One of the hardest things for me in serving as the lead pastor of a church is (besides the fact that I’m not all that pastoral) is the preconceived notions people bring with them about what a pastor is, and how they are supposed to interact with them. Even once we’ve gotten a person to stop calling my Pastor Bob, there is often bigger baggage people carry with them. (Like the person who has to keep telling you over and over that they are submitted to your authority…which let’s face it is kinda creepy…and then screams at you when you talk to them about a character issue.)
There are a lot of churches around where the pastor is one part “rock star,” and tends to be a bit larger than life. Others where the pastor is everybody’s dad. And there are several other types of pastors along that spectrum. And my point isn’t to say any of them are wrong, or what we do is better. (although if the people in a church talk more about their rock star pastor than they do about Jesus, that probably indicates some bigger issues are in play.)
The pastor of the church Liz & I were a part of when we first moved to Ithaca 18 years ago, was very much the dad type of pastor…and that simply flowed from who he was as a person. He was the kind of guy you wanted to come and visit with you when you were sick, or life was falling apart. However, I knew early on, that wasn’t me. (& I am clearly not a rock star)
From very early on one of the core philosophies Liz & I held as far as ministry was that we wanted to live a life of following Jesus in such a way that communicated to others that it was not only normal, but accessible. By that I simply mean, following Jesus didn’t mean you had to be weird (buy a sandwich board & a megaphone). At the same time you didn’t have to be super-spiritual or super-mature to do it…you could start right where you were.
I received confirmation about how we were doing, shortly before we planted this church. At this point we were still leading the campus ministry at Cornell, and one of our student leaders, James Cherian, was going to be graduating in May. Towards the end of the fall semester, I talked to him about staying after graduation to go through an internship. He said he’d pray and think about it over the semester break. Shortly before the start of the spring semester, we spoke on the phone, and he said he would be staying to do the internship.
I was so excited. Until he told me why…to paraphrase: “As I was praying about going doing this, I realized, if Bob can do it, anybody can do it.” Ouch. Actually I was still excited.
Eventually I talked to him, and asked him about that comment and admitted that it stung a bit. As he explained what he meant…it was simply that idea I mentioned where we want people to look at how we live our lives and think, “I can do that. And in fact, I think that looks like something I think I’d like to try.”
As most of you know, 14 years later, James is still here…still serving as one of the key leaders of our church, and without question, one of the reasons the Ithaca Vineyard ever got off the ground in the first place. And one of the greatest lessons for me in that, is how James has taken ownership of that idea of making faith normal & accessible. There are so many people here, and others who’ve moved on to other places who saw this in James and in so many others at the Ithaca Vineyard and decided to for perhaps the first time in their lives, take ownership of their faith.
What do people around you think (and do) as they watch you follow Christ?