Friday, September 03, 2010

I don't like being a pastor.

I don't like being a pastor.

Now let me unpack that.

Maybe, a less dramatic way to say what I am feeling is that I don't like being perceived or labeled as a pastor. The Bible lists pastoring among the spiritual gifts given to believers. I don't believe that I have a large measure of the "pastoring" gift. To me, a true pastor (Biblically speaking) is someone exceptionally gifted to care for and disciple a smaller group of people. I may be better at that than I give myself credit for, but it isn't my primary gifting.

I can look past that, though. I live in culture where the word "pastor" (or minster, reverend, etc.) means something other than what the New Testament means when it uses the word. I don't have to be the etymological purist who tries to rescues words back to their earlier meanings. I'm tempted to do that, but it isn't worth the effort. So, in our culture, a "pastor" is for all intensive purposes defined as a protestant priest. Most people would define a "pastor" as a professional clergyman who leads a church (meaning a non-profit religious organization). There are, of course, negative connotations to the word. Lots of pastors are egomaniacs, for instance. Many are rather shallow people using religion to forge a career for themselves. Some of them, of course, love God and their people legitimately...ok, probably most of them do if I am being fair. But, the reality is that the word itself isn't a very exciting label for me to attach to myself.

When someone on an airplane asks me what I do I usually say, "I work for a church." If I'm feeling particularly guarded I might say something like,  "I do lots of things...teach at a church, write books, make movies." They will generally be intrigued more by writing books and making movies, which leads the conversation toward a more desired destination. In most circumstances I can rarely make these words come out of my mouth: "I'm a pastor."

I do have business cards that I never use that say "pastor." It's also what appears on my W2 form. I am, legally speaking, a pastor. I'm registered with the state of Ohio as a member of the clergy to perform religious rites. I'm a pastor. I just hate being called one.

I worry that I think too negatively about this stuff. I know I can tend to do that. The "happier" people in my life advise me to make it my ambition to embrace the title and embark on a crusade to redefine it. But it's hard to give my life to redeeming a title that neither Biblically nor culturally accurately defines what God has called me to be.

This post all comes from a thought I had during our prayer time last night in my church meeting (small group). It hit me that for all of the obviously rough days Jesus weathered, there might have been a similar frustration that he quietly endured day to day. I started thinking about how many people called him "Rabbi." He was a rabbi - a teacher. But he wasn't like the other rabbis. He spent the majority of his time combatting the Pharisees, the leading faction of rabbis. I wonder if the average person - at first glance - just put Jesus in the "rabbi box." I wonder if they thought things like, "He's a little different than the Pharisees, but a rabbi is a rabbi. He's all talk. All about the rules. All about the power, etc."

Of course, those who spent time with him would begin to say things like, "unlike the other rabbis, he speaks with genuine authority." But, I can't help but wonder if his stomach didn't turn now and again when a stranger walked up to him and addressed him as "rabbi." Maybe I'm way off. I am obviously projecting my own story onto his...but I don't think I have thought about how the cultural expectations of being a rabbi could have been a frustrating obstacle toward his goal of bringing the Kingdom.

I have a great measure of clarity around what God has called me to these days. He's called me to live my life in a church defined as a "a small missional family loving God and each other." He's called me to Cincinnati and the Vineyard to use my gifts to mobilize people to see the Kingdom come in our city and beyond. He's called me to play a role in speaking to the larger American culture through film and video production. I'd do those things regardless of my job or title or circumstances. I don't think any of these callings make me a pastor, but you can keep calling me that if you long as neither of us really start believing it too much.


Pastor Joe


Unknown said...

my the luck of my irishness be with you. i guess its kind of like saying peace be with you but thats probably to churchy. haha

cdwalker247 said...

I don't want to be a pastor in title either. But I fear that will happen some day. For now I enjoy being a pastor to my family, my small groups, and whoever happens to read my blog.

Sean said...


I love you way to much to keep my mouth shut on this one, Joe. Let me begin by saying that in many ways, I agree with you. Heck, one of the lines from my most requested performance poems is:

"I'm an ex-pastor named Joe, one who loves the machine and the lights and the stage, but loves the truth more than his own video age."

BUT! You don't get to not like it. Because you didn't pick it. Those of us that look to a Chirpa on the mountain did.

We know you are an intermediary.
We know that.
We do.
I promise.

But we can also see the light you bring to dark places. And we will use that light to see the path it illuminates.

So, I'll meet you in the middle.

Roshi, Rabbi, Teacher, Sensei, O-sensei, Shepherd, Holy Man, Cefu, Cleric, Shaman, Rector (heh), turn around collar, Preacher, Papa, or Pastor.

Suck it up and pick one. And I'll use it. But you are stuck with where God wants you in my life, whether you like it or not.


On second thought, disregard all of that. You're right. I'll just keep calling you Joe. Joe has always been good enough for me. I am proud of him and what he does. The other part kind of goes with out saying...

Unless you want to be called Rector Joe.. Because that would be kind of the most awesome thing ever..

Airplane Seat Mate: "What do you do?"

Joe: "I'm a Rector... BOOYAH!"

(You have to do the 'Booyah' for it to be as funny in real life as it is in my head.)

Hmm.. so I guess I should sum up. I am really trying to say thank you. Thank you for being my friend, first. And my Pastor, second. You have meant more to me in both capacities than you will ever know, Joe.

Love you.
Mean it.

Some Dude Sean

Lauren W. said...

if you weren't a "pastor" i probably wouldn't have started coming to the vineyard. whenever you are teaching i always feel like it's okay to be comfortable. it's okay to laugh and be relaxed while still learning about god and how to live life as a christian. so, embrace your gifts and the titles that come with them. however, if you prefer to just go by "teacher" i'm cool with that too. then again, i'm an elementary teacher so i'm partial to the title. : )

Steve Cuss said...


thanks for taking the time to write - I'm really appreciating what you're posting here. I'm a pastor like you are - paid staff, lead dude etc, yet my Bible seems to clearly teach that pastor is a gift, not a title, so we're wrestling that out in our little corner of NW colorado.

I think part of the challenge of "pastor" is also the power that comes with it. I'm a pretty easy going guy, and I'm also Aussie which makes me anti establishment by sheer definition, yet many see me as "the MAN: - not in the cool way, but in the institutionalized way.

I worked at a mega church in Vegas (I think we've met a time or two and have some mutual friends.) These folks think I'm the man? They have no idea. Its a very strange dynamic to have some folks have major issues with me because I'm the pastor and even stranger when I either have no idea what they're talking about and/or have no issue whatsoever with them. It seems that my role/title generates heat on its own without adding my actual personality and brokenness.

Anyway, that's my long winded way of saying your post really resonated with me

Oh, and your stuff on community really rocks as do your leadership lesson posts.

I will be quoting one of your community blogs in my sermon this sunday.

I won't attribute it to you, of course, but rather say, "I've always said..." and then quote you. Or maybe I'll say, "my dear old friend Joe Boyd says" even though I think we've met once, maybe twice in the green room at Central. Because, you know, that's what public speakers are tempted to do - look better and and more impressive that we really are.

alright, I'll attribute it to you and do my best again this Sunday to show what it looks like when a broken flawed human being, is hungry for Jesus.

peace to you

Steve Cuss