Exploring our expectations of our new pastor

By Rev. Anne Swallow Gillis — Each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift….The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the Body of Christ. (Ephesians 4:7, 11-12)

In a few minutes, your Pastoral Search Committee will welcome you into the Gathering Room for some guided conversations. They want to hear about your hopes and expectations of your new pastor.

Perhaps you have heard the story of the “perfect” pastor? This person has the energy and vitality of a 25-year-old, combined with about 35 years of ministry experience. A real people person, the perfect pastor is always available in the church office, but spends most of the time out visiting people and connecting the church to the wider community.

Depending on age or the generation you identify with, the perfect pastor may still be male. Heterosexual male. The perfect pastor is certainly not out on the dating scene, but is in a calm, low-maintenance marriage that seldom requires being home for dinner and in the evening. The pastor has a couple of well-behaved, self-sufficient kids and a stay-at-home wife who volunteers for all sorts of things at church. But somehow she also works full-time, and her health care benefits package covers the whole family! Sort of a 1950s-style pastor for a 2016 church.

Even if this leader is a woman, the perfect pastor is somehow “all things to all people,” leads appealing programming for the Millennials and young families, and spends most of her time with church elders, tender end-of-life issues, and skilled nursing and hospital visits. “The perfect pastor knows what I am thinking, without me saying it,” we might say to ourselves. “He preaches sermons that give me answers to tough questions but doesn’t push his own view. She speaks out for social justice but without ruffling any feathers…and never sounds political.” Okay, I’ll stop now!

Debates about perfect pastoral leadership have been going on for a long time, going back to the beginning of the early church. Certain men and women emerged with gifts for leading and guiding the people following Jesus’ Way. In this passage from the Letter to the Ephesians, we hear the early church leader Paul describe some of the gifts of ministry that he saw among these leaders. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers. These last two gifts, of being pastors and teachers, are the two roles United Church of Christ clergy promise to bring into our ministry when we are ordained. Paul says an interesting thing about these gifts of ministry: They are not for entertainment purposes, obviously, nor are they for the personal comfort of those ministered to. God gives gifts of ministry in order to “equip the saints for the work of ministry.” Who are the saints? For Paul, that was everyone who sought to follow the Way of Jesus. That would be all of us. Not just the perfect people, but all of us imperfect people. Saints who are sinners. My gift and my job as your pastor, a saint and a sinner like you, is to equip you for the work of ministry.

What is the ministry? Notice that it is not my gift or my role to do the work of ministry. Or more bluntly: It’s not my job to be a Christian for you. The job of your clergy leader is to equip, train up, encourage, empower you to do the work of the Risen Christ’s ministry here, in your daily lives, in this time. To help you deepen your sense of connection with the God of the universe, to help you grow in trust of God, and to follow the teachings and Living Spirit of Jesus Christ. To enable you to better be about sharing God’s love and healing in the world.

Here’s the question for today’s discussion: What kind of equipping do you need? How do you want your new pastor to do this? Particularly in our worship life together, in liturgy and sermons, in our study groups and discussions, what do you need from a pastor and teacher among you? What works best for you, to equip you for the work of ministry in the world? May God bless and guide our conversations together.