(Image courtesy of dorgalen.blogspot.com)
Pastors find themselves in a strange position. As Christians, we are part of God’s flock, sheep of the Good Shepherd. As clergy, we too are shepherds, as the word “pastor” comes from the Latin meaning literally shepherd. We are simultaneously part of the herd and set apart. During times of high demand and need, we can feel more like sheep dogs, running around and keeping the flock together. Sheep dogs serve their master in their assistance with the flock; moving them to food and water, as well as safety, keeping them clustered together, and protecting them from predators. Although this metaphor falls short in that sheep dogs are not the same species as the sheep they protect, while clergy come from the flocks of laity.
Clergy are no different from lay people in many ways. We struggle with the same evil inclinations, the pervasiveness of sin, and our own relationship with God. I don’t believe we are any more holy than anyone else. We do agree to hold ourselves to a heightened level of accountability, to model our lives for others. We cultivate knowledge to be applied to our vocation, which is serving the Church and God through our care of others. Our daily life is founded upon spirituality, ours as well as the people whom we shepherd. We are not perfect, but we strive to do our very best because we understand the stakes. Clergy are constantly faced with the necessity for salvation and the repercussions for unrepentance. Even more, we develop strong bonds and personal relationships with our congregants. We are invested in you at the deepest level. It is more than our responsibility due to a sacred oath, or the contractual obligation of receiving compensation for our position; it is about caring for you and what you need to become a disciple in the fullest meaning of the word.
All that being said and done, there are days when we want nothing more than to be part of the flock. We could easily slip back into the safety and security of someone else’s watch and allow someone else to do all the running around, but it is not to be. We are called apart in that way. We crossed a line of demarcation when we accepted our call to ordained ministry and, in some ways, we can never truly go back. Overtime our brains function differently and we instinctively operate on a different level. We synthesize the world and view it through the lens of Christ prescribed with the role and duties of pastor. Clergy become so used to theological reflection and ingrained with the necessity for continually doing so that we can’t stop doing it. Only we don’t do it just for ourselves, we do it for you, for the Body of Christ, the Church Universal, and the world in need of Christ’s redemption.
So the next time you look at clergy, remember that we are not super human, holier than thou, or closer to God than anyone else. We are just like you, trying to find our place in God’s world and taking up our personal cross to do it. We give and we receive, and we want to do this with you.