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The Pastor or the Schoolmistress

“When I get a congregation, I want to be a patient pastor. I want to have eyes to see and ears to hear what God is doing and saying in their lives. I don’t want to judge them in terms of what I think they should be doing. I want to be a witness to what God is doing in their lives, not a schoolmistress handing out grades for how well they are doing something for God. I think I see something unique about being a pastor that I had never noticed: the pastor is the one person in the community who is free to take men and women seriously just as they are, appreciate them just as they are, give them the dignity that derives from being the “image of God,” a God-created being who has eternal worth without having to prove usefulness or be good for anything. I know that I will be doing a lot of other things too, but I might be the only person who is free to do this. I don’t want to be so impatient with the mess that I am not around to see the miracle being formed. I don’t want to conceive of my life as a pastor so functionally that the mystery gets squeezed out of both me and the congregation.” 1

Pastor Irene’s Manifesto–so named by Eugene H. Peterson in his book, The Pastor–so resonates with my soul that I’ve read it over and again. This is the pastor I long to be, but I fear I have a long way to go!

As I contemplate where I fall short, I realize that my passion for equipping the people of God for the work of God easily gets tangled up with my impatience with the mess of ministry. When that happens, I become the schoolmistress rather than the pastor who “witnesses the miracle being formed.”

How do I reconcile these two postures?

I must re-frame how I think about equipping the people. For example, I am privileged to hear a person’s unique story as I guide them through a gifts discovery process. I need not be so focused on which ministry will be a good fit that I do not honor the gift of their story, the working out of the miracle that is their life.

I may see some parts of a person’s story as areas where they need to grow, and immediately begin considering where to direct them to get the discipling that will spur that growth. But my first response should be to accept them for who they are today and where they are today in their journey with Christ. It is true that God may not be finished with them yet, but it’s not my responsibility to decide how and when and where God should next work in their life!

Does this mean that I don’t think about where to place them in ministry, or where to direct them for discipleship opportunities? Of course not! But I need to slow down and appreciate each person in my congregation for the unique and beautiful image-of-God that they are.

I may be the only person in their life today who can give them that gift.

1 Eugene H. Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2011): 284-285

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