Minister as Conductor

Of the many things a minister does with his or her time, the one we are most often judged on is our presence in the pulpit and/or time spent leading worship. That makes sense, of course, since most of what we do is either in small groups or with individuals, and worship services are one of the few things that even the least-involved and least-connected people in a congregation still occasionally attend.

There are a variety of ways ministers and congregations tend to imagine a pastor’s job description…

  • To some, a pastor is a “visionary leader” – an individual who seeks God’s will on behalf of the congregation and puts together a map intended to enable the congregation to get there (“there” being whatever particular vision the minister has – primarily through private study and prayer – received from God to prophetically pass on to them).
  • Others imagine the minister’s role as that of “counselor.” In this sense, a pastor helps determine a congregation’s felt needs and seeks to help them experience freedom from pain and relief from whatever emotional and spiritual ailments they are dealing with at a given time.
  • A few think of the pastor as an experienced “tour guide” – someone who’s “been there” or “seen that” and helps lead others through life warning of potential pitfalls and pointing out the beauty that might otherwise be overlooked.
  • Still others view the pastor’s position as one of “equipper.” In this sense, we are to help individuals recognize their unique gifts, skills and resources and discern how best to use them in the life of the congregation and surrounding community.
  • There is a sense of truth to each of these views (and several others). Lately, however, I’ve been struck with the image of “conductor” or “facilitator” – particularly within the context of worship. Why? Because the biggest failure each of the above-mentioned positions tends to promote (with the possible exception of the fourth) is that, at a very basic level, they tend to imagine the minister as the primary do-er of ministry in the congregation. Something that, as far as I can see, has absolutely no biblically backing whatsoever.

    If the minister is the primary do-er, then the minister’s role is to be the primary worship-er… the primary pray-er… the primary engage-r of the scriptures. If, on the other hand, the pastor’s role is that of “conductor” or “facilitator,” the s/he is charged with helping those on the other side of the pulpit and communion table to worship… and pray… and engage the scriptures.

    That doesn’t mean that a minister isn’t worshiping and praying and engaging the scriptures as an individual (and as part of the body). Indeed, in a very real sense, s/he ought to have a certain expertise, experience, and training in exactly those things (as the Reformed tradition has consistently, albeit decreasingly, demanded). However, conducting a choir is a very different thing than singing in one (although most conductors can and have sung under the leadership of other conductors). A facilitator’s role, rather than trying to get a group to come to a particular conclusion, is to help the group discern a particular direction (often even something very different than the facilitator would have individually concocted.)

    Pull the image over into ministry and all sorts of light bulbs begin going off in the thought-bubbles over our heads. A minister’s role is to bring together the body of God’s people and help them unite together in worship and prayer… to help bring them to the point where they are individually and communally engaging the scriptures.

    What use is it if a minister gets in front of a congregation on Sunday morning to worship on their behalf… and pray on their behalf… and engage the scriptures on their behalf?

    My answer: None!

    I can do all of those things in the privacy of my own office or living room without the bother and distraction of a congregation watching me. If, on the other hand, a congregation gathers together each week (or even, dare I suggest it, more often!) and joins together to do each of these things as a gathered body, then something far greater is taking place. A minister, in this sense, is charged with making sure the congregation joins (metaphorically, if not literally) in on the same song… the same verse… the same words; a pastor is to help pull together the dozens of diverse and sometimes divergent souls and help weave them – even if for a short time – into a single tapestry of worship, prayer and word.

    The problem? This view of ministry doesn’t give the pastor great power and prestige (which, in my experience, many ministers want and are hesitant to give up) and it doesn’t give congregations the ability to sit back and simply let it happen around them (which, in my experience, many congregations have become quite used to and are hesitant to change).

    Those two problems alone (not counting the fact that minister-as-primary-do-er is an entirely unbiblical concept) are enough to ensure that minister-as-conductor or pastor-as-facilitator aren’t frequently-embraced images – from either side of the pulpit!

    I wonder what it would take to change that?!

    Grace and Peace,
    `tim

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    4 Responses to Minister as Conductor

    1. Good thoughts, Tim, and I tend to agree with you. But when I think about the Belgic Confession and the 3 “marks” of the true church being pure preaching of the gospel, right administration of the sacraments, and Christian discipline, I can see how the pastor becomes the primary do-er of worship, the primary church member, as a matter of fact. A pastor could literally preach the gospel to an empty room and pray the communion prayer, eating the bread and drinking the cup alone (although whether this would be right administration of the sacraments could certainly be debated). And how great is discipline when the pastor only has to discipline her/himself!

      The problem as I see it is that too often we as ministers tend to shoulder the burden for others who won’t “pull their own weight.” And if the minister succeeds in weaving together the tapestry, as you call it, there is still a sense of accomplishment for the minister. But if the people themselves are weaving, and they learn to take the initiative for prayer and praise, then the pastor-as-facilitator image, as you called it, would absolutely be embraced. Which pastor will have the courage to allow the body to be immersed in that kind of worship? Not an overnight change, surely!

    2. teejtc says:

      Chris…

      Good points. Regarding the marks, however, I think a solid argument can be made that NONE of the marks can be done “rightly” if the minister is the one doing them. As you know, all three of them – according to our polity – are to be overseen by the Elders not merely “done” by the minister. At best, the marks remain intact and rightly-engaged even when a congregation is without an installed minister. In the RCA (unlike most other Reformed bodies) this is ensured by giving the authority to do all three to Elders. Ministers, when they’re present, administer them on behalf of the Elders.

      You’re right though. In the end, it’s probably true that pastors tend to “do” because others aren’t.

      Grace and Peace,
      `tim

    3. shiranne says:

      Hi Tim.. I think my job must be a little different then yours. I do what ever the people that pay tell me to do. Some days I’m the trainer, some the trainee, one hour the operator, next the inspector, I sweep the floors, do inventory, do safety audits, do quality audits, gauge glass, attend meetings, whatever is necessary.Never knowing if I need to go in early or stay over, work Saturday, work Sunday or not work at all. Last week I was gone from home at least 70 hours for work. In my spare time I mow, clean house, wash clothes, do dishes, go to a football game, check on Mom every day, pay bills, get groceries, Sorry there is not more time to “do”. Sorry, I think I’m venting!! Love ya anyway! Shirley

    4. teejtc says:

      Shirley,

      Of course the same is true with me too. Sometimes I do paperwork, sometimes I make coffee, sometimes I’m in meetings, others I’m alone, sometimes I’m cleaning toilets others I’m counseling. Like you – outside of the things I do at work, I clean, wash clothes, pay bills, parent, etc. and like you, I often don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring or whether I’m going to be called out to do something at 2 in the morning or whether the plans I try to make (for me and my family) are going to stand up to the reality of what happens when someone ends up in the hospital, sick, dying, angry, or whatever.

      In the end I don’t think that “doing” church necessarily means we’re supposed to be putting more time into it (sometimes that’s simply not possible), “doing church” means we recognize that it’s everyone in the congregation who’s the church, not just the minister. You know what I mean?

      If I’m the only one called to pray and worship and study the scriptures, why would we bother meeting in community? What would the purpose of “church” be? There’s certainly no point in you sitting around watching me do those thing :-) (Oh, if that were the point of gathering, I’d deeply pity you and everyone else!) :-)

      Grace and Peace,
      `tim

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