It’s one of those conversation stoppers.
“So, what is it you do?” they ask.
“I’m a pastor,” I say.
They nod slowly, eyes dimming. Awkward pause. I can hear the next question, even though it’s left unspoken. It’s the same question as the first: “So, then…what is it you do?”
Good question. What exactly do I do? What does it mean for me to be a “pastor”?
I’m not a corporate CEO, or a business owner, or a franchise manager. I’m not the president of a local club, or the director of a local charity. I’m not a leader in the way the world thinks of leadership—casting visions, setting agendas, running the show, being “the decider.” I’m not here to make money or raise funds or establish a profile or bring in a crowd.
I’m a pastor.
But what does it mean for me to be a “pastor”?
If you asked ten pastors this question, you’d probably get a dozen answers. If you asked their parishioners, you’d probably get a hundred more. But here’s what it means for me to be a pastor.
As a Christian I am called to follow Jesus. As a pastor I am called to encourage others on this path, to follow Jesus in ever-increasing faith, hope, and love.
That’s it. That’s the sum total of my pastoral call.
Or, to put this another way, more in the words of the Apostle Paul: As a Christian I am “in Christ,” defined by Christ, seeking to become more and more like Christ by the power of his Spirit. As a pastor I am called to build up Christ’s body, those who are in Christ, into greater Christlikeness.
That’s my job description as a pastor. When I start my day, each and every day, that’s the task that is before me.
Of course, this has some more specific dimensions to it.
I’ve always liked how Mark’s Gospel describes the calling of the Twelve apostles: “Jesus went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons” (Mark 3:13-15).
They were first and foremost “to be with him,” to know Jesus and talk to him and learn from him and walk with him. They were to do life with Jesus, their Rabbi. Then they were to “proclaim the message,” preaching and teaching the gospel, the good news of God’s kingdom of justice and peace, planted in the soil of this world through Jesus. And they were to “cast out demons,” to be instruments of kingdom liberation and healing to those in bondage to sin and evil, doubt and fear, guilt and shame, darkness and death.
Sure, this is the apostles we’re talking about. But I think this nicely encapsulates the mission of the Church, the calling of all Christians. It also summarizes the way the rest of the New Testament speaks of “pastors,” those “elders” who shepherd God’s people.
As a pastor I am called first and foremost to be with Jesus, in studying Scripture, in prayer, in daily communion with the risen Jesus by his Spirit.
And out of that communion with Christ I am to preach and teach the gospel, declaring and explaining and dialoguing about the good news of what God has done through Christ and continues to do by the Spirit.
And along with that I am to come alongside the infirm, the weak, the outcast, the downtrodden, the guilty, the fearful, the doubting, the despairing, to be an instrument of God’s healing and liberation. It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick; it is the lost who need to be found, the least who need to be feasted, the last who need to be made first.
I agree, it’s not very glamorous. And it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in the eyes of the world, all this prayer and Bible-reading and preaching, all this time spent away from the limelight with needy people.
But let others cast visions and set agendas. Let others run the show, be “the decider.” Others can make money and raise funds and establish a profile and bring in the crowds.
Me? I’m called to encourage others on this path of following Jesus. I’m called to build the body of Christ to become more like Christ. I’m called to be with Jesus, to preach the gospel, and cast out demons—and urge others to do the same.
I’m a pastor.