Butler, Therapist, Pastor, Friend???

As a pastor I come across and hear about a lot of problems in people’s lives and in the world. As a pastor I not only have to preach about God’s love, but also be the example of that love toward everyone. Of course that is nothing to complain about, in fact I love doing that. I could not see myself doing anything else. However, being a pastor is also one of the most misunderstood and abused roles in the world. In fact if I was to be truly transparent it is also one of the most lonely. Nothing brings me more joy than to be a pastor AND nothing creates in me a sense of worthlessness than being a pastor.

Today I have been working on my DMin final paper and I came across and interesting thought by Kenda Creasy Dean in her book “Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church.” She writes this, “Teenagers tend to view God as either a butler or a therapist, someone who meets their needs when summoned (“a cosmic lifeguard,” as one youth minister put it) or who listens nonjudgmental and helps youth feel good about themselves (“kind of like my guidance counselor,” a ninth grader told me.)” Basically, youth (and I would say adults) see God as someone who is a presence in their lives, but only when called upon. If someone does not “need” God then God is sidelined on the bench of their lives.

I remember the song I grew up with, “What a Friend We have in Jesus”

“What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!”

I’ve always liked this song, however it seems to fit nicely into what Dean is talking about in her book. God is a great friend who will always be there for you in times of trouble or need, BUT that is ONLY when you need Him.

I remember the passage that Jesus tells His disciples in John 15, “Remember what I told you, ‘Servants aren’t greater than their master.’ If the world harassed me, it will harass you too. If it kept my word, it will also keep yours.” So my thinking is that if this is how God is understood in most people’s minds, His ministers will probably also be thought of like that.

I enjoy serving my congregations with all my heart. When I get to hear their problems and help them through a personal crisis, I feel like I am in my wheelhouse. But is this all a pastor is for? Does a pastor mean anything more to people? Can people look past the title of pastor and see someone they can befriend?

Being a United Methodist pastor kid all my life and now a pastor myself in the same church I have never been able to find roots. Since pastors are itinerant, calling some place a home can be challenging. There is always a sense of being the new kid on the block. Add to that the title and responsibilities of being a pastor and it makes it challenging to be accepted and find people who are willing to befriend someone like me. Plus the fact that in seminary they teach you the understanding of professional boundaries and the dangers that pastors can find themselves in.

Now for pastors who are appointed in the cities this might not be that big of a challenge. For one thing in cities the chances of having friendships is greater. Also, in the cities there is less likely to be the “generational mentality.” What I mean by that is your acceptance depends upon how long your family has been in a community. So it might not be a problem for city pastors. However, in towns with a population of 250, 500, or 1000 the chances of finding friendships are a bit less likley.

So this is where I find myself. I live in a small community. I pastor not just one church, but three. Plus, lets add to the fact that I am only 36 which might be ok in the business world, but when you are trying to lead a congregation of people who have been coming to these churches since they were born and have a legacy to uphold; being seen only as “the young pastor” is hard to get over. On top of that lets circle back to the top and discuss how we see God and maybe make some connections.

Isaiah 52 says that the feet of people who bring the message of salvation are beautiful. Now if the feet of the people who bring salvation are beautiful, shouldn’t the One who is Salvation be even more beautiful? Shouldn’t the Savior be the greatest person to behold? And yet, as Dean points out, the Savior is being understood as just a butler, or just a therapist. Our Savior is someone who we need in our lives, but we treat as if He is a common pastor who is probably only here for a few years and then will move on.

Now if this is how people see God, God’s ministers should expect the same, right? I understand the worries of befriending a pastor. I mean if I befriend a pastor they might ask me to do something in church. They might make me read scripture, or lead worship, or be on a committee, or give up my free time to help the poor. I mean, people who are nice to pastors are usually the ones who do the most in church. So of course there is risk that I might have to get out of my pew and participate in the life of the church. So I completely understand why some would not want to be a friend of a pastor.

The way I see it, is that this is probably the same reason that we do not want to truly be a part of God’s life. God might just ask us to do something that will make us feel uncomfortable. He might ask us to participate in what He is doing in the world. However, if I keep God on the bench then I can live how I want. I can tell myself that all God really wants is for me to be good and I am a good person. Plus, I know that God loves me, so when I do need Him, He will be right there to serve me and listen to my problems.

This is a real problem. The point of being saved is not so that I can be a good person or “go to heaven.” I mean anyone can find their own salvation, anyone can be a good person, anyone can find heaven. I mean, lying on the beach drinking a margarita can be referred to as heaven. The problem is that salvation is more, much more, infinitely more. Jesus is more than a butler, therapist, or even more than a pastor. He is much more, infinitely more. If only I knew someone who knew Jesus like this? If only God would send someone in my life that could show me a Savior who was more? I wonder???

Anyway, maybe I am the only one who sees a connection. Maybe, I am the one with the problems. (Of course I am the one with problems, who doesn’t have problems.) You know, Jesus became human so that we can have a relationship with Him. Not just any relationship, some thing more. Something worth our time, presence, and commitment. A relationship that endures the everyday muck and the everyday joys and the everyday activities that make up our lives. He is more than just God, He is one of us. Maybe His pastors are too…

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