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We Need to Rethink Our Idea of Pastors

We Need to Rethink Our Idea of Pastors

I am not a pastor. But I used to be, at least in title.

I was only a youth pastor for about a year and a half. We had a large youth group of a few hundred kids every Wednesday, pouring through those doors. Over 50 volunteers helping to lead those kids and provide a safe place for them. I, a 23-year-old, co-pastored the group with a 25-year-old friend, and we started this new youth group with brand new vigor, hope, and expectation.

I can’t tell you how hard we worked. We would transform the entire church to make room for youth group. Moving tables all over the place, rolling counters with check-in stations, making sure there were board games, video games, physical games and spaces with no games, set up for all people that wanted games, or didn’t. Everyone would have a program for them, because everyone belonged, and that mattered. Wednesdays were typically 9am – 11pm with a quick run to Chipotle in the afternoon.

I was told I was doing a good job. The youth group was big and growing, and by all measurements that were determined as important measurements, it was successful. We were running a great event every week.

We went to conferences and met other pastors that were trying to create a youth group that looked like ours. When meeting other youth pastors, we learned that our answer to the bulging question of how big our youth ministry was, usually was a better answer than the other people we talked to.

We were doing it. We were good pastors. Right?

I thought about all the reasons I knew being a youth pastor would be a good step when I took the job. I thought about how I loved working with kids. I thought about how I loved having conversations, both theologically dense and personally delicate. I thought about mentors I had that took time to talk with me and share their lives with me. They had been deeply impactful, and I wanted to do the same.

One day I realized, I wasn’t like those mentors. I wasn’t like those pastors who had impacted me. I wasn’t having great conversations. I wasn’t getting to know these kids, their stories, what was going on in their lives. I realized, I wasn’t a pastor. I was a good event planner.

Even now, I feel that I missed pieces of an opportunity. Those kids needed a pastor. Those volunteers needed a pastor. But I wasn’t a pastor for them.

I realized, I had bought the American lens on life, church and success.

I thought “leadership,” good programs and hard work would be the catalyst for the Kingdom coming to Earth as it is in Heaven. Would more people inside the walls of my youth group, translate to a better world — a world that is centered on the love of God — outside of those walls? Is “more” the measure?

The questions we ask and the measures we take would lead us. The questions we asked and the measures we made led us there. A large group of kids and volunteers, needing a pastor, expecting a pastor and lacking me taking on the role of a pastor.

I soon realized, If I wasn’t a pastor, if leading a large ministry wasn’t embracing the role of pastor, then what does it mean to be a pastor?

Let’s first talk about what it’s not that makes you a pastor.

  • It’s not a title that makes you a pastor.
  • It’s not a group that you plan that makes you a pastor.
  • It’s not people that report to you in a church that makes you a pastor.
  • It’s not preaching on Sundays that makes you a pastor.
  • It’s not planning programs for people to encounter God that makes you a pastor.
  • It’s not being seen by many as a pastor that makes you a pastor.

And yet, you can be a good pastor and do all those things.

So, what makes you a pastor?

  • Being with God
  • Listening for the voice of God
  • Participating in the movements of God
  • Living in the way of Jesus
  • Being with others in all that life brings
  • And helping others transform into all of these ways of being

That is what makes someone a pastor.

You can live the vocation and calling that is in all of us to be a pastor, right now. You can pastor from the pews, to the pews, with the pews and outside of the pews. You can lead people into life with God, all while being a person who is in the pews, with other pastors like you, the people of God, bringing the Kingdom to Earth as it is in Heaven.

As I look back on my role, when I was once carrying the title of “pastor,” if given the chance, I hope I would do things differently. And yet, the chance to be a pastor is the opportunity I still have in front of me, for the rest of my life.

I hope you and I forgo the American lens on successful pastorship. I hope we embrace the call of pastor, given to all of us, with a new lens. One that has different measurements, one that is hard to quantify, one that is the sum of life’s intimate subtleties and movements of God, and one that offers pastorship to the people around us in ways we all need.

Everyone needs a pastor. Everyone needs someone to show them they are loved, that they belong and to help them see life with God in new ways. This is our call and our opportunity, our vocation and our joy, our grace and our hope.

© 2023 RELEVANT Media Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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