One of the ongoing tensions in pastoral leadership is the tension between offering clear leadership to the congregation, and role of empowering lay people for ministry.
I think if you were to ask most any pastor, authoritarian or not, they would give lip service to the notion of empowering persons for ministry. After all, the whole movement to make disciples is about helping folks to assume their God given call to ministry. And any pastor who is half sane should recognize that empowerment of the laity works in their favor, for is takes the pressure off the pastor to produce, sharing the responsibility for the success or failure of the church with those who actually make up that body.
Yet, if you were to ask many laity what you would find is a desire for a “strong leader.” “Give us someone who will tell us what to do and where to go,” they say. Yet, behind that desire is also the need to have someone to hold accountable when things don’t go the way they want them to. Shared leadership is all well and good, but when the rubber hits the road we want someone to be responsible.
The danger for spiritual leaders is to get so caught up in issues of performance that you ignore the call to empowerment. Frankly, being an authoritarian leader is easier. One can get more done. Empowering others takes time and can be very messy for it involves dealing with people in their brokenness. And, most of all, taking time to do empowerment well is often interpreted as the pastor trying to get out of doing something by having someone else doing it.
That is where the role of pastor as servant leader is so important. Perhaps the most empowering thing we can do as servants of others is to take the most menial tasks upon ourselves so that others can experience the fun and glory. I think that the most important tasks in pastoral leadership might be setting up tables and chairs, mopping the the floors, and cleaning toilets. Why? Because it demonstrates the willingness of the leader to take on the grunt work and provides moral authority when the pastor is trying to empower another in a ministry task.
There is much rhetoric given to the notion of sharing our pastoral office with the laity. However, that rhetoric is only made real when we understand that the laity are actually sharing their pastoral office with us. Taking time to get dirty at the most basic level demonstrates our recognition that we have as much to learn from those we serve as they have to learn from us.
I once had a clergy colleague in a senior role question why I was taking time to mop the floors after a church event. “That’s what we have a custodian for,” she said. “Why are you wasting YOUR time to do that?”
The next day, a member of my church came to me and said “You are the most ‘real’ pastor I have ever had. I feel like I could come to you and talk about anything.”
It was in the mopping of the floor that Christ was revealed. I just wish that more of my clergy colleagues would understand this.
Picture by PinkMoose via Flickr