there are a lot of ways to pastor

there are a lot of ways to pastor “in his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. so if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you.  if your gift is serving others, serve them well. if you are a teacher, teach well.  if your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. if it is giving, give generously. if God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. and if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.” – romans 12:6-8

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the word “pastor” is such a loaded word. not quite as loaded as “church” but with some of the same baggage. we assume that pastors have a certain kind of education & training & credentials that make them able to do the work that they are doing.  pastor has become a title, a role, a job description; the implication of it is that it is a role that is definitely connected to a church system.

we need to re-think the word pastor. i won’t rehash all of the thoughts from that old post, but it’s been on my mind in this past season as i hear from awesome & wonderful people who have huge hearts for people & God & are “pastors” in their contexts.  often, their gifts aren’t valued because they don’t have the credentials or titles to go with it.  they don’t make any money.  they don’t have any formal training. they don’t have anyone to empower them formally.

but they are pastors–shepherds, caregivers, lovers-of-people.  they are the ones that people go to when they are hurting.  they show up when no one else shows up. they listen.  and check in.  cheerlead.  pray.  feed.  care.  laugh.  cry.  grieve.  they are the loving presence of Christ in the midst of every day life.

others are strangely drawn to them.

my guess is that in every neighborhood there’s a pastor.

in every office.

in every school.

in every family.

in every organization.

in every group.

people who others go to for spiritual love & support & care in the midst of their real lives.

being a good pastor is of great value, and skills like knowing the difference between caretaking and caregiving, and so many other things necessary to the work should be appreciated.

i have a feeling a lot of you are pastors but have never had that title next to your name.

i also know a lot of you are pastors, with the title and role, and do all kinds of beautiful things to love & care & shepherd & guide the people in your communities.  i do not for a minute want to minimize the hard work you are doing.  i, too, have the title & role & some of the benefits that come from this position.  i am grateful for this season in my life, and it is a privilege to be able to have my vocation & passion merge this way.

but i really want to honor all the amazing pastors out there who will never be in these specific church ministry positions.  who will never go to seminary. who will never have the title.  who may never preach from the front.  who may always think of themselves “less than” typical pastors because the title has not been bestowed up on them properly.

here’s what i want to say to those of you in this boat:

you are a pastor.

God gave you this gift.

your love & heart & compassion & care & presence matters.

you do not need to be ordained by a system to be ordained by God to live out the gift that you have.

you do not need to go to seminary to somehow to be made legit.

you do not need someone “above” you to tell you how to use it.

you do not need to dismiss the fire in your belly & the love in your heart because you don’t have what the church associates with the role.

just keep doing what you do naturally.

be a safe person for others. 

create little pockets of love without asking for permission.

go to people.

gather people.

love people.

the world needs you.

the world isn’t crying out for more theologians, seminarians, or the next-newest-and-greatest-church plant (although the “machine of church” might be).

no, the world is crying out for more “pastors”, people who will bravely and freely extend Christ’s love, hope, care, mercy & justice in a broken & hurting world. 

keep remembering–there are a lot of ways to pastor.

 

 

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

31 Comments

  • Thank you, Kathy, I have been walking with Her, hand-in-hand, since my childhood; She told me of my destiny, my oncoming life, the person I would become; the people I would meet, be surrounded by, & seek out. I accepted all this, because I accepted & trusted Her Love, my Eternal Mother, & I was not afraid. Now I feel comforted, knowing that I have not left Her Side, that I am ordained in Her Heart to be a shepherdess for Her people, whom She has surrounded me with. Rejoice!

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    • thanks mar, that is so weird, i just watched that this past weekend, too. beautiful.

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  • Thank you for this post. It touched me deeply – especially this week. There are two of us in our department at work. Both have the same position title – pastoral care assistant. One is male, young, has another year of studies to complete for his M.Div. – a deeply caring, godly man. The other is me – female, been there 25+yrs., wife of a prof, with no training except a few courses. Guess who gets called ‘The Pastor.’ I’ve struggled with my feelings all week and because of your excellent post, will give them once more to the Lord and let it all go – praying that I might be used to be a safe nurturer, loving listener, mercy and hope dispenser, pinch-hitter preacher, hymn-sing leader and whatever else the Lord wants me to do for Him. Bless you!

