If you are thinking about the Master of Divinity degree, then you’re thinking about what it might mean to be a pastor or provide spiritual leadership in some other way. Here are what we think of as the Seven Gifts of the Pastor. Gifts to cultivate as you explore your vocation and calling:
The ordination service in many traditions includes, among other things, words like these: “We proceed now to ordain you because we know of your love for people.” You would think this would be obvious, but it is still worth repeating! The first gift of pastoral leaders is to love those you serve. When there are temptations to see church members as a barrier to progress, or a source of frustration, as a source of donations, or as the basis of a new program, the first gift you give is rather to simply love them. Your first calling is to build up and encourage and bless and pray for and see flourish those who have called you as shepherd and leader. The word capturing all that is Love! What a gift, to love those you serve.
Sometimes in history the church has gotten caught up in hostility or indifference to the world around it—there has been mistrust or anger or suspicion. But if being a church leader means anything today, it means loving the world that God loves in Christ. To be the church is to live at the point of intersection between God and the world that God is bringing to new life and joy and hope in Christ. That means that pastoral leaders are called both to love the people they serve in the church and to love those who live around them in the neighbourhood. Your gift is to lead the congregation in love for the world. Remind them of this call to love and lead them in such love.
Who thinks they’ve got everything figured out already? About anything in life? Most of us today know that there is so much we don’t know. Most of us today are comfortable with the fact that there is more to discover and learn and build. So the young pastoral leader (and the older one!) doesn’t need to know everything. There is room for you to grow in understanding, to rely on others for direction, and to seek wisdom from friends and colleagues. In fact this is a gift of pastoral leadership—that you become an example of the learning we all need to do for life and faith. Show those you serve that knowing everything and having it all together isn’t what life and ministry are all about. Rather, knowing that you don’t know, and slow growth on the way—that’s what it’s about.
The scriptures are vital to our personal faith and to the life of the church—they connect us to Christ and to the God who meets His people in relationship. So yes, live with the scriptures in your daily life. Certainly! But maybe live with the Psalms in a special way. The Psalms have always been the prayer book of God’s people. They express with beautiful and faith-filled words the prayers of hope and pain and longing and joy and forgiveness and service and worship that God’s people always need. A gift of the pastor is to know the Psalms and in knowing them to share them. At times you will have your own words of wisdom to share, certainly. But more often what you will have to share are the beautiful words of the Psalms and every gift they give.
Oh, there is so much that you can talk about today in the church. You can talk about organizational structure, or strategic planning, or new programs, or challenging relationships, or community mission, and the list goes on… and on…. But the gift of the pastor is to keep the congregation centred on Jesus. Don’t stop talking about Jesus. Don’t stop talking about his life and his parables and his teaching and his death and his resurrection and his life now ascended to the right hand of the Father. All the other stuff will come and go—it will find its place—but at the end of 7 or 10 or 15 years serving a congregation, you want to be able to say: We kept Jesus at the Centre. We kept talking about Jesus.
We love this phrase from the writer and poet Wendell Berry. There are many habits that we develop and which shape us over time—some are bad habits, but some are life-giving habits. Life-giving habits include (whether you’re a pastor or not): prayer and spending time with friends and visiting the sick and reading scripture and welcoming strangers. Wendell Berry’s phrase suggests that we all should Practice Resurrection, which means to live in those habits that embody the way of our risen Lord. Your gift as pastor is to remind us all that our Lord is risen, and that we are risen with him. And to remind us that we are called to live habitually a resurrection life of joy and celebration and prayer and gratitude. Oh, what a gift that is!
It is so easy to find ourselves living in small worlds these days—to take our identity from a narrow set of responsibilities and activities. It’s so easy to live and work as if you are only a church worker. But remember that you are are many things—part of a family, part of a community, with gifts for creativity, with interests that might surprise others. Cultivate those relationships, that creativity, and those gifts. Part of the gift of a pastor leader is the gift of being more than a pastoral leader!! This is also a way for you to serve the church community your are a part of, by letting them see you as someone with interests and life beyond the church. So even here, this is a gift for you and a gift for a congregation, reminding them that we are all more than our “jobs”, with multi-faceted, rich lives.
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