My Pastoral New Year’s Resolution

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. I’ve tried them in the past, but they’ve never worked. “Resolution” can sounds so decisive, so irrevocable. So guilt-inducing.

Let’s call this my pastoral New Year’s goal, then. Here’s what I’m aiming for as a pastor for 2017: to be patient in love, persistent in prayer, faithful in teaching the Scriptures, and bold in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.

commitmentIf that sounds like liturgy, that’s because it is. This was the commitment I made before our congregation when I was installed as pastor. Really, then, my 2017 pastoral New Year’s goal is simply re-committing myself to this calling.

I’ve often been distracted from this. To be fair to myself, though, it’s awfully easy to get distracted from this.

Many pastors feel like they have “a hundred bosses,” or whatever the size of their congregation is, because every person in the church has a different, particular understanding of what it means to be a “pastor,” who a pastor is supposed to be and what they are supposed to do. Some want a congregational visitor, others a community activist, some a spiritual guru, others a private therapist, some a thoughtful theologian, others an extroverted evangelist—and that’s only a small sample of the options. Just imagine the multiple personalities required to do all this, let alone the superhuman skills and physics-bending time and energy.

Into this vortex of competing expectations and impossible demands I hear Jesus’ simple call to me as pastor, a call nicely summarized by that installation liturgy: be patient in love, persistent in prayer, faithful in teaching the Scriptures, and bold in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Be patient in love. This is not so much a specific task to do as it is a general orientation for everything I do. And this is as difficult for me as it is for anyone else—contrary to another common expectation, pastors are not inherently “more spiritual” than others. Yet it is an orientation all Christians are called to nurture in Christ by his Spirit. In whatever tasks I do, in whatever roles I take on, in 2017 I want to strive to be patient with others as I seek to love them in the way of Jesus. (Lord, have mercy!)

Be persistent in prayer. Here my pastoral calling starts to become more specific, and in this I have much room for improvement. This is not incidental to my ministry, but central: to persevere in prayer for those among us and around us, to be deliberate in making and taking time to speak the names and stories, joys and sorrows of our congregation and community before God. May this year be a year of rekindled prayer in my life, in every area of my life.

Be faithful in teaching the Scriptures. You’d think this would already be well in place. After all, this is an area of expertise and experience for me, and teaching the Bible is one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done. I have a Ph.D. in biblical studies, for goodness’ sake! But for various reasons this has been pushed to the margins in my ministry. No more: in the coming year I am determined to re-claim this calling, to find and create opportunities to teach the Scriptures in all their difficult challenge and inspired insight.

Tissot - Jesus TeachingBe bold in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is something I have been doing—every sermon I preach is a proclamation of the gospel—but I am resolved (yes, on this I’m “resolved”) to do this even more. Our world—and each one of us—desperately needs to hear God’s good news again and again and again. But beware: this is not the gospel many of us grew up with. It’s the gospel of God’s kingdom come on earth, justice and peace and flourishing life for all, brought about through the crucified and resurrected Jesus. It promises true life, abundant life, but it demands our very lives: walking in the cross-shaped footsteps of the resurrected Jesus. In 2017 I intend to preach this gospel of peace at every opportunity.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that these are the only things I’ll be doing as pastor this year. There are all kinds of specific tasks, necessary or urgent or both, that are part of a lead pastor’s role in this day and age. But these are the things I’ll be focusing my time and energy on, for these are the things to which I have been called.

So watch out, world! Look out, Morden Mennonite Church! Pastor Michael is on the loose! Let 2017 be the year in which I take a leap of faith closer to the goal for which I was commissioned: being patient in love, persistent in prayer, faithful in teaching the Scriptures, and bold in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

By God’s grace, may it be so.

Cross-posted from © Michael W. Pahl.


“So, you’re a pastor…”

It’s one of those conversation stoppers.

“So, what is it you do?” they ask.

“I’m a pastor,” I say.

They nod slowly, eyes dimming. Awkward pause. I can hear the next question, even though it’s left unspoken. It’s the same question as the first: “So, then…what is it you do?”

Good question. What exactly do I do? What does it mean for me to be a “pastor”?

I’m not a corporate CEO, or a business owner, or a franchise manager. I’m not the president of a local club, or the director of a local charity. I’m not a leader in the way the world thinks of leadership—casting visions, setting agendas, running the show, being “the decider.” I’m not here to make money or raise funds or establish a profile or bring in a crowd.

I’m a pastor.

But what does it mean for me to be a “pastor”?

If you asked ten pastors this question, you’d probably get a dozen answers. If you asked their parishioners, you’d probably get a hundred more. But here’s what it means for me to be a pastor.

As a Christian I am called to follow Jesus. As a pastor I am called to encourage others on this path, to follow Jesus in ever-increasing faith, hope, and love.

That’s it. That’s the sum total of my pastoral call.

Or, to put this another way, more in the words of the Apostle Paul: As a Christian I am “in Christ,” defined by Christ, seeking to become more and more like Christ by the power of his Spirit. As a pastor I am called to build up Christ’s body, those who are in Christ, into greater Christlikeness.

That’s my job description as a pastor. When I start my day, each and every day, that’s the task that is before me.

Of course, this has some more specific dimensions to it.

Jesus Good Shepherd catacombsI’ve always liked how Mark’s Gospel describes the calling of the Twelve apostles: “Jesus went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons” (Mark 3:13-15).

They were first and foremost “to be with him,” to know Jesus and talk to him and learn from him and walk with him. They were to do life with Jesus, their Rabbi. Then they were to “proclaim the message,” preaching and teaching the gospel, the good news of God’s kingdom of justice and peace, planted in the soil of this world through Jesus. And they were to “cast out demons,” to be instruments of kingdom liberation and healing to those in bondage to sin and evil, doubt and fear, guilt and shame, darkness and death.

Sure, this is the apostles we’re talking about. But I think this nicely encapsulates the mission of the Church, the calling of all Christians. It also summarizes the way the rest of the New Testament speaks of “pastors,” those “elders” who shepherd God’s people.

As a pastor I am called first and foremost to be with Jesus, in studying Scripture, in prayer, in daily communion with the risen Jesus by his Spirit.

And out of that communion with Christ I am to preach and teach the gospel, declaring and explaining and dialoguing about the good news of what God has done through Christ and continues to do by the Spirit.

And along with that I am to come alongside the infirm, the weak, the outcast, the downtrodden, the guilty, the fearful, the doubting, the despairing, to be an instrument of God’s healing and liberation. It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick; it is the lost who need to be found, the least who need to be feasted, the last who need to be made first.

I agree, it’s not very glamorous. And it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in the eyes of the world, all this prayer and Bible-reading and preaching, all this time spent away from the limelight with needy people.

But let others cast visions and set agendas. Let others run the show, be “the decider.” Others can make money and raise funds and establish a profile and bring in the crowds.

Me? I’m called to encourage others on this path of following Jesus. I’m called to build the body of Christ to become more like Christ. I’m called to be with Jesus, to preach the gospel, and cast out demons—and urge others to do the same.

I’m a pastor.

Cross-posted from © Michael W. Pahl.