The Changing Role of Pastor
Historically, pastors play a pivotal role in faith communities. They are the on site expert in religion—the resident theologians. They are caretakers and catalysts. They nurture faith and shape community. They make sure we believe the right things and behave accordingly.
Traditionally, they perform ministerial tasks in isolation. As long as things run smoothly, they have no reason to interact with authority or colleagues. No one questions their wisdom.
Years ago, a child in our church came to me. He was upset. His dog had died and he wanted to know what had happened to his beloved pet. Was his pet in heaven?
We were often without a pastor and the child came for help to the person he knew and trusted.
But we had a new pastor. I suggested to the boy that he take his question to the new pastor. It would help build relationship, I thought.
I was sorry I did.
The new pastor didn’t see the pain in the boy’s eyes. He began a discourse—something about heaven being for souls and animals have no souls and therefore there are no animals in heaven. The boy walked away in distress — faith-hindering distress.
The new pastor, eager to impress with authority and knowledge, confident in His role as theologian, had missed the opportunity to heal and nurture.
The boy needed to know that his dog’s life mattered, and though he felt powerless to help—that somehow his dog was still loved.
That boy would seek comfort elsewhere. Wouldn’t any of us?
The world has changed. The role of pastor must change, too. If we are people of faith looking for comfort or inspiration and we aren’t finding it within our congregation, we are going to look elsewhere.
This isn’t any different than any other realm of modern society. We are all faced with challenges to our expertise and demands to work and think differently. Job descriptions are being rewritten daily!
We can’t live in isolation any longer.
Seekers will look for answers beyond the pulpit. They will find meaning in spiritual teachings of other faiths. In that sense the role of pastor is more important.
But most pastors aren’t active in the venues where spiritual discussions are taking place. They are still waiting for people to come to them on Sunday morning—a narrow window of opportunity.
The Church faces choices. Build walls around our beliefs. Make rules. Rein in the seekers. Manufacture penalties for those who disagree or challenge. Circle the wagons. Celebrate the past. Hope that it will last a little longer.
This is the road chosen more often than the Church will admit.
Use curiosity and modern communication as tools. Find teaching moments among the questions asked. Juxtapose ideas (a favorite exercise among creative thinkers). Weave new ideas in with the old. Find points of agreement and understanding. Live in today’s world—the same world the congregation faces daily. Understand our neighbors who believe differently. Befriend them.
Recognize that members will find spiritual leaders online. Help them find the good ones! Follow them yourself!
The same thing is happening in the secular world. Authorities in every venue must keep up with online competition.
The answer is to be part of spiritual dialog—whether it is in your fellowship hall or online. Build on it.
Failure to do this is making the Church seem archaic and out of touch.
Ignoring this will not make it go away.