I’m a trained interim pastor, who began my ministry working on the staff of my denomination in its national offices. I have held secular jobs, mostly in the not for profit sector while I supply preached in small congregations. And by small congregations I mean sometimes only two people would show up for Sunday’s worship service. There may or may not be a musician so I have had to lead the music and singing without accompaniment. These tiny congregations have vital ministry in their locales, and it grieves me that many pastors on the pulpit supply list would not ever consider providing pulpit supply in such locations. I have to wonder sometimes what motivates some of my pastor colleagues in their understanding of their call to ministry. Is not our call to ministry that of Word and Sacrament: Preaching and Administering the Sacraments? It is sad when congregations have to beg for someone to come and administer the Sacraments and pastors who are available will say no because they do not see the importance of ministry where two or more may be gathered in the name of Christ. The cultural value of big is better has overtaken the Church.
I have also served two small membership congregations as pastor, albeit not as a called and installed pastor. The terminology of called and installed is part of the polity or political process of the denomination of which I find myself living out my Christian faith and serving God in the manner in which I believe I am called. I am best described as a contract pastor. I have a contract that is agreed to by me, the Session of the congregation and the Committee on Ministry of the Presbytery. I do not see myself any less of a pastor than my called and installed brothers and sisters. Although I know from my chaplain friends, who serve in validated ministries, that many of our called and installed colleagues do not view our ministries as serious ministry because we are not called and installed to pastoral ministry in a church. Who calls us to ministry? Jesus Christ calls us to ministry, which is then recognized by our governing body so ministry is validated by both an individual calling and the calling of the Church. I believe that ministry is living out the Gospel of Jesus Christ in how we live our lives as Church leaders and then using all the skills we have been given to bring God glory. Personal recognition isn’t the goal or purpose of ministry.
My interim training has come in handy in the two congregations I have served in that it has provided me the training necessary to help my Elders live into their calling as leaders of their congregations. Too often the congregations I have experienced have given away their power to paid staff, who may not share the beliefs or theology of the congregation that they have been hired to serve, or to pastors who overstep their understanding of ecclesiology and think that the church they serve is THEIR CHURCH and nobody is going get between them and their church. The church they serve becomes for them their vehicle to personal recognition and prestige. Taken to an extreme, the church becomes a tool they use to promote themselves rather than a body of believers who proclaim the Love of God to an aching world. It is my strong belief that the Church belongs to Christ and the Ministry that God has called the church will prevail, in spite of, pastors who believe they own a specific church. Keeping the fact that the Church belongs to God helps keep all the human jockeying for power and personal glory in perspective, I gain much peace knowing that God is in charge and if there are people who wish to see certain churches fail, that ultimately that the survival and success of a ministry is up to God.
These are just some random thoughts I have had the last couple of days as I have been praying and pondering some recent experiences in ministry. I don’t expect anyone to agree with me. These are my personal viewpoints and by naming the ‘powers’ I sense working, I am able to dis-empower them.