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The Pastor as Regular Guy (Gal)

June 21, 2007

Ecclesiology is an interesting thing. As time moves forward we are constantly reforming and rethinking how worship happens within the sanctuary. Things we might not have dreamed of years ago now adorn sanctuaries across the land: drum sets (acoustic and electronic), acoustic and electric guitars and basses, electronic keyboards and synthesizers, stage lighting, brass sections, computer display screens, live video, movie clips, ethnic drums (African, Latin, Native American, etc.). Pastors can be seen wearing robes and stoles or Hawaiian shirts and sandals, and anything in between.

As we rethink, reconsider and reform what it means to be gathered for worship as a church, we also must consider the impact our decisions have on what it means to be a church at all. Just who is the pastor? What do the pastor’s attire, worship style, preaching style, music selections, and scripture selections say about her or him? If the pastor dresses casually, what does that mean theologically? Is it a statement about the Priesthood of All Believers? Is it a statement of personal authenticity and genuineness? Is it a gesture of welcoming, hoping others will feel comfortable? Or might those gathered for worship find those choices irreverent and impious?

What of movie references? Quoting John Travolta from Phenomenon might be OK, but quoting John Travolta from Pulp Fiction might offend some. Is it good or bad for a pastor’s witness to the congregation to admit to enjoying a glass of wine or an occasional cigar? (I know of one pastor who smokes cigars, and apparently his congregation accepts that as part of who he is, and they have been known to buy him expensive cigars as gifts). A Baptist preacher friend of mine is a huge Bob Dylan fan, collecting albums, memorabilia, and bootlegs. I know of a Lutheran pastor who wears tie-dyed clerical shirts and rides a Harley-Davidson to and from church.

I’ve never preached in shorts, but that doesn’t mean I won’t sometime. I have worn dress shoes and I’ve worn Crocs. I’ve worn a preaching robe and I’ve worn Hawaiian shirts. I’ve worn a Fender Telecaster and a Taylor acoustic guitar over the robe (not at the same time). I’ve worn a suit and tie.

Do you wear clothes that express the authority of the pastoral office, announcing that “I am the pastor, the village theologian and ethicist?” Do you wear clothes that send the message, “I’m just one more sinner saved by Grace?” Do your powerpoint slides use Times New Roman and Arial (default), Comic Sans (playful and informal), or Copperplate Gothic (very formal)? Is your preferred worship music formally played hymns, loosely played choruses, or some combination?

Personally, I want to be as genuine and transparent as realistically possible. The congregation needs to know me as the real me, without an artificial layer of piety or reverence. I’ll probably never quote Pulp Fiction during a worship service (unless I point out that “Ezekiel 25:17” from the movie isn’t really Ezekiel 25:17 from the Bible – as an illustration of Biblical illiteracy in the culture). But I’m not going to hide my Kill Bill DVDs when parishioners come over either. And I might show up for Bible study wearing a Hendrix t-shirt, but I’ll wear a tie and a robe when I preach a funeral.

Letting the congregation know Will as well as they know Pastor does put me in a vulnerable place. There may be much about me that some folks will find disquieting or uncomfortable – like my affinity for Tarantino and David Lynch movies, my utter rejection of “Left Behind” theology, my occasional glass of product from the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail. But as a parishioner for many years, I also took great comfort in knowing that my pastor was not just “the Pastor” but one of us, a regular person, an ordinary sinner saved by grace, a vulnerable leader, and an approachable human being. I realize that not everyone will take the same comfort, but I guess I’m OK with that.

Does that make me emergent? Non-trad? Postmodern? Something else? I don’t really know. I hope it transcends such limiting paradigms and makes me real. No phonies allowed!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. jmeunier permalink
    June 21, 2007 4:08 pm

    I appreciate your questions and your desire to be real.

    All the labels – including Pastor – are useful because they tell us and others about our roles. But they are just labels that are pasted on our reality.

    Thanks for the interesting post.

  2. June 21, 2007 6:57 pm

    The vision of pastor varies from person to person. Some people want their pastor to be a ‘real person’ — a person of unique flavor, such as collecting Dylan, etc. Others want a pastor to conform to a particular role. They want to catch the pastor in the parsonage shower wearing a stole. The hard part is keeping everyone happy while still being oneself.

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