Magazine article The Christian Century

Other People's Faith in You

Magazine article The Christian Century

Other People's Faith in You

Article excerpt

A PLACARD with a quote from Dag Hammarskjold sits on the corner of my desk at home. I look at it countless times every evening when I'm trying to complete the day's work. It whispers a penetrating truth about pastoral leadership: "The humility that comes from others having faith in you ..."

It's not a complete sentence. But it's relentless with its reminder that people have faith in me, and the overwhelming humility of receiving that faith, and the ...

How does any pastor complete that sentence? There is simply the vote of faith and the plummeting humility because you know your limitations far better than those who did the voting at the congregational meeting. And you know the uncertainty about how this ends.

You feel in your bones that people's faith in you could evaporate any day no matter how hard you work. Your best ideas can fail, your weaknesses will become the topic of hushed conversations, and those who emphasize the need for change will always be the ones to sabotage your efforts at offering it.

You knew at least some of this before you took the vows of ordination. But something in your soul made you get out of the boat and start walking toward Jesus' call across the stormy waves--even though you've always been perfectly clear you can't walk on water.

Your family also has faith in you, which is both comfort and pressure. They want you to be successful because they love you and believe in your gifts, but they're also counting on you to provide a safe life. So late at night when you're fretting about the church's crises de jour, you wonder if you should have just stayed in the boat.

But conflicts are not the greatest reasons for a pastor's humility. A phone call beckons you to go to a home where a teenager has died of suicide, and when you arrive, the family looks at you as if you know what to say. You hold a baby and carry it through the holy waters of baptism. At a fresh grave an old widower lingers next to you after you've buried his lifelong lover, then reaches out to take your hand. And every Sunday you put on vestments and stand behind a pulpit looking out at pews filled with people who believe you can offer them a word from God.

Why do you, a flawed mortal, get such holy moments? Even your gratitude is so humbling that at times you wonder if you can continue.

The great leaders of history have always been reluctant. They had other plans for life. But something happened to push them into a responsible role. …

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