I feel strange. Tomorrow morning is the first Sunday since early July 1991 that I will wake up without feeling primary responsibility for a congregation.
This week I’ve taken up a new job, a non-pastoral job. I’m now part of the religion faculty at Wiley College, a United Methodist institution in Marshal, Texas. I’ve taken this position in response to a call from God back when I was in college. In fact, that last time when I awoke on a Sunday without responsibility for a congregation was when I had moved to California for my doctoral work, a primary step in preparation for the change I’ve made this week. Though my Texas Conference DS had told me he was good friends with the Cal-Pac Bishop, ensuring ease into a church position through which I could support my family while in school, the reality was that there simply were no openings. After a month of praying, searching, and relationship-building, I ended up connected with Fountain Valley United Methodist Church. My family and I were blessed to be there for the next four years.
In some of the years since then I have not been “Lead Pastor.” In Fountain Valley I was “Pastor of Youth and Education.” Later at Westbury UMC in Houston I was “Associate Pastor.” In theory I lacked “primary responsibility” in both cases. The buck didn’t stop with me. But I never thought that way. I was convinced the whole way – in both settings, and in the other places where I have had the title “lead pastor,” that what I do makes a primary difference, that I bear direct responsibility for the life and health of the congregation. Not sole responsibility – supposing that is a delusion even when I am “lead pastor.”
But now I am not a pastor. My responsibility for a congregation is completely undefined. I am responsible for students, and for how I lead, disciple and educate them. I am responsible for my relationships with my colleagues in that educational ministry. But I’m not responsible for a congregation. It feels mighty strange.