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    • stories like this are always so inspiring to me. thank you for sharing. may you keep pastoring freely & feeling God’s peace and courage and hope in the midst.

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    • thanks, travis. when i hear the word “relevant” i always get a little twinge-y, ha ha, like so many other words, that one got a little bit hijacked, too! thanks for reading, really thankful for your voice and story.

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  • Amen Kathy, well said!!

    I see pastors in the moms and dads that get up every morning and count their blessings and work hard to do their very best to care for their families. I see pastors in the parents that work hard and sacrifice to give their children good things and their undivided love and attention. I see pastors in the spouses that remain faithful to their spouses and honor and respect them each other even on the bad days and even more after the years turn into decades. I see a pastor in the childless friend that loves on the kids in the church and her nieces and nephews. I see pastors in the volunteers that work to feed the homeless in the community. I see pastors in the friends that work tirelessly to love on people that have just lost a loved one, or lost their job, or struggle with illness, or injury, or the heart break and pain of betrayal by a spouse. I see pastors in the artists and musicians that share their gifts to encourage others. I see something beautiful, I see love, I see real ministry, I see Jesus in others.

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    • now that is a lovely paragraph! thank you for sharing. that should be a blog post of its own 🙂

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  • For many years, I felt pastor was a title for those w proper training, from a seminary. It has been so liberating to find that is a calling from God.

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    • you are one of the best pastors i have ever know. truly. so glad you have been liberated.

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  • God uses the willing and obedient, to pour His Spirit through…..appreciate the reminder.
    Good words.

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  • Grateful for the ways that you blow minds, especially my own, with brilliant simplicity. Who knows, maybe “new trees” of women leaning into owning their pastoral roles without, well, settling. Your care for me makes me want to be a better pastor myself. So glad that you trailblaze, and we all get brighter as a result.:)

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    • it’s beautiful to be in a place to just be able to be who we are and do what we love. glorious, in fact.

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  • A title does not a pastor make. Put another way, some have the title, some do it and occasionally they are the same people. Most people know who really cares for them, regardless of the title. I think of it this way: Other than family, with whom do I share my greatest joys and my greatest fears?

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    • i think that is a great way to think about it, that’s the litmus in so many ways. you are a really great pastor.

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  • While I agree that many are pastors (including some who don’t know it yet or have not developed their leadership skills yet), I respectfully disagree that pretty much everyone is a pastor… I feel there are certain leaders called to be pastors, yourself being one of them. From what I read, there are pastors, elders, deacons, teachers, and a few more different roles… Different roles, gifts, etc. That doesn’t make a pastor a teacher, nor does it make a teacher a pastor. I cannot call everyone or even nearly everyone a pastor–it simply isn’t true or relevant. You know me, “queen of being different…” And yet this is a sacred truth to me– I don’t feel it’s advantageous or necessary to erroneously call anyone who wants to be a pastor, “pastor.”

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    • oh somehow you misunderstood me. i didn’t mean that at all. i don’t think everyone is a pastor. it’s just one of many gifts & passions. my point is i think there are many people who are pastors who don’t think they are or feel like they are “less than” because they are not part of a system or institution in a formal way. i think of it in the same way as an advocate. many do not think they are legitimate advocates unless they work for an agency or organization, yet they are born for it, it’s in their blood whether they have a formal role or not. there are so many different gifts, and i’m just saying that those who have this one, i hope they can value it and not think of it less-than for any reason. i also don’t think we should go around calling people pastor. things like that always bug me. i think we just know who we are drawn to when we need help & hope & some spiritual care. sometimes that’s to formal pastors & sometimes its to informal ones in the groups, organizations, places we live & work.

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  • This made me cry. Thank you for “pastoring” so many, Kathy. Thank you for “pastoring” me…

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