On being a pastor and a friend

I think I’ve learned more about pastoring and friendship in the last week-and-a-half since announcing my resignation at this church than I had in the previous 8 years in ministry here. Much of my focus has been on my job description, the things I’m supposed to do and come up with—teaching, programming, new ideas, resourcing, administration, oversight, and so on. I spent a lot of time worrying about making things happen and whether or not I was meeting the not-always-fleshed-out expectations people had for my role. I’ve often wondered if I’m “making a difference” or “having an impact,” and not always knowing the answer, have kept striving for something unknown. It has led so some frustration and a lot of self-doubt and second-guessing.

You hear things when you are saying goodbye to people that you’re unlikely to hear until then. And it’s in the outpouring of love and care and emotion as we say goodbye that I’m seeing the pastoral calling with new eyes. What ultimately seems to matter and make a difference is that I am there and that I care. I get involved in ordinary life. What mattes is presence.

If I had learned this lesson sooner, it would have saved quite a bit of fretting. I would have cultivated relationships more than I have. I would have done things differently. On the other hand, it’s possible that I couldn’t have learned this lesson without some of the things I’ve struggled with over the years.

I’m sure I’ve known this stuff for a long time, and I’ve certainly heard it before, even repeatedly—not least from the writings of Eugene Peterson, that pastor of pastors—but I also know that most learning happens by experience. At any rate, I take this new perspective to my next call, where there will be new things to learn.

I’ve also begun pondering friendship. My personality has led me to believe that friendship is about time spent together and deep conversations, and that it’s cultivated by being together and talking regularly. I still believe that’s how friendships go really deep. And yet I’m also learning that I will be considered a friend even after intermittent, occasional conversations and connections. Perhaps I should shift my perspective there, too, and not let my insecurities get in my way. Maybe I need to start calling more people “friend” much sooner than I do.

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