Thursday, January 31, 2013

slightly weird pastor moments

As if the whole church thing were not weird enough, we use some really strange language.

I know I'm not an outsider anymore, but there are times when I still feel like one. And one of those times is when we use weird terms to describe things. Not like theological language, which is already bizarre in its way but has its uses just like any other insider language (educators have one, computer people have one, journalism has one, medicine has one, etc). Not even hipster language--like when everything is authentic and intentional and relational and relevant, or whatever. But flat out weird institutional language.

Like when a new pastor is called (not hired), they are installed (they don't just start work until they get properly...well, all the metaphors I can think of sound dirty--ie, what we do with lightbulbs, appliances, software...). When they leave their relationships are dissolved (which I suppose is the slightly softer way of saying "cut off"). And we're now called Teaching Elders, not simply pastors or ministers (though for the record, "minister" was a seriously problematic term when it comes to thinking about the priesthood of all believers anyway).

(yes, I know that no one outside the church knows what the priesthood of all believers is. Maybe that'll be a future post.)

Sometimes the language is problematic--for instance: yes, we are are "called" to a particular position. But that "call" is also a "job" and not just in the sense that we need a way to talk about what we do all day to people who don't get it. Because we're Called whether or not we have a job, inside or outside the church. Sometimes when we are between jobs, or looking for a new job, or uncertain about various aspects of our jobs, that language confusion makes it feel like our call is in question, when in fact it's not. It may be in transition, but our call exists whether or not we have a call. See the problem?

All this stuff is relevant to me right now because this Sunday I'll be installed as the Pastor/Head of Staff at my new call (aka job). While I'd like to think that isn't really about screwing me in so I can light up the room, some people might think that's what the pastor's job is--to be twisted around until she can shine the light for everyone else. Others might think the pastor's job is to work for them like any other appliance they fit into its slot in the kitchen or utility room and plug in/hook up.

No metaphor is perfect--and those are so far off base as to be painful, though many may hold them anyway--but perhaps the software installation is as close as we get to this weird use of language in the church. When you install software on your computer (at least in my extremely basic understanding), it's purpose is to help you do what you need to do. Microsoft Word isn't an end in itself, and it doesn't do anything by itself (we hope)--it gives you the tools you need to communicate. That's kind of what a pastor is for. Our job is to equip the saints for ministry. Not to do everything, or to be the light ourselves, but to give people the tools to follow their call in the world and as a church.

As for the dissolution thing--well, the word is weird but I will say that it captures the feeling.

So: this Sunday, 10am, at the Presbyterian Church of Palatine, we will gather to celebrate that I'm joining in the work of this community, finding new ways to equip the saints for faithful 21st century lives. We will wear red stoles, a reminder that the Holy Spirit is a party to the call, so it is more than just being hired for a job. Come on over--if nothing else, it'll be a blast!

(totally off-topic: this is my 1500th post on this blog! It's been a wild 11 years to come up with 1500 things to say...)


  1. So sad I'm not going to be there. :(

    Congratulations on a your blogging milestone. That's an amazingly long time to have been blogging! I went back and read your first couple posts, which were endearingly youthful. ;)

  2. 1500 post? Wow - congratulations! I hope all goes well for your installation (the terms and metaphors did make me giggle... but I see the problems!)