I will never be enough. And I don't need to be.
On the Tuesday of Holy Week, a member of my congregation called me with an idea. “Wouldn’t it be nice,” they told me, “if you visited all of our members-at-homewith communion this week… because it’s Holy Week.”
In response, I thought, “That is a good idea; that is something that would be very nice for our members-at-home. But it is also the Tuesday of Holy Week, and I am focused on pacing myself through multiple evening events, including Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services, without completely burning out by Sunday morning. So that might be a good idea for next Holy Week.”
I didn’t say exactly that to this member. I said something similar. And I think that they understood. I also think that they were a little bit disappointed, because no matter how much I try to encourage the priesthood of all believers, and the idea that anyone can provide spiritual care to anyone else, and even the idea that anyone can preside over communion, there are still people who believe that it is the pastor’s job—and only the pastor’s job—to visit members-at-home and deliver communion. And there always will be.
And then, a while later, I opened Facebook and saw all of my clergy friends who were presiding over multiple Holy Week services, and attending multiple social-justice-oriented community meetings, and leading several Bible studies and book studies, and visiting every single member-at-home with communion.
And I thought, “Why am I so terrible at this?”
There are two things that I think every pastor—and every member of a congregation—need to remember. These are two things that I often forget. These are two things that I think that a lot of pastors forget; these are two things that I think a lot of congregation members forget. But we should still endeavor to remember them.
First, that every pastor has a different portfolio.
There are some things that every pastor does. Or, at least, there are some things that most pastors do. I strongly suspect that we all do some preaching, some spiritual care,some administrative stuff (including attending meetings), and some facilities management.
But there are also a lot of things that some pastors do and other pastors do not. For example, I lead our congregation’s book group, I teach confirmation classes, I manage our congregation’s website, I manage our weekly email newsletter, and I manage our social media accounts. But I know other congregations where all of those things—and other things that I do—are the responsibilities of lay people in the congregation.
And that’s important. I need to remember that the pastor who is providing communion to all of their members-at-home during Holy Week isn’t also managing all of the advertising for Holy Week services, putting together slide decks for those services, wrangling volunteers for those services, and making plans on how to get the videos of those services online in a timely fashion. I also need to remember that they probably planned those visits long in advance, and that they weren’t a spur-of-the-moment idea that was handed to them on Tuesday.
To put that another way: while we tend to see the things that other people are doing, we almost never see the things that other people are not doing; the things that make the space for the things that those people are doing.
And, yes, that can lead to questions about whether we are prioritizing the right things, which are really questions about whether our congregations—our communities of partners in ministry—are prioritizing the right things.
Second, that no pastor is perfect at everything that we have to do.
I am a pretty good preacher; I still have sermons that bomb. I am pretty skilled at (some) social media; I still have posts that go nowhere. I am a solid writer; I still have articles that fall flat. And there are a whole lot of other things that I am good at that still, sometimes, don’t work as well as I would like. They still, sometimes, don’t work at all.
Then, of course, there are all of the things that I am not so good at and that I still have to do: the things that I do by holding on, and getting through it, and saying, “Here’s the best that I can do. Sorry it’s kind of garbage.”
And that is true for almost every pastor. Unless we are well-situated in a highly specialized ministry—oh, how wonderful it would be for someone to say, “You’re only responsibility this week is to craft and preach one sermon!”—we are all doing things that we have never been trained for, that we picked up on the fly somewhere, and where we’re just doing the best that we can with our limited knowledge and skill.
Especially in this not-really-post-pandemic world, where many of us spent a couple of years learning videography by making worship videos that looked a little too much like proof-of-life hostage videos.
And, altogether, that means that I am not good enough. But I also don’t have to be.
And that brings me to my actual point.
Despite the appearance that some of us have it all together—that some super-pastors are absolutely crushing it—most of us are holding some parts of our work together really well, and holding other parts of our work together with both hands and a roll of duct tape, hoping nobody will notice that those things are falling apart.
None of us is actually good enough at this ministry thing. And, thankfully, none of us has to be. For two reasons:
First, because the work of ministry is the work of the whole church. Even as clergy, we are supposed to be able to rely on one another, and on the people in our congregations, to help with the things that we’re good at and pick up the slack on the things that we’re not good at. No one person has to bring all of the gifts, because, together, we all already have them.
Second, because the work of ministry ultimately relies on God: on God’s abundance and God’s grace. On God’s gracious abundance and on God’s abundant grace. On God’s gracious abundant grace. I rely on God to do the work that God wants to do through me, through me. And I rely on God to do the work that God wants to do through others, through others.
And maybe that means that I am only not enough when I am alone. Maybe that means that I am enough—and maybe even more than enough—when I am really connected to the divine source and the body of Christ.
So there’s no need to be super-pastor. It’s enough to just be me.
I’m still desperately searching for a better term than shut-in or homebound. Those both feel so reductive and miss the many reasons that people might prefer to stay home from crowded worship services, even if those worship services aren’t really that crowded.
I’m also trying to transition away from the term pastoral care and to the term spiritual care. That’s mostly because pastoral care sounds like something that only a pastor can do, but spiritual care sounds like something anyone can do. Just don’t tell all of those people providing spiritual care that they’re really providing pastoral care. It’ll freak them out.