Starting with a broken heart
I will never forget my first pastorate. The anticipation and apprehension imagined will never match the actual experience. Those who interviewed and assessed me had been convinced, as I was, about my calling. God had provided for what He called me towards.
But I began with a broken heart. In fact, I expected the interview to be difficult. After all, just months before, I was shocked when my own church had rejected me as I was not who they wanted: a happily married man in his forties with years of experience. I was a single woman of twenty-eight.
Once in the thick of ministry however, I realised that my calling, critical as it may be as an anchor for my soul, cannot help me forward. I felt like someone had shoved me centre-stage and my eyes were blinded by the bright stage lights. Everywhere I turned, I smelled expectation; and God seemed to have left the scene.
My gender did not help me. I looked around desperately for models but there were so few. Those who were in close enough range were struggling as I was.
The plot thickens when churches today seem sloshed with notions of leadership; and women, are traditionally, not considered leaders. A female colleague of mine found that she had to explain how she could lead a congregation, which her husband was a part of, and not be the leader at home. Minefields were waiting at many turns.
My own experience proved leadership gurus right: I was duly addressed as ‘pastor’ when the person needed prayer, but causally referred to by my first name otherwise. Respect was not automatically handed to me with my appointment. Respect and fellowship appeared when providence cleared the way through my involvement in the person’s life, that is, a member was willing to come to me for help, and felt helped.
The terrain was truly formidable. Hence, over time, it became less and less shocking to receive a call from a friend or colleague who was in distress and the verge of calling it quits.
Clearly, we have to make sense of this. I didn’t want to ‘get used’ to something that is more human foible than Kingdom norm. So I continue to think, pray and make notes as I go.
Our self-understanding and how we lead is intertwined with our congregations, traditions and current challenges, no doubt; but leaders and pastors have the unique privilege of bringing definitions and clarity – if we ourselves are clear.
Let me share with us a series of notes I have taken in the foregoing years on the person and role of the pastor.
1. Which comes first ?
It appears that our calling – to serve – has been hijacked by the use of titles which usually equate power and authority. So we become confused and we guard those titles and positions. Coming from an Asian context, relational security and seniority become added dimensions to contend with. It is easy for a church to consider an older person who has ‘more friends’ to be the better choice; only to find that in the end, the person may have the title, the seniority and even strong relational ties, but not the needed competencies. The Peter Principle of management has crept in once again: we have over-promoted someone.
Indeed, even competencies cannot provide the entire lens for our understanding; as our current fascination with numerical growth and leadership practices tend to lean us. The entire dimension of servant-hood – Jesus’ poignant and dramatised last words to those who would succeed him in leadership – is often missing, when it should be the background canvas for our brush strokes.
If we are truly taken by the theological understanding that to lead is to serve, it would revolutionize our meetings, our ordinations proceedings, and certainly, it would open wide the tight gates of ordination to sisters.
Titles are needful for they place us; but we must not forget that the purpose of titles is what they call forth from us.
Pastors and leaders who do not convey the substance of their office have this effect on the flock: members retreat into a personal piety that is not outreaching or kingdom focused. But a pastor who leads in order to serve, cannot possibly get the order of things wrong.