Monday, August 20, 2007

"I believe the term you're looking for is..."

As the time approaches in which exists the very real possibility of being the senior pastor of a church, Naomi has asked me what I'll think when addressed as "pastor" for the first time. Not quite seriously I've told her that my instinct will be to answer that person with "I believe the term you're looking for is 'Chief Instructor'." The reason for this instinct is becasue "Chief Instructor" is a label I've worn before and am therefore familiar with. While plenty of ministry experience has played out for me in churches, the bulk of my shepherding tendencies were cultivated as a chief instructor at Temple Kung Fu in Washington and North Valley Kung Fu in California.

The responsibilities of a chief instructor included, but were not limited to: personally teaching private lessons, teaching group workouts (Skill class, Kung Fu club and Sparring Club), managing studio finances, counseling students on training plans, advertising the studio, school involvement in the community, and training junior instructors to duplicate teaching efforts. Certainly these are not all of a chief instructor's responsibilities; nor do they appear an exact one-to-one correspondence with pastoral responsibilties. However, in many cases the parallels can be striking, and I witnessed those parallels while serving in churches in California, Washington and now Texas.

For this reason the title "Chief Instructor" still feels familiar, while any other seems foreign. It also has not helped that I have had a very different image in my mind as to what manner of man can be a pastor. Previous exposure to men that I would call true shepherds of God's flock have dominated my thinking, leaving the intimidating impression that failure to match the ideal will somehow sink God's ship called the "H.M.S. Christian Church." The picture of the perfect pastor/shepherd has been hanging on the wall of my mind, offering the constant intimidation of how much I don't mirror it.

But God doesn't call pictures into ministry though...he calls people. So I'm left with the choice of either to tear up the picture, or tear up the person. Some might justify tearing up the person, claiming a pious sense of proactive humility; but that is essentailly a vote of no-confidence in the church's ability to call a pastor, discern his makeup and acknowledge how the Spirit assembles a local church body. For this reason it is most reasonable to submit to the Spirit's call to ministry, differences with the pastoral "picture" notwithstanding. Moreover, if the Spirit calls, then he does so with full knowledge of how he has gone about preparing the one he calls to ministry.

The answer appears to be then, to submit to the Spirit's call to service, to trust his ability to guide a church in selecting their leadership and to trust that he has sovereignly prepared me up to this moment. For this reason, it is better to trust the manner in which God has brought me to this place than to attempt matching the "picture." Continued refinement is necessary to be sure, but not to the point of attempting an artificial persona that probably the Spirit has supplied the church with someone else to fulfill. In this way, perhaps it is appropriate to, with grace and patience, correct the "pastor" address with "I believe the term you're looking for is...Chief Instructor."