After publicly outing myself as a pastor in hiding, I have received an outpouring of support as well as concern. What would it look like for me to take off the Executive Director hat and put on a Pastor hat? What in my work would change?
The truth is absolutely nothing would change in my day to day activities. 50% of my time is dedicated to building up/shepherding neighborhood leaders through coaching, training, and one-on-one mentoring and 50% of my time is spent shepherding/coaching and training congregational leaders and volunteers to engage missionally in the world.
In my role as the Executive Director of Embrace Richmond, I pray for those in our neighborhood, I participate in monthly celebrations of what God is doing in our midst, I train new team members who join God on mission through our missions teams and welcome new members into the Embrace family. We observe table fellowship through our monthly community luncheons and listening meetings. So in our own way we worship, disciple, fellowship and build the body.
I have been functioning as a pastor within a defined geography instead of within an institution. The community members and our team all know that we do what we do out of a sense of divine call and a desire to follow Jesus. They know that Qasarah, our program director, and I are trained as minsters. They really don’t care what title we have.
So, why does it matter?
I never really thought it did until I started trying to network and build relationships with other pastors and denominational leaders. This blog as well as a number of professional networks that I have become connected to have moved me from spending most of my time in my own backyard to spending more of my time with pastoral leaders across the country. Those close enough and willing to come into our neighborhoods and see our work, do not doubt that what has emerged is a fresh expression of the church.
Where I have felt challenged has been in conversations with those who only know me and the work of Embrace Richmond through our reputation as a non-profit. It is the people I meet at conferences, pastor’s groups or on-line who have revealed to me the limiting nature of being seen as an Executive Director of a non-profit that does Christian community development verses a Community Pastor called to community development.
In his book, “The Barefoot Church”, Brandon Hatmaker shares a similar challenge. His missional church ended up starting a non-profit because as a church he could not get the non-profits to take his commitment to community development and service seriously. The non-profits saw “church” and thought they knew what Brandon and his team were all about. But like Embrace Richmond, Austin New Church is a bit of an anomaly – it is a church that exists to be a blessing to its city. The folks at Fresh Expressions use the term “mixed economies” to describe those spaces where the sacred and the secular meet. In those spaces the traditional labels just do not work. Hatmaker entered that space from the church side and I entered from the non-profit side but we both experienced the challenge of being taken seriously from the other side of the equation.
I know what some of you are thinking, “Why do you care what “man” thinks, God is the only audience you should try to please.” I agree with that sentiment but I also feel God is doing some really amazing things through Embrace Richmond and for a while I have felt that our role is to help fuel this kind of work in our city and to contribute to the national conversation. I have found my efforts to do both are limited by the perception of others. Whether we like it or not, titles do matter. They can open doors or they can close them. As new expressions of “church” emerge in these mixed economies, I suspect more people will struggle with language and how language shapes perception.
So for those of you who expressed concern that my confession would lead to me abandoning my role in the community or the ministry of Embrace, please be assured that is not what I am struggling with. For those of you who expressed support and encouragement about me finally owning a pastoral title and finding my place at the table with the leaders of institutional churches, thank you for your support. I still don’t know exactly what is next for me but there are a number of pathways emerging that might give me even more opportunity to live more fully into my pastoral call, particularly as it relates to helping institutional churches become more misisonally engaged.
Have you ever felt dismissed or not taken seriously simply because of a title or lack thereof?
When someone introduces themselves as a pastor, what automatic assumptions do you make?
When someone tells you that they work for a non-profit, what thoughts come to mind?
As the church leaves the walls and becomes more missionally engaged thus blurring the lines between these two inherited models, how should our language change?