Monday, May 21, 2007

Know why your pastor is a pastor

Ministry is modeled by Jesus. Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45). Diakonia is the Greek word from the New Testament which we call “ministry.” Diakonia is the Greek word for service. Based on Jesus’ model of ministry this notion of diakonia is significant. Service is a method by which all Christians perform ministry. My understanding of diakonia, or service, is that it was modeled by Jesus and should be performed by each and every Christian, not just the pastor.

The pastor has a responsibility to be a servant. In fact, pastors exist with a paradox of servant leadership. Jesus gives this model. It is the call to love and care for the fellowship of believers. To be a servant leader is to be cautious with our authority and power and continually display love and kindness to others. These services includes pastoral care and counseling, visitation, and taking the sacraments to the sick. Diakonia means being open for people to trust you with their problems and deepest concerns.

Service is also demonstrated by the pastor through modeling. As Will Willimon writes in his book Calling and Character, “Clearly, pastors are to be role models for the church, without separation between public and private, social and personal behavior… In all things, it is clear that Christian leaders are visibly to represent a manner of life and a style of leadership in marked contrast to that of the world.” Like Jesus, we are models of diakonia, service. We demonstrate service through our giving, serving, and loving of others in our local church and community.

Jesus served the people that surrounded Him. He brought physical, psychological, and spiritual healing to those who needed it. He fed the hungry. He stood up for the oppressed. Jesus offered salvation and liberation. Jesus was a servant.

Christ’s model is for the entire church. The problem in many local churches, from my experience and from hearing other pastor’s experiences, is that this diakonia, or service, has been relegated to the pastor. The attitude is, “Isn’t this why we pay the pastor?” Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon write in Resident Aliens, “Not knowing why their pastor is there, the congregation expects the pastor to be and do everything.”

Hauerwas and Willimon continue to explain that it is not our job to be “divinely sanction doormats.” They address the confusion of many congregations who neither understand the purpose of the Church nor the role often pastor: “[People] think the church is sustained by the ‘services’ it provides or the amount of ‘fellowship’ and ‘good feeling’ in the congregation. Of course, there is nothing wrong with ‘services’ and ‘good feeling’; what is wrong is that they have become ends in themselves.” As a pastor, I do not feel I am called simply to run programs, facilitate carry-in dinners, baby-sit youth, massage egos, or make people feel “warm and fuzzy.” My primary service to the people is one of remaining true to God’s message. This may mean that we have to confront a parishioner with an encouraging or a discomforting word of advice or Biblical message. This may mean questioning programs that are useless or supporting distractions that interrupt sincere service to God. It is a service to the people to tell them the story of our faith.

“Failing at that, the pastoral ministry is doomed to the petty concerns of helping people feel a bit better rather than inviting them to dramatic conversion. The pastor becomes nothing more than the court chaplain, presiding over ceremonies of the culture, a pleasing fixture for rites of passages like weddings and funerals ... the pastor feels like a cult prostitute, selling his love for the approval of an upwardly mobile, bored middle class….”

Diakonia means providing services so that move people closer to the bigger message. We serve God by serving others. We love God by loving others. The pastor’s social services should always help the Church understand the spiritual aspects of being the present and living Body of Christ.

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