What do you do, Pastor?

In a group of Lutheran clergy, the topic of "What does the pastor do?" recently came up. We all agreed that there are many things that pastors do that might surprise the members of the churches we serve. What follows is an edited list from that discussion. This list could easily be significantly larger. Call it a glimpse into pastoral ministry. (Many thanks to the ELCA Clergy group on Facebook!) 

Listen to you, your spouse, your child, your co-worker, neighbor, Aunt Betty, grandpa, and whoever else might need to talk. With no judgement, and no insurance paperwork to fill out.

Cook for visitors to the house, and for congregational meals.

Stop by the church at 10:00 pm and turn off the lights that someone missed earlier.

Share in the most sacred and profound moments of life.

Make coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.

Sit in the hospital and hold a loved one’s hand  as he or she dies. Be a shoulder for family members to cry on as they grieve.

Just by being present, lower the average age of the congregation.

Water the newly planted tree given in memory of Great-Aunt Myrtle.

Take out the trash.

Attend sporting events, concerts, and other school activities for youth of the church.

Gain weight eating at every congregational meal and event.

Model the love of Jesus, even when you are in a really bad mood.

Help local police, firefighters, and EMTs keep their faith in the face of horrible tragedies.

Rush to the emergency room in the middle of the night when there is a tragic accident, whether or not it involves a member of the congregation.

Write a pile of letters of recommendation.

Write birthday cards and thank you notes. Lots and lots of thank you notes and birthday cards.

Keep up with all the news and how it impacts the community: read newspapers, blogs, magazines, and more.

Dream about the future of the congregation: What is possible for us? Where is God leading us?

Know who is in the hospital . Even when no one tells you.

Celebrate with families in times of joy.

Unlock the church doors at 8:00 am so flowers can be delivered for the afternoon wedding.

Visit with people in Nursing Homes and hospitals, knowing at times that you are the only visitor they will see.

Call Child Protective Services.

Visit the people that no one else wants to spend time with in the county jail.

Find the dead mouse in the church, hoping the smell is gone by Sunday.

Keep up with the latest in theology: Read biblical commentaries, journals, works of fiction, blogs, and monographs.

Learn how to change gears, going from mourning at a deathbed to rejoicing with newlyweds in the same day.

Unclog toilets!

Tend the headaches created by the previous pastor; create headaches for the next pastor.

Supervise interns and even have the nerve not to unconditionally recommend them.

Make jokes to reassure the bride and groom who just saw their unity candle go out right after they lit it.

Creatively figure out how to celebrate the major holidays with your family – knowing that you will have to preside at worship and then be on call.

Know that emergencies are drawn to holidays like moths to a flame. Chances are good that someone will die/have an accident/have a family emergency on Christmas, or New Year, or Easter, or the 4th of July.

Fold chairs. Move tables.

Choose hymns for worship – Hymns that are contemporary, but not new; hymns that everyone knows but that aren’t the same hymns we always sing.

Learn to receive compliments well from loving and supportive members. Learn to shrug off unwarranted criticism from thoughtless members.

Help people to see (and then use!) the gift that God has given to them.

Answer the phone when emergencies happen at 3:00am, and still be cheery and ready for worship at 8am.

Listen. And then listen. And then listen some more.

Help people to laugh when they need to – Even if it is at you.

Let people cry when they need to – Even if you cry with them.

Separate the trash from the recycling. Make runs to the recycling center. 

Study the Bible. Read the Bible. Pray the Bible.

Paperwork! Write reports to Council, write reports to the synod, write proposals for committees, reports to the congregation …

Hear Confession  - sometimes formally and ritually, sometimes informally over coffee or a beer.

Lead worship music and hymns. Even if you aren’t particularly comfortable doing so.

Prepare for the unexpected.

Go to an endless stream of meetings: some that are life-giving and mission focused, some that are really boring and pointless.

Prepare 10-25 minutes of new sermon material for every Sunday, every funeral, every wedding. Rehearse said material, so that you sound like you know what you’re talking about.

Encourage and empower the members to minister to one another.

Communicate: through newsletters, bulletins, facebook, telephone, email, face to face visits, twitter, and any other means possible.

Be the “Tech person” – update software and repair the church’s computers.

Bury strangers, family members, and dearly beloved friends. Same with weddings. Same with baptisms.

Teach. About theology, about church life, about social issues, about liturgy and worship, about other denominations and religions.

Connect with wonderful colleagues to learn from one another, encourage one another, and to hold one another accountable.

Participate in the ministry we share as denomination and a synod.

Identify members who are doing amazing ministry without you. Support them and get of their way.

Plan and teach Confirmation the confirmation program.

Every so often, re-read the Lutheran Confessions to remind yourself what you are all about.

Find a time and place to worship when you are not leading the worship service.

Figure out what inter-personal and systematic issues are holding back the mission of the congregation, and help the leaders of the congregation to name them and deal with them.

Sunday morning: Look in the eye of  the member of the congregation who made you (or your spouse) cry with their thoughtless (or intentional) meanness, and  proclaim: “In obedience to the command of Christ, I forgive you all your sins.”

Keep up with the membership rolls, attendance and communion records.

Fold bulletins.

Respond graciously to interruptions in the “normal” (ha!) work day.

Visit with members in their homes.

Help those who come knocking on the church door looking for assistance.

Learn what needs an immediate response. Learn what can wait until later.

Discard the day’s plan in order to respond to emergencies.

Even though you work nights and weekends, make sure there is plenty of time with family and loved ones. 

Love the people. Love the people. Love the people.

What did we miss?