Pastor as leader: job impossible?

I am not a pastor. I do not want to be a pastor. I don't even understand how a pastor can possibly do his job with all of us "bosses" sitting in the congregation,each with ideas about how he should minister. He must feel pulled in all directions at once. His is surely the most perplexing, irritating, inspiring, uplifting, disgusting, stressed-filled occupation in the world. Maybe we who are sitting in the congregation need to sit up and take notice of our pastor's profession and treat it with the respect it deserves.

Margie Littell Ulrich is a clinical audiologist, Dayton, Tennessee.

I am not a pastor. I do not want to be a pastor. I don't even understand how a pastor can possibly do his job with all of us "bosses" sitting in the congregation, each with ideas about how he should minister. He must feel pulled in all directions at once. His is surely the most perplexing, irritating, inspiring, uplifting, disgusting, stressed-filled occupation in the world. Maybe we who are sitting in the congregation need to sit up and take notice of our pastor's profession and treat it with the respect it deserves.

The best examples of what being a pastor is all about are Moses and Jesus. Both had contentious congregations, both served as intermediaries between the people and God, and both are known for the way they pled with God for help in their ministries. They both had a spectacular summons to their life's calling: Moses, a burning bush; Jesus, a dove descending from heaven. God spoke to them. Therefore, before pastors become pastors; God speaks to them. God selects them; they don't pick their job. "Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant" (2 Cor. 3:4-6, NIV).

Checklist

In the Bible, I discovered that my checklist of pastoral qualifications often did not match the specifications to which God holds pastors accountable. For example, I thought that a good pastor had to be a polished public speak er. Instead, Moses discovered that being a good pastor did not require his ability to preach well: "Moses said to the LORD, 'O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue'" (Exod. 4:10, NIV). God said, "Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say" (verse 12, NIV).

Even in the record of Jesus' life, only a few occasions are mentioned where He preached to the people. I scratched off my list the requirement of good sermonizing.

My brother told me one time after hearing our pastor preach, "When he tells me the truth about God, it is like a lightning bolt of light to my heart." To give us power from the Source, our pastor has to be connected to it. Jesus explained it very well: "For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that His command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say" John 12:49, 50, NIV).

Both Moses and Jesus seemed to travel between God up there and people down here.

When the Israelites complained, Moses went to God and asked what to do. When God complained about the Israelites' behavior, Moses interceded for them. "So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the LORD had commanded him to speak. The people all responded together, 'We will do everything the LORD has said.' So Moses brought their answer back to the LORD" (Exod. 19:7, NIV).

Pastoring is by all means an amazing job, an active maneuvering between God and the people. I noticed that the Israelites could tell when Moses had been with God; his face became so radiant that he had to wear a veil. When Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain, "his face shone like the sun" (Matt. 17:1-4).

We, in our congregations, often search for a radiant face on our pastor, illuminating the fact that he has been with God. "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6, NIV).

For a pastor to succeed, we should see God smiling at us; we should see God's glow reflected on his or her face. This illumination does not mean that our pastor has to be as perfect as God; instead, it means that our pastor has to have a current, working, vibrant relationship with God. It means, as with Moses, "The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend" (Exod. 33:11, NIV).

We can hold our pastor to no standards higher than we hold for ourselves. God has promised that we will have perfection in heaven; until then, we all have to have a restoring relationship with Jesus that is evidenced by a nonjudgmental attitude toward our pastor.

Delegating authority

I can understand how the daily stress of my pastor's job can cloud God's radiance. I am sure that many times Moses wished he had left those people in Egypt.

Moses' father-in-law gave him some good advice: "What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear you out. The work is too heavy for you; you can not handle it alone. Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people's representative before God and bring their disputes to him. Teach them the decrees and laws, and show them the way to live and the duties they are to perform. But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifities and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied" (Exod. 18:17-23, NIV).

Jesus, too, dispersed responsibilities among His 12 disciples.

