"Will you please make my life better NOW?"
Being a pastor, as many of us know, is a "one size fits all" kind of job filled with lots of expectations placed on our shoulders from many. People certainly want happier lives all the time. And because of this human condition, it is not unusual that we are asked to do so much more than attend to the spiritual lives of our members.
If my colleagues' weeks are anything like mine, folks regularly want to chat with me about everything from martial relationships, how much money is in their bank accounts, their health, and/ or how they feel our church is or is not meeting their social/ emotional needs. Practically, on a given week, I could be found driving someone to a doctor's appointment who could not find a ride otherwise, talking with a struggling single mom about where to get assistance to pay some of her past-due bill, or even taking calls from the social workers of some of our mentally challenged church members about her developmental progress. This is all outside that sermon that always must be prepped and ready by Sunday at 11 am (you know, what folks think is our main job). Though we know that being "all things to all people" is an impossible task and equipping the people of God for the work of ministry is our ultimate goal (i.e. pastors do not do all the work themselves or alone), this does not change the expectations others seem to pile on us week in and week out. Fair or not, it is just the way it is. Sometimes folks, I find, just need someone to blame for their unhappiness in their life and the church and its leadership is an easy scapegoat.
Sometimes we are told as pastors:
If you would just preach a clearer 3-point sermon, then I'd know God's will for my life.
If the church would just start a new ministry for people in my life situation, then I wouldn't be as lonely anymore.
If the pastor had just visited my mother-in-law at the hospital one more time, then she wouldn't have been so discouraged.
"Will you please make my life improve and improve now?" Such pastoral shoes are heavy ones to put on sometimes. Sometimes pastors and the churches they serve feel as helpless to improve the quality of life of its congregants simply because of ALL of the responsibilities before us. It certainly can be overwhelming without lots of prayer.
With all of this being true, I found myself listening to the White House staff I met with this week differently. As part of a 60+ member delegation to converse with White House staff via an invitation from Associate Director of the Office of Public Engagement, Paul Monteiro, I sat before some of the most hard-working and most severely criticized public servants in the country. On topics of concern including the environment, human trafficking, housing, credit and immigration, our pastoral delegation listened and dialogue back with the staff about concerns stemming from our "front line" experiences of ministry. A civil and respect-filled encounter existed between us, I am proud to report. However on countless occasions, questions from the pastors to the staffers came in the form of "I wish that the Obama administration could do more on this . . ." This line of questioning felt like a broken record that went on for the duration of the three-hour meeting. We all wanted our government to do MORE. We hoped our government would fix more of our deepest brokeness as a nation. We wanted change soon, and as soon as possible. And as I listened, I couldn't help but whisper to my colleague, Rev. Abby Thornton sitting beside me, "I want to say to these White House staffers, I know how you feel."
Of course, my work in my congregation is on a much, much smaller scale, but the expectations and the constant "fix me" is something I do understand. And, I am sorry that my those who we elect to serve or are appointed to serve us in government have to feel this way too. I can't imagine what it is like to meet with citizens day in and day out receiving little praise for the good work you are doing instead being surrounded by voices that must sound like that of needy preschoolers who constantly ask their teachers for "Help me now! More, more!"
For, while we all have power to lead change, especially in positions of leadership, none of us are saviors, none of us are miracle workers. I know no matter who we elect to the executive office, he or she can not ever address every problem we face as a nation and as global citizens either. I also know that no matter how prepared, studied up or experienced in a multitude of situations as a pastor, I can not save my congregation from their deep woes either. Only God can.
While it is easy to want to expect the impossible from our government leaders, I hope I will think with more compassion the next time I'm in a conversation that begins with "I wish this administration would do . . ." There's more work, great work to do, of course, but we also must remember the people behind the scenes are just people after all. Like pastors, they can only do so much.
As a citizen as of this democracy, if I want to complain, I need to be willing to do something about the change.
And, I know the same is true of churches across our land. If you don't like what you see, do something about it: be a part of the solution, not just the complaint. Like Gandhi once said, "Be the change you want to see." And, so let's get to work, all of us.
Tomorrow morning, I will be a part of a 65+ other Baptist pastors on a "Goodwill" delegation to the White House. Our group which includes such cool pastors as those from this church, and this church and this church among many others from all over the country. Together, we will meet with senior White House staffers to discuss issues we see facing the those we serve in our congregations and other ministries.
According to organizers, this is the agenda: "We will get to express concerns, ask questions, speak morally about the budget, taxation, immigration, health care, war, criminal justice, the environment and other issues. We will get to share what concerns us as congregational leaders, what's on our hearts as moral leaders, what community needs are pressing, what our churches do that works to advance the common good. We will also get to hear how administration officials see issues, how they explain their purposes and goals of policies."
So, on behalf of you, my blogosphere community, what would you want to ask the White House Staff if you could? I'll be happy to take your questions with me and report back. What fun it is to live in Washington, D.C.!