Thursday, July 14, 2011

Pastoral Authority: Earned, Taken, or Granted?

It depends who you ask.

Pastor. In the eight years since this label first applied to me, it has been fascinating to notice who uses it and who doesn’t. The church that first entrusted the title to me was suburban, predominately white, and largely middle-aged. As a twenty-something associate pastor, I was mostly referred to by my first name. The lack of a title before my name suited me fine. At the time I was coming to grips with being a pastor and, frankly, the idea of regularly being identified as such by people ten to twenty years my senior was frightening.

In hindsight I realize there was something more to my timidity about this title. Being identified as a pastor carried with it a level of intimidating responsibility and authority that I felt I didn’t deserve. Surely I needed another ten years or so in the trenches before anyone could confidently call me their pastor. Being called simply by my first name was a relief, evidence in a way that I was still trying on this vocation to see if it fit.

The fact that this congregation indulged my skittishness with my pastoral role didn’t mean I had no authority. As Matt Tebbe pointed out, there is a kind of authority that comes over time, one that is established through faithful relationships. I felt both honored and surprised when congregants twice my age confided their struggles and listened to whatever biblical counsel I might offer. Despite my meager experience the church elders willingly listened to my ideas for future ministry. My authority as a new pastor came from ongoing presence in the community, being faithful to the church despite my insecurities and mistakes.

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