Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Serve vs. Fix and the idea of Authority

A thing that Pastors always have to remember is that fundamentally a Pastor's job is to serve his congregation and people... not "fix" them.  Well now, what is that supposed to mean there buckaroo?  Mainly this - as a Pastor my job is not to "fix" the congregation, to make it "right" -- i.e. to turn it into my concept of the ideal congregation.  Too often pastors can come in with this idea that they need to fix the congregation -- that their top priority is to get the congregation to status X by hook or by crook -- and they push, pull, prod, exhort, harangue, beat, crush, tear down, destroy, step-upon whatever and whoever to get there.

The problem with this approach is this: it's focused upon some almost Platonic ideal of a congregation rather than the congregation that you are serving.  Rather than fixing the congregation - a Pastor is there to serve.  What does this mean practically?  Well, yes, it does mean some things will need to be changed... but not for the sake of hitting some idea, but rather for the sake and faith of the folks in the congregation -- and that these changes will take time and be done slowly... so that the people are served before, in, through, and by the change.  Fix things, teach gently and with patience, and slowly change the course of the ship you are at the tiller on.

And, then of course, if the idea is serving the congregation, it will also remind the pastor of some changes that... while maybe nice... aren't quite necessary.  I've been here 8 years.  I love chanting.  I think it is a wonderful thing.  But I serve a rural congregation in Oklahoma that really isn't interested in a much more ornate service.  Hence - we do not chant yet.  In another 8 years -- eh, who knows.  But it's something that I want -- and what *I* want isn't important.  Now, are we firmly and solidly liturgical now - straight out of the hymnal.  Yep.  That is something that serves them and has been accomplished -- but the sprinkles on top aren't there - oh well.


The reason this is so difficult or hard a line to take, to balance is we know that a Pastor has "authority."  And we tend to think of authority in a... fixing... commanding sort of way.  The Centurion says go, and the servant goes... or else.  The teacher says, "The paper will be 10 pages long" and it is... or else.  The editor says, "The article will meet this style," and it does... or else.

That's how we tend to think of authority - I am here and I will "fix" things.  That's even the idea behind so much of the Presidential debates -- if we elect you, how will you "fix" things (even though, to be honest, we have no intention of listening to whomever is elected).

But that sort of authority isn't the Authority of the Church.  A Pastor's authority is this - I forgive you your sins in the Name of Christ Jesus. 

That's it.  Really.  It is.  It's an authority without a temporal "or else".  "(I forgive you or else"? - what sense does that make?)  And this is nothing but service - and our service to our people is to continually proclaim this forgiveness to them over and over - to teach and lead them away from things that would get in the way of seeing this forgiveness (you know, sin), and to proclaim forgiveness to them again and again.

But if we want to start "fixing" people... well... we need to import an "or else."  We need a threat to make them toe the line we want them to toe... and that sort of undercuts the whole forgiveness thing.  No - serve them, lead them, guide them.  Slowly and gently and firmly -- Christ doesn't deck people but is simply a rock that is firm and solid.

Or course, I'd also contend that in reality all authority, even temporal authority out in the world is meant to serve, even if it wields the ability to punish... but that's another topic for another time.