A good pastor dispenses the work among the people. He or she delegates responsibilities and then trusts people to do their work properly.

The best gift a pastor will give us is to trust that we will do a task success fully. Unfortunately, even the best pastors soon learn that their congregations are flawed and limited. When we get discouraged, we grumble and complain. Our sins are like snakes that bite and torment us. What should the pastor do?

Snakebites

The Israelites were tired, hungry, thirsty, and discouraged. They were stumbling around in the desert, powerless to change their situation. They spoke against God and Moses. Snakes bit the people; many Israelites died. What did Moses do? Did he kill the snakes, treat the snakebites, or move the people away from the snakes? Numbers 21:7-9 is worth reading care fully. First, "Moses prayed for the people." What a comforting thought. If I had been Moses, I probably would have gone into my tent and left them to their dilemma. After all, the people spoke against him and God. Yet despite their attitude, Moses prayed for them.

In this delicate maneuvering between fellow human beings, the pastor must pray to epitomize God's love, acceptance, and power in order to guide us on the path of becoming the people we were called to be. We often miss the point here. When our pastor sees us rebelling against God, it is as if the snakes are biting us. Our self-centered sinful behavior will cause our eternal death just as surely the snakebites caused the Israelites to die. However, it is not the job of the pastor to kill the snakes or to treat the bites.

Most of us in our pastor's congregation know right from wrong. Most of us have a sensitive core that knows when we are disappointing God.

Otherwise, we would not be church members.

God told Moses to make a bronze snake and put it on a pole. Anybody who looked at the snake would be delivered from the snakebites. To help his people, all Moses had to do was make the snake and hold up the pole.

Jesus also tells us about this experience. "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life" John 3:14, 15). Instead of pointing out the snakes and their deadly bites, we need our pastor to plug us into the power of Jesus to transform us. We need our pastor to hold up the pole.

In other words, when the pastor confronts evildoing, he or she does not merely ask us to change our ways. Instead, the pastor exhorts us to let Jesus transform us. The pastor grabs the nail-scarred hand of Jesus and holds on while offering his other hand to us parishioners. The pastor is the conduit to the life-changing power of Jesus. What an awesome responsibility to hold up the pole!

The rules

A great deal of Moses' job consisted of making rules. "For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17, NIV). God gave Moses a group of people who had been told what to say and what to think for several generations. They had limited self-governing skills. They needed rules to survive in the harsh desert. Moses even had to tell them where to build the latrines in order to prevent disease. Following the rules kept them alive. They were completely and utterly dependent on Moses to ask God for food, water, protection, and direction.

God made the rules to keep us alive, and safe. The rules reveal an infinitely loving God who requires us to depend upon Him. The law teach es us that we need a Savior in order to meet the high standards of God. "So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith" (Gal. 3:24).

Unfortunately, it is often easier to worship the laws themselves rather than give adoration to the Law-Giver.

Moses had to make sure his people recognized their God standing firmly behind the rules of behavior. It was Jesus' job to do the same thing. "Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well'" (John 14:6, 7, NIV).

Instead of merely convincing us about the truth of our doctrines, our pastor has to make sure that we constantly and consistently see the loving Author of our beliefs as he or she introduces us to the character of God.

When daily life buffets us in bewildering ways, the pastor makes sure that the rules anchor us and hold us steady so that we can see Jesus.

Conclusion

How I admire the people who take on the job of a pastor! Instead of our criticism, they need our prayers. Instead of judgment, they need our unwavering support. Let us support our pastors' hands so that they might touch God and then touch us.

We must respect the man or woman who talks to God for us, the one who relights our flame when life threatens to blow it out, who holds up the pole.

David wrote a pastor's psalm: "Praise the LORD, all you servants of the LORD who minister by night in the house of the LORD. Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the LORD. May the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth, bless you from Zion" (Ps. 134:1-3, NIV). Thank God He gave us His gift of pastors.

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Margie Littell Ulrich is a clinical audiologist, Dayton, Tennessee.

July/August 2005

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