I learned early on that being a pastor meant ten thousand things. Following Rev. Trotter when I was a boy, I saw that being a pastor meant making connections for people. It meant preaching on Sundays and visiting homes and hospitals. It meant finding people jobs when they came home from prison, going by Mary Moore’s house to get fishing rods, or praying in the sanctuary at night when no one else was there. It meant listening to leaders complain in meetings. It meant being under-appreciated and overworked. As a child I witnessed the wideness to our work as pastors.
But the long list of uncountable things congregational ministers do can, simply, miss it. I’ve grown and aged since my days as an up close student of Bishop Trotter, and I’ve seen how necessary it is to have people “rehearse the point” in my ears. Yesterday I met with the team of adjuncts who’ll piece together a program in vocational formation that will attempt to remind first, second, and third year seminarians what our calling is about and, probably, what it’s not. One of my conversations last Sunday was a reminder to me.
When I sat with Byron at Letizia’s, we talked about things that matter. We launched into a conversation about Mystery, about sacred speech, about the ways we like to control our lives, about the usual practice of people taking too much on themselves and acting (poorly) like God. We talked theology.
Theology is talk or speech about God and us. It is talk that is informed by life. That is the word I use to sum up how we think about, believe, and live toward God. It’s not a Christian act but a human one. Everybody has a view or opinion of God. We have a perspective or an experience with God, even when we disbelieve in a deity. We live that view out. We talk that view out. We live, in a word, theologically.
That captures an important part of my role in people’s lives. As I’ve thought about my conversations with Byron over the time we known each other, he reminds me that I am essentially a worship leader. I lead people in worship. I remind people that there is a God and that that God is, and must be, responded to. Rather ignored or cursed or adored or answered, we respond.
There are certainly other parts of my job, other aspects to my vocation. I have meetings that feel very unrelated to worship. I talk to people about things that are in no way related to this essential core. And Byron and people like Byron remind me of what my life is about. God is God, and we are people. God does things God does. Humans respond. We worship.
As a pastor, one of the things I wear, the skin of my vocation, if you will, is that divine reminder. When I show up, I’m showing up as a person whose life is a sign that says God must be worshiped. Eugene Peterson wrote an excellent memoir, The Pastor, and he talked about how congregations can easily focus on problems. He said that his role as a pastor was unlike that of a therapist. He wasn’t present to fix people, though that became an expectation he had to reform with his church. He said that his role was to lead people in the worship of God and to lead them in living holy. Living holy and living worship was different from fixing issues. “Worship,” Peterson wrote, “becoming whole, opening our lives to what we could not control or understand, was about God.”
Imagine that–worshiping–opening your life to what you couldn’t control. Doesn’t it frame the issues running around in your mind? Certainly there are things that we can and should control. Of course, God isn’t one of those issues.
It makes me thankful for the Bryons in my life. I know he’s going to ask a question that sends me down and deep and further. I know that he is going to make me comfortable in what is uncomfortable most of the time–being before God. Conversation with the Byrons of my life bring me back to the important role of the pastor, even one whose function is to troubleshoot and resolve problems. It’s to live theologically, to lead others in doing the same, and to live like the God whose sign I am in untamed.