There has been an article floating about by Tim Bednar on spiritual blogging titled “We Know More Than Our Pastors.” Tim’s thesis is that the synergy of the combined blogging community represents a source of knowledge that is great than any one church leader. It is a logical hypothesis, which I agree with for the most part. As Tim suggests, the sharing of knowledge throughout a broader community should diffuse the power differential between pastor and parishioner, and blogging is a means of doing just that.
And then there is the issue of pastoral authority….
When I was called to be a pastor one of the aspects of that call was a desire to be normal. Like many of us, I didn’t want to be the Bible answer man. Instead, I wanted to walk beside folks, to demonstrate that faith is accessible for “normal” people and not reserved for the super spiritual. My own evangelical heritage had been based in a spiritual separation between pastor and parishioner, a separation that made faith inaccessible. In many ways, discipleship was limited in that we could cop out and say, “We know we should be like X, but after all he IS a minister.” We never thought it possible to be like the pastor. So when I became convinced that I couldn’t cop out anymore and had to follow this calling, I really wanted to do ministry in a different kind of way, a collegial way, and cooperative way, an accessible way. I wanted to be more earthy and less heavenly.
But then the folks I was walking with got involved….
It was less of an issue when I was an “associate” pastor. After all, I was the “Jr. Minister” as some would say. It was easy to take on the role of accessibility because there was a Senior Pastor to put their hopes in. It didn’t matter that she wasn’t much different than me in calling, age, or ordained status, she was still “the pastor” and I was “the associate,” the more accessible one.
However, when I moved to the church I now serve, it became clear that all my hopes and dreams were an uphill battle. The tradition in our church is that the pastor is called “Brother.” It’s an honorific, a way of saying that the pastor is different than the rest of the folks. And in spite of my best efforts to cast aside that name, to say that I’m not any different than anyone else, but am just called to a certain set of leadership tasks, the tradition continues. I appreciate it. I honor it. And I understand that no matter what I think, those who are a part of my church think otherwise.
All of this is a lead in (yes, I know that I’m too wordy) to my recent experiences as a “Reverend” at the Church of Fools(COF), the on-line, virtual church that I have been visiting recently. I have been visiting the COF for a couple of months now, lurking in the background, and having conversations with folks. Occassionally it would come out that I was a pastor, but for the most part my identity was “Jay V,” just another guy in the church.
This week, I was asked to become one of the official Reverends in the church. I would be asked to help with services on occasion, but the main task was to hang out regularly and talk. They created a new avatar for me, and when I sign on now I am listed as Rev. Jay. The different in how I approached in night and day. Suddenly, when I walk into the COF, three or four people sidle up and want to talk. They assume that I represent a particular theological bent. They also, though, are willing to listen to me now with more diligence for no other reason than someone has said that I was a reverend. I could be a one armed axe murderer for all they know (I’m not, by the way) but the title somehow changes the way they relate.
I’ve written before that the job of minister is a sacred trust. That sense of the sacred has little to do with the connection to God. Frankly, there are many days when the business of ministry takes me away from the means of maintaining that connection to the deity. For me, the sacred trust is that God has called me to represent God to these folks, and these folks invite me into their lives because of that status. They sit with me and tell me about their good times and bad times. They call me to be with them as they die. I see folks laugh and see folks cry. And they talk, and talk, and talk, often for no other reason than I have a title affixed to my name. I represent something for them, a safe something, that gives them permission to talk in ways foreign to normal life.
I am a minister. I’m a Reverend. I am Brother Jay.
No matter how strange it feels, it’s part of who I am . . . whether I like it or not.