It used to be true that the pastor was the best educated person in town. We Presbyterians were all about that – historically – and our educational requirements for ordination reflected the desire to academically prepare pastors well. We were known for exegeting scripture, understanding church history, and teaching theology. One of us signed the Declaration of Independence. Another founded Princeton.
I remember one of my childhood pastors telling me – after I myself became a pastor – how hard it was to serve my home church in Chapel Hill, NC – a university town. Yes, the pastors were always very bright. But so were the parishioners. “An elder might be the head of the botany department and he assumed that he was an authority on everything,” I was told. These kinds of elders were sometimes a pain in the neck to work alongside, I was told.
But what if we – as pastors – appreciated the experts among us? Imagine if we turned to the construction workers, the bankers, the chefs, the librarians in our congregations, and then we partnered with them to serve our people and others. What it we pastors acknowledged that we cannot possibly do it all or know it all? What if we considered our parishioners to be colleagues in ministry. Imagine.
When I was a parish pastor, working with a computer science wizard, he often identified me to others as his boss. And then I would add that he was also my boss. He added immeasurably to the ministry happening in our congregation.
About once a month, we would have a tech day when he would share with me all the cool things he’d learned in the past month about social media or office machinery. And I might teach him how to do a Hebrew word study online.
This is the future of ministry. We are all in this together. The bakers in our community have much to contribute to the community. The barristas, the lawyers, the pediatricians, the anthropology professors, the middle school Spanish teachers – all have a ministry in the realm of God.
Here’s a special word to the small church pastors who Do Everything: Stop it. There are people in your congregation who can school you on all kinds of things. Let that happen.
The 21st Century Church realizes that we are connectional in terms of sharing gifts as well as nurturing relationships. And . . . the pastor can’t be the smartest person in the room.
Warholized image of William Tennant, Presbyterian Pastor and one of the founders of Princeton University.