Like many pastors, I find myself serving a congregation that is far more conservative, for want of a better word, than I am in every realm of life -- political, social, theological, and I'm sure there are others. FAR more.
As I gain confidence in my sense of pastoral identity, I am increasingly dissatisfied and frustrated with this situation -- not to mention feeling increasingly inauthentic and even dishonest.
I've only been here, in my first midlife call, for about a year and a half, and there is a lot for any pastor to do here. But just this week I've had conversations with a male pastor who told me that his entire 40 years of ministry have been like this -- and like him, I've had people say to me, "I've never heard of a pastor believing anything like that!" -- is that to be my fate? (except not for 40 years!) -- , and with a young person who wants to work at the interface of Christian ministry and GLBT youth, whom I would love to be able to invite into my pulpit to speak to my congregation, but for the fact that many of them would walk out on her.
I do sense that God called me here more for me than for the congregation; I have always lived in diverse and liberal communities and this is quite a steep learning curve for me. But many of my convictions and associated gifts are being left far out to pasture (literally), and I am becoming restless. I'm tempted to lay it all out for them after Easter, and let them decide: Do they want a pastor who wants to lead in the direction in which I want to go, will they tolerate her in exchange for the excellent pastoral care that they are receiving, or would they prefer to make a new leadership choice?
I'd very much like to hear other experiences and counsel.
I am grateful that you have gained confidence in your understanding of who God is calling you to be. In my experience as clergy and also working with clergy right out of seminary, I have found the first 9-36 months in a first ordained call to be a bit of a danger zone. There has been enough time for the rhythms of 'must do's' and 'also do's' to be worked out, but it is not enough time for congregation and pastor to 'get real' with one another. In my experience, the pastor is ready to get onto the 'hard/good stuff' and the congregation is still working on 'is she staying?'
Are they a hostile congregation? If that is the case, then there are other issues at play here than merely differences in political/social/theological understandings and you may very well need to look to other doors God may be opening. As far as drawing a line after Easter and finding out if they are willing to toss out their long-held convictions in exchange for your "excellent pastoral care" - I'm pretty sure I know where they'll land on that one. Suffice it to say, if you would like to move on to another place, there are far gentler ways of handling it.
However, If you would like to continue working with them, I suggest leading them through loving them. There may be some real opportunities here to make a difference - but those understandings and movements take time. In my experience of moving congregations gently forward (and I have spent the better part of over two years doing this), people win over policy 9 out of 10 times. For instance, this young person who wants to work with LGBT youth may not be welcome in the pulpit the Sunday after Easter 2013, but with time put in for conversation, education and relationship, they may very well be welcome after Easter 2014. Building relationships and changing minds and hearts takes time and prayer and a lot of foundational work, but in my experience, because it is foundational work, the results will be longer lasting and far more fruitful than telling people they need to get on board or else.
Wise and excellent counsel, Kathryn. I think that "lead through loving them" would make a great mantra for all of us, regardless of what frustrations or obstacles we're facing. To our questioner, I believe you have already named your primary asset for moving forward - the excellent pastoral care you are offering. In caring for them, you are building those relationships Kathryn points to as foundational to working toward change.
What do the rest of you think? Have any experience or wisdom to share? Please join us in the comments section for further conversation.
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