Pastors Evaluating Other Pastors

I’m a pastor.  It’s what I do, and what  I have done for over a decade now.  Not long by some metrics, nearly eternal by others.  I’ve never loved what I’ve done as much, for as long, as I have the office of public ministry.  Whether I’m any good at it or not, however, is largely a subjective matter.  I try to keep this in mind.  The fact that I was certified by a seminary and ordained by a denominational body with a respectable history and some reasonably rigorous standards is  no guarantee that I’m a good pastor.  Psychological evaluations and other metrics by professors and others during my graduate work were all an effort to  ensure they ordained a reasonably competent person rather than turning loose a potentially deadly canon.

But those are all best efforts, not guarantees.  As such I try to maintain a modicum of humility about myself and my work.  And I try to extend that  humility when I find myself in the pew of  someone else’s congregation rather than my own pulpit.

Over the past week I’ve had the opportunity to worship in two different congregations.  Two (or more accurately 4) different pastors.  All within my same denominational polity.  All different in terms of personality, worship  styles and preferences, and a host of other things.   Just as you’d expect differences between people  in any professional field, or just people in general.  Yet somehow, among my colleagues,  there is a dangerous temptation to  pass judgment on one another.  I want to avoid this but find myself  struggling with it as well.

Nobody preached heresy.  Both experiences contained historic liturgical elements of one sort or  another.  One was very traditional and the other was decidedly not.   One was packed full of people well-past retirement age, the other was populated by a staggering number of children, young adults, young couples and families, and a few older folks as well.  One pastor utilized a puppet as an object lesson before his sermon, a holdover from the days when he gave children’s sermons, even though there aren’t any children in the congregation any longer.  The other pastor led a rock band praise team.  Literally.   As the lead singer.

I  trust and pray and need the Holy Spirit of God to work in more ways than I’m  capable of imagining or expecting and therefore, more ways than I might  even think necessary or want.  I have every reason in my own life  and the history of God’s people to expect this sort of lavish, ridiculous outpouring of God’s love and effort.  And like God’s people pretty much throughout  history, I don’t always react to it enthusiastically or affectionately.  I’m prone to critique.  To worry.  To furrow my brows, as some who know me well are fond of  saying it.

I like to think I’m not so traditional as to still be using puppets when there are no children in my congregation.  But I also know full  well that I’m no rock star.  I like to think I have a few surprises up my sleeves, but I also know that I’m undoubtedly far more staid and predictable than not.

Both experiences lead me to naturally compare and contrast what I do with my own congregation and ministry.  They lead me to examine and rethink.  Both experiences showed me successful pastors and ministries where God the Holy Spirit is at work whether I prefer the methodology or not.  And so both ultimately direct me back to the work that God is calling me to here and now, in my own context.  To follow as I feel his leading, even if I’m exploring uncharted paths.  To continue even though there will be those watching and evaluating, some appreciatively and others with furrowed brows.

Ultimately what I pray is that God would be glorified rather than myself.  That God would be praised for his imagination and creativity as well as his amazing continuity and steadfastness that can hold so many different people and personalities and ideas together into a homogenous body.  Because if  He’s not behind these various things, they’ll ultimately dissolve and blow away in the wind.  Humbling to  remember, and a good reminder to get back to the work.

And that work remains the same: Preach the Gospel.  Die.  Be forgotten.  By  my fellow men, for a time to be certain, but never by Christ.  Solo dei gloria.

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