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…
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,