Faith Works 8-31-13
So, what do you do, exactly?
Not long ago I was listed, in the little phrase at the end of my columns, as a "supply preacher", which is like being a substitute teacher for pastors, and which is different from being an interim minister, where you fill both the pulpit and the role all week, but for a limited period of time (usually six months to as long as two years).
During that time, which ran seven years while my wife and I were getting our son raised and I was doing a variety of part-time and contract jobs along with filling various pulpits on weekends, if I was at an event and people got to talking, it wasn't unusual for someone to turn to me at some point and ask "So, what is it you do?"
I still have my hand in a variety of activities and causes around Licking County, but since last August I've been able to go back to the more simple and straightforward "I'm a pastor, at Newark Central Christian." Or at least it sounds simple.
What does a pastor do? You can answer that question with a recitation of activities: I preach Sundays two or three times, teach (and preach a bit) at Wednesday Bible studies, visit the sick, marry and bury, write articles for the church newsletter (or nowadays, webpage), and serve in leadership roles in the community and my denomination.
That's certainly part of it, the activity and the busyness, and what the world probably best understands. But it isn't really what I think of when you ask, about my role as a parish pastor, what I DO.
So what do I do? What is it I think a pastor is for? When I was hired officially a year ago, I got a job description, and a contract, and I read them at the time, and don't disagree with them in any meaningful way. But I'll admit I haven't gone back to re-read them; they're more like the activity list approach to what a pastor or minister does. Myself, I'd frame the position description differently.
In essence I think my work is to do two things in and with and through our congregation, why I am here and what I'm called to do. I teach people to read, and I teach people to pray. That's my job, as I understand it. Two things.
A pastor teaches people to read Scripture and Tradition. We are not "reading teachers", per se, but we have a responsibility to help our worshipers learn how to engage the Bible for themselves. That's through sermons, through teaching studies, that's in direct interactions that range from how I talk about the Bible in personal conversations to simply the act of giving Bibles; it is an all week, all through everything process, and not just something that happens in sermons and studies – because my real goal is to encourage people not to walk out Sunday noon thinking "well, Jeff explained the Bible so well I don't need to read it more myself" but for them to go home on fire to dig deep and learn and understand even more of Scripture than we engaged in worship. And so on!
My job is also to teach people how to read Tradition, which is where it's even clearer that we're not talking about just teaching the mechanics of reading, but "how to READ." The calendar of the church year, the meanings and purposes of how we practice baptism and communion, the ways we order our congregational life: all of this is, in a sense, a vast text that I want people to "read," to investigate how and why it matters that we do things a certain way, from the meaning of a stole in formal pulpit garb, to the history of why Americans won't sit in the front pews. It's interesting, it's important, and it's faith promoting to read the deeper meaning in more than just the printed page.
So I teach people to read, and I teach people to . . . pray. That's a longer subject for another column, but my prayer is that my interactions whether on the street, in the sanctuary, at a nursing home, or on a hospital floor, all end up being part of teaching people the how and the why of making prayer a part of your life that's always present; what Paul called "pray without ceasing."
In this sort of reading, and praying, it's not about doing, but being.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in central Ohio; tell him what you think a pastor does (or is!) at email@example.com or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.