Every pastor will face the seduction of being “one of the gang.” The temptation will begin in the interview process. Someone on the committee will say, “We’re looking for a pastor who will be one of us.” What they mean is that they’re looking for a pastor who will understand their community’s values, someone who will appreciate their humor and understand that there are certain days in the community that need to be noted. What they’re saying is, “We want a pastor we can identify with and who will identify with us.”
But it’s a trap.
Here’s how the trap works. The pastor will fit in. They will attend local social functions. They will laugh at all of the jokes. They will agree with several of the opinions being expressed and everything will be lovely until the pastor has to make a stand. Perhaps the pastor will discover a friend who’s having an affair or someone in the gang will tell an off-color joke and when the pastor confronts the misbehavior, the gang will dismiss the pastor’s concern.
“We’re not going to listen to you,” the gang will say. “You’re just like us.”
The temptation to fit in can be a strong one for a pastor of a local church. Few people understand how lonely the ministry of a local pastor is. For one reason, pastors spend a lot of time with people. And, because pastors are always with people, others assume we’re always with friends. We’re not. Most of the time when pastors are with members of the congregation it’s because the members need something from their pastor. They are telling the pastor about a pastoral care need — an upcoming surgery or a family member who needs prayer — or they want money out of the church budget for a special project. Rarely is anyone asking how the pastor is doing. After all, the members assume that the pastor is there to serve, not to be served.
That’s the nature of the calling. Just read the stories of those who were used by God. John the Baptist, Elijah, Ezekiel, David, and yes, even Jesus, were marked by a profound loneliness. There is something about an encounter with God that marks the pastor’s life. The pastor can’t just fit in. They are different. They see things differently. They respond to things differently. They can’t help themselves. There’s an uneasiness with the status quo — a vision of what could be that can never be reconciled with what actually is. Living in this “if only” is extremely painful.
Our church could do so much more “if only”…
Their marriage would be so much happier “if only”…
Our people would be so much freer “if only”…
This “if only” feeling is hard to live with, but as much as the pastor would like to, they can’t let it go. They know too much now. The curtain that hides what could happen in the lives of the people has been lifted. The pastor who loves their church aches for the gap to be closed between what is and what could be — or at least brought closer.
In the solitude of Bible study, in the lonely crafting of the sermon, during the quiet moment in the pastor’s head just before the preaching moment — the Spirit comes. In the Spirit’s coming, the pastor will be changed, and the pastor can’t be changed back. Even if the pastor doesn’t want this distinction, people around them will recognize the mark of Christ on them. They will treat the pastor differently even if the pastor insists on being treated like everyone else.
And yet, it’s from the peculiarity that the pastor draws their authority and power. When the disciples were brought before the religious leaders of their day, the leaders concluded that while the disciples weren’t gifted theologians or Bible scholars, the disciples had indeed been with Jesus. That’s what congregations want to know about their pastor. Have their pastors been with Jesus? Do the pastors know Jesus? I mean, does the pastor really know Jesus? Not just have they met, but have they talked?
And when the pastor talks to Jesus, what does Jesus say about His church? About them?
Like Moses, being stuck between God and His people can be an uncomfortable place to be. Standing between the justice of a Holy God and the mercy needed by a sinful congregation can put the pastor in a bind.
But where else would the pastor be? This is where the shepherd always stands — with their sheep. It’s where Jesus stood. It’s where He stands now.
Pastors are a peculiar bunch, but we have to learn to embrace our peculiarities. We can’t lose it, ignore it, or give it away. Without it, we have nothing to offer our people. Our people count us to be different and if Jesus has indeed touched our lives, we can’t help but be a little peculiar.