Friday, March 06, 2009

What is the real role of the clergy?

I've had one of those weeks. You know, one of those weeks where seemingly nothing has gone right. Without going into details or naming names, my week has largely consisted of having to scramble and cover for the fact that other people either didn't do what they were supposed to do or backed out of something they agreed to do. There's no real sense getting mad about it. That's life. Besides, I know for a fact that I've been the source of this same kind of consternation for people on innumerable occasions in the past, so perhaps it's karmic justice.

During times of high stress such as these, it's very comforting to talk to other clergy, who all have similar stories. At the very least, it helps me to know that I'm not the only one with problems. The fact that most other pastors I know spend most of their time planning the ideal way for things to do, then altering those plans when something inevitably goes wrong, makes me wonder about our theological understanding of the role of the pastor.

When you get right down to it, most denominational groups have a rather high ecclesiology (theological understanding of the nature and role of the church), especially when it comes to clergy. High church denominations focus on the sacramental authority of the clergy, whereas low church denominations focus on the pastors' role in bringing the gospel to the masses. Either way, they all have fairly high views of the set apart and unique nature of the role of pastors.

But is that really what clergy spend most of their time doing? One of the most meaningful things I do is presiding at the sacraments of baptism and Communion, but these things take up a relatively small portion of my working hours. I also treasure moments of evangelistic encounter, but again, if I were to categorize my work week, evangelism would only claim a small percentage of my time. At the risk of painting with too broad a brush (I have yet to hear of a preacher who doesn't have that nasty habit), this is more or less true for everyone who is called to ministry as a full time vocation.

So what is it that consumes most of our time? What label gets slapped on the biggest piece of the pie chart? I suggest that it is personality management. To have any kind of success as a minister, you have to have some skills in working with people and knowing how to interact with different personalities.

I heard someone say one time (I can't for the life of me remember where or when) that if everybody just did what they were supposed to do, then we wouldn't need leaders, so the job of a leader is to deal with those (frequent) times when people don't do what they are supposed to. We could pick apart that statement in all kinds of ways, and yet there is a real truth to it. 

If everybody did their work on time, if they all understood their roles and never needed any guidance, if nobody did anything they weren't supposed to, then leadership would be pretty easy. If churches actually functioned that way, the pastor could show up once a week, preach a sermon, and be done. I have a fantastic congregation with many gifted and responsible lay leaders, so some of my best weeks are almost that easy!

But anybody can lead when things are going smoothly. The measure of any leader, clergy leaders included, is shown when nothing is going right. Fortunately, clergy leaders don't just have to rely on the depth of their own gifts and graces. We are called to rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit all of the time, and particularly in those moments when chaos seems to reign supreme.

Perhaps my musings here run counter to the rather high ecclesiological views of the role of the clergy espoused by most denominations, but I wonder if our understanding of said role isn't somewhat clouded by these grand, largely esoteric statements. Perhaps an understanding of clerical leadership as personality management would help us better discern the gifts and graces of those who feel the call to vocational ministry.

No comments: