This week was Vacation Bible School at my church. I love this week, with children I know from Sunday School all year, and children I don't know, because they have been invited from the community. It's a good mix. We are all learning stories about Jesus together.
On Thursday, I went with the children to the zoo. I got assigned to be one of the leaders for a group of eight boys and girls. We took pictures of monkeys and tried to get the sea lions to jump. We were having a good time.
At one point, one of the boys turned to me and said, "Who are you?"
"I am one of the pastors," I answered.
"What's a pastor?" he asked.
There was this momentary silence while I considered what to say. Could it be that he didn't know what a pastor was? Or (more possible) did he know a different word (minister, preacher, priest) for what I called myself?
During the second moment of silence, I considered the word "Pastor." It makes a lot of sense if you are a shepherd, which is not a common occupation these days. The word "Pastor" calls to mind the one who leads the sheep to pasture, makes sure they have food and water and protection from danger. My first parish, a set of three small rural congregations, had very little trouble imagining me as their pastor, their shepherd, the one who led them in the way of God. I like the word Pastor, but it probably does not animate imaginations the way it used to. Maybe it isn't even a good description for what I really do.
During the third moment of silence, I considered how to describe what I do. I realized that it was not that easy. I do a lot of things. I visit people in the hospital. I lead worship. I talk in front of people at church. I go to the zoo with children. I hold the hands of people who are dying. I pour water on people's heads, and say, "Now you belong to Christ." I place my hand on the hands of two other people, and say, "Now you belong to each other." I listen to people's hopes, fears, and secrets. I study the Bible, and other things too. I pray and I dream, and try to gather people together to make some dreams come true.
I could say that I am a representative of God, but I realize that I don't believe that. Or rather, I believe that we are all representatives of God. I could say that I am a theologian, but I actually think that most of us are theologians too. I have known a fair amount of people who were great theologians but who were not pastors. I could say that I tell people how to know Jesus, but I really truly believe that all Christians are called to this work. We all help people know Jesus.
Maybe I will just say this for today: It is my job to help people remember who they are. That's what I do when I stand up in church on Sunday and talk, or sing, or pray. That's what I do in every part of my life. I remind people that they belong to God. It is also my job to help people remember who God is. It is my job to help people to remember that God is the one who walked the earth, whose hands held children, who broke bread, and multiplied it, who forgave people, set them free.
"What's a pastor?"
I lead worship. I visit people in the hospital. I go to the zoo with children. I pour water on people's heads, and say, "Now you belong to Christ." I pray. I translate Greek and Hebrew. I dream. I do odd things, hoping to jog a memory or two.