The Role of Pastor (February 2015; Volume 4, Issue 2)
Referring to the office of Pastor with just the one word can limit the understanding of the actual role of ordained clergy in a congregation.
Some instead use a list of words for clarification:
- Pastor – Probably the most obvious, a pastor is called to be a caregiver to those in the congregation and any who call on them to fill that role. This includes being present for the good times and the bad, actively listening and providing God’s guidance in any situation.
- Preacher – The role of spreading the good news of Jesus Christ throughout the world is one all God’s children share, but preachers are set apart with education and rites (mostly for good order) to proclaim that good news to those who gather, in order to build them up to go about their work in the world. A preacher is no better than any other evangelist (spreader of the good news), and is a beggar themselves, telling other beggars where to find bread.
- Priest – Ordained pastors in the ELCA are tasked with the ministry of Word (see preacher section above) & Sacrament. Where other rostered leaders are called to the ministry of Word & Service, pastors are the only ones (again mostly for good order) authorized to preside at Holy Communion. We are trained in worship leadership, planning, and presiding, and encouraged to equip others to participate in various ways. Funeral, weddings, daily prayer services, and other special rites full under this category along with weekly Sunday worship.
- Professor – In addition to preaching, pastors are also called to teach. Some of this might happen in the midst of worship and sermons, but since their primary role is to proclaim the good news, there is a lot of teaching that happens at other times and other ways. There are not many things that you can comprehensively learn about in one hour a week, and that is why the other education opportunities that the pastor and congregation offer are important. I like how the Rev. Nadia Bolz Weber talks about the pastor’s role as professor – “I am not responsible for what you believe, but I am responsible for what is taught in/by the church.”
- Prophet – As a good Lutheran preacher, I am called to balance the law and the gospel. Sometimes we need to hear a challenging word. There are times we need to be jerked out of complacency and inaction. I have pastors to speak that prophetic word to me, and it is part of my call to speak that prophetic word to you when needed. I doubt there is anyone who will like and agree with everything I say all the time, but instead of getting angry at me, you think about what I’m saying and set it next to the gospel, you might realize that there is something to what is God saying through me.
- Person of God – But all that being said, I’m still a child of God. In addition to being loved by God (as each of you are), I’m still human, and therefore make mistakes and fall short from time to time. I ask that you be gracious to pastors and to one another as we navigate this life and work for the kingdom of God together.