As I write this we are awaiting the announcement of a new Pope – signaled by the famous white smoke emerging from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel. Now, twice in my lifetime do I live through such an event and we are on the cusp of the third pope in the last quarter century. I am no Catholic, but this is a momentous event with repercussions all throughout Christendom, including Protestantism, I believe.
But on a lesser, more personal scale…
I too await the white smoke, as I write this from the Hyatt Regency O’ Hare in Chicago, awaiting tomorrow morning’s final interview for my ordination with/into the Evangelical Covenant Church. Yes, it’s a big deal. Personally. On many levels. That I can’t go into detail here. Let’s just say it’s been a looooong journey and this hope had been deferred, tested, and tried for a good long season. Should I pass tomorrow, I will be slated to walk down the aisle come this summer at the denomination’s Annual Meeting in Detroit and be be-stoled in front of all, my family, my colleagues, my friends, my mentors, my cloud of witnesses. A little recognition sometimes means a whole lot when one commits one’s entire life to an endeavor.
And that leads me to thinking, both in terms of how I am prepared to lead my congregation of about 100 people – in tandem with the new upcoming Pope who will lead a congregation of about 1.2 billion.
So what are we looking for in church leaders?
They say the new pope will have to have business acumen, strong managerial skills, in leading the papal bureaucracy out of the Middle Ages. Perhaps someone, from a previous life, who had obtained a business degree (such church leaders do exist). On the other hand, people are also calling for a Pope of strong moral fortitude, able to navigate the playing field of contemporary social and ethical issues, not to mention the waning image of the Church plagued by scandal. Or perhaps another brilliant theologian as previously, who can provide a Summa to shepherd and redirect the masses lost in the sea of Western post-modern relativism. All to say, these are really BIG red shoes to fill. And deep in the papal conclave I bet there’s some serious nail-biting going on.
I’m biting my nails, too.
Not just because of my interview tomorrow. But because the demands and the expectations of the office are so high. I remember being frustrated in seminary because the demands were so many, so varied, and so diverse. Pastors have to be modern scholars, classically educated in the languages, ancient history and philosophy. And then on top of that we have to understand the care aspect, of people, families, and congregations. Counseling & systems theory are requisites, IMO if one is to survive the first few years in a new pastorate. Then we also have to be torchbearer, calling the church to missional involvement & engagement of our communities. Pastors have to wear the hat of social activist as well. And to boot, we need to have organizational and managerial skill, knowing how to lead a church organizationally and structurally.
It’s such a tall order this thing called shepherding, pastoring. At times I search for a purity in it, perhaps something more resembling a monastic life, an ascetic life; cloistered with one’s books and study – this is a happy life for me. But once I put the books down there are a myriad of demands, expectations. It’s hard.
But it is what I have committed my life and the rest of my future to. A little recognition wouldn’t be bad; it would be a very nice reward after all the years of preparation to see a little wisp of white smoke rise from Chicago tomorrow morning…