Yesterday I had a good time sharing a Christmas message for the Warman Mennonite Special Care Home's Christmas banquet. These sort of engagements are side-perks to being a pastor in a city that's still a bit of a small town in its heart.
After two musicians ended their fun, old-timey carols and Christmas favorites, I walked up to the microphone to introduced myself, "Hi, I'm Josh Wallace. I'm pastor of Warman Mennonite Church just down the road."
As I said those words, something caught in my mind. It was a preposition. "I'm pastor of . . ." I could have said "pastor at" or "pastor for" or even "a pastor in," and the whole sense of what I said would have changed.
Many of us grew up with a pastor-at mentality. A pastor is a pastor because she or he goes to an office in a particular kind of building. Insurance agents work at insurance offices, doctors work in medical clinics, fast food employees work in fast food chains. Pastors just happen to work in a church building. They are employees of a particularly religious kind of business.
I grew up more with a pastor-of mindset. A pastor is an official or caretaker for a specific grew up of people. The pastor is the "shepherd of a flock." He (only men were pastors in my world at that point) comforted and counseled. He confronted us with God's Word on Sunday mornings. He chaired elder board meetings. Pastor-of parallels the role of a principal in the school system.
Pastor-for came to mind only a bit later. While "for" might imply the same role outlined under "of," I can hear missional overtones in "for." If I'm pastor for my church, they have set me aside or commissioned me to do the work of pastoring for them. Perhaps a bit like a missionary or a social worker, I go out into the community and pastor any and all who need pastoring. In episcopal models of church, this might be reflected in the diocese paying a stipend so the minister can pastor a parish, whatever the parish's financial ability or inability to provide for the minister's needs. I like this idea, but if I begin to introduce myself this way, I'm not sure people will understand me. Besides, this seems to be a call the church-community needs to make (in our congregationalist polity), not one I can make for them.
The last prepositional option I'll mention is "a pastor in such-and-such a church." Truth be told, there are many pastors in this congregation. I'm not the only one caring for the hurting, instructing in discipleship, or praying for these people's lives and souls. Paul says to the Ephesians that when Jesus ascended to the Father, he gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be shepherds and teachers. Whether the others want to own up to it or not, I am one among many pastors in this congregation. I just happen to have a sign on an office door that points out the way I've been given to the community.