The Polarities Of Pastoring

In the aftermath of a memorial service that we held last week, I began thinking about how different tasks in ministry require vastly different mindsets.

On the one hand, as that memorial service suggests, we are with people in the most vulnerable times of their lives — times of sickness, divorce, addiction, and death. In those moments, pastors embody the ministry of presence, the subtle reminder that God is active and caring even when life is overwhelming. In such situations, pastors need to be available, trustworthy, and, well, liked.

On the other hand, we are often called upon to make decisions regarding church direction, worship style, staffing, and programming — decisions that require an entirely different skill set than what I’ve mentioned above. In these moments, pastors embrace the ministry of leadership, the confidence that God is moving and it’s time for the church to catch up. These are the times when pastors need to be bold, provocative, and able to live with the inevitable fallout that will make them, well, disliked.

Can the same person be effective at both poles of ministry? Can the same person who thrives on being liked survive being disliked? Can leaders be present and can those who are present lead?

Many experts would say no. Choose one style or the other, but don’t try to be both. After all, most “name” preachers — the ones with the largest congregations and the biggest platforms — are much more at home with the ministry of leadership than the ministry of presence. Those who excel at the ministry of presence, this thinking goes, will simply have to trust that their impact for the Gospel will come in ways that can’t be measured by attendance, offering, or publicity.

Yet after giving the matter serious consideration, my own spirit can’t abandon the hope for “both / and” rather than “either / or.” My prayer continues to be that we at Good Shepherd can navigate a congregational and pastoral life that involves both of the poles of leadership and presence.

I suppose I’m holding out on the belief that the most effective leadership emerges out of the most committed presence.