The father of a friend of mine recently passed away. He was a great guy, and I’m sure he’ll be missed. I hadn’t seen him in many years, but I remember the times I spent in his presence as well as the stories his son told me about him.
He spent many years as a chaplain in the armed forces. I recall his son telling me that his dad didn’t like being called, “Preacher.” His giftedness was in counseling, and that’s what he did well. Preaching was not his thing although it was part of his job description.
It’s sometimes curious to discover what we clergy-types are labeled by others. Personally, unlike my friend’s dad, I always liked being called Preacher. But that’s what I did. I attempted to do some counseling in my early days, but I was lousy at it. I don’t have the gift. I just pray I didn’t ruin too many lives before I came to that realization.
Over the years, I’ve had a lot of nicknames that related to my vocation—Parson, Deacon, Rev, and Preacher to name a few. I occasionally preach at a Biker church where they have dubbed me, “The Sermonator.” Of course, I’ve been called a few other names I can’t print in a G rated blog. The one that’s been used the most, however, was Pastor.
Being called Pastor is okay, but it doesn’t really describe what you do or who you are very well. It’s become somewhat of a catchall moniker. Every pastor has his or her own gifts and develops them in different ways. Sometimes, the word, “pastor,” is actually a very poor description of who we are. I’m sure a lot of folks would argue with me about it, but having done the job for almost forty years, I think I’m correct on that one.
Actually, that may be the biggest problem. Pastor has become the title of the job more than the person. Because of that, it has been redefined to the place where it has lost its original meaning. The original meaning, by the way, was shepherd.
A shepherd, theologically, is one who cares for the flock. (Actually, that’s what a shepherd is in terms of literal sheep as well.) Shepherds are gifts to the church—spiritual gifts. They are gifts the same as evangelists, counselors, musicians, nursery workers, and a boatload of others. The Apostle Paul was careful to explain that spiritual gifts were given by God for the edification of the church—lots of gifts to lots of people.
The preacher is not necessarily the pastor, and even if she is one, there are quite probably several more pastors in the congregation. We don’t always recognize them because no one has placed the title of Reverend in front of their names. We need all the gifted folks we can get. Without them, the church is incomplete. Hopefully, we recognize them when they show up. People and their gifts are important for us all.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently pastor of Smith Chapel in Great Falls, VA.]