Originally posted March 5, 2012, at A Front View Pew. Republished with permission of the author.
“Pastor/Priest \PA - stuhr/ preest\ n.
A sinner who is so aware of the power of sin in his or her own life that he or she feels called by the Holy Spirit to announce that God loves sinners.”
(From “Crazy Talk: A Not So Stuffy Dictionary of Theological Terms,” Rolf A. Jacobson, editor)
As our congregation enters the interview phase of the call process, it is easy for us to fall into a messianic type of thinking. If we just get the right pastor, all of our problems will be solved. The choir will always wear robes and fill the choir loft every Sunday. We will have a permanent organist who plays the liturgy. We will sing only our most favorite hymns.
The confirmation classes will be large and they will memorize the catechism, reciting it in front of us all. No more drive-thru communion; everyone will kneel to receive the sacrament. Sermons will be short, reminding us frequently of our failure to follow the Ten Commandments. The pews will be full of familiar faces that come every week and always sit in the same place.
Maybe that doesn’t match your vision at all and I have gone to one extreme in my portrayal to make a point. But my point is this: We all have our own individual ideas of what the church should be and what a pastor should be. And that’s a problem, because it interferes with our receptiveness to God’s vision. We are blinded by our past because that’s all we know and we are afraid of what we cannot see.
Our romantic ideal of a wonderful new pastor needs to be tempered by the reality that pastors are people, too. When we forget that, unrealistic expectations are followed by disappointment and discouragement on our part; disillusionment and even despair for the pastor.
So, I want to apologize to pastors for the expectations that we place on you (and your families) that are impossible to meet. We want you to be something that we ourselves cannot be.
We think pastors should really be better than us, but if you think about it, what we need is a sinner, because a sinner can relate to us. A sinner can relate to the struggles we have. We need a sinner because we can relate to someone who makes mistakes like we do.
So maybe we should stop and do a little self-examination before we criticize what our next pastor does or doesn’t do.
Here are some ideas that may or may not apply:
We confess that we cling to a glorified image of what a pastor should be, setting you up for certain failure because you can never be all those things to all of us.
We confess that instead of being gracious and forgiving, we remember every mistake you have ever made, like the time you called the dearly departed by the wrong name or the time you didn’t wave back when we saw you uptown.
We confess to acting hurt when you didn’t come to visit us in the hospital, even though we didn’t let you know we were admitted and we were discharged on the same day.
We confess to making our own wants more important than the needs of our congregation, community and world.
We confess to dropping in on you unannounced just to shoot the breeze when you have a funeral, a baptism, a wedding and regular worship to prepare for all in the same week.
We confess to scrutinizing your personal appearance and commenting to the people around us on your shoes or your clothes or your hair or your weight.
We confess to arguing theology with you based on our eighth- or ninth-grade understanding.
We confess to discussing our concerns about the congregation and your ministry with everyone but you.
For all and any of these things and for those we have not named, we are sorry and ask your forgiveness. Help us to work with you so that we may together envision and carry out the mission God calls us to.
Lord, deliver us from our self-centeredness and our fear. Give us the hope, the courage and the faith to look to you in trust. May your will be done in us and through us, in the coming weeks and always. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
Find a link to Anita Nuetzman’s blog A Front Pew View at Lutheran Blogs.