to tasks, so that Monday is no great leap from Sunday.
Cohering: seeking understanding; making meaning amid social isolation and fragmentation; binding (the root of the word "religion") us to who we are and who we are becoming.
Completing: binding (there it is again) wounds; evoking the gifts of individuals and community for the purpose of flourishing; creating ritual along the way that both fulfills our aspirations and fires our imaginations for the world we yearn to make.
There is an invitation to all of us to inquire into the role we need our ministers to play. May we simply begin by clearing a space for the preacher to stand and speak with us of another way in the world.
Daniel Pryfogle is an ordained Baptist minister and cofounder of Sympara.