The Bridge to – Well, Being a Bridge

The Bridge to – Well, Being a Bridge

Rev. Robin White, Bridge Pastor, Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church

“But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” Acts 20:24 24

My beloved friends, as my sojourn as Bridge Pastor at Cincinnati’s Mt. Auburn comes to a close, I have felt the need to gather my thoughts about “what to expect, how be respectful and how to be an ally and a support of your pastor,” whoever she, or he, or they may be (and whoever, wherever you may be in this presbytery).

First, I want to express how much I have enjoyed being at Mt. Auburn, where I have been heartened by the congregation’s kind hospitality, caring encouragement, and faithful collaboration as we labored together over the summer, “between pastors.” When I agreed to serve as Mt. Auburn’s Bridge Pastor, I knew we would have only had three months to get to know one another and to do the work needed to prepare the congregation for the next leg of their journey. I committed myself to running the summer race as a sprint rather than pacing myself for the long haul.

The Bridge Pastor is, by definition, a sprinter, a triathlete, but congregants (everywhere) must not expect a new pastor to sprint. She, he, they will need to take slow and steady strides in order to have the energy and momentum to serve a church for a longer season in its life in Christ.

Having spent quite a bit of my time meeting and interacting with MAPC members (often in a social setting) I want to impress upon Presbyterians everywhere the importance of boundaries. There is fine line between participating in the life of the church and socializing with church members. Your pastor may well be your friend and choose to fraternize with you, but this intimacy should never be expected as part of the job. Your pastor needs a life outside of the church. Your pastor needs to set boundaries; without such parameters, your pastor will most assuredly burn out.

Don’t expect your pastor to know what you need.  If you are sick or in grief or in some sort of crisis and want your pastor to respond, tell him/her/them what you need; don’t assume they know. Surprise: we are not mind readers nor do we have superpowers!

It is also so important to know that there will be times when your pastor will need to make a choice about how to spend his/her/their time. Try not to be critical about such choices and trust me when I say we are doing the best we can. Having said that, let me also remind you that your pastor is human and will absolutely make mistakes. I offer one word here: grace.

You will not always agree with what your pastor says or does. There may be times when your pastor will disappoint you. If you decide to have a conversation with her/him/them about your feelings, then please choose your time wisely. Approaching your pastor just before or after worship may not be a good idea and may even taint an interaction. If you determine that you must have a conversation with your pastor about a disappointment or disagreement, make an appointment with them and do your best to approach them respectfully, gracefully, ethically, and morally. It may be helpful to include a third and impartial person in that conversation. This guidance is, of course, also how you should handle a dispute with a church family member (Matthew 18:15-20).

Remember that your pastor is not simply an employee of the church but, rather, a wise and seasoned member of your church family. In the PCUSA, the pastor is ordained as a “Teaching Elder.” Treat them as an “elder,” then, with respect and trust and love.

Finally: no two pastors are the same, so do not make comparisons! Pastors have differing gifts, experiences, personality types, and approaches to ministry. Allow your pastor to be all of who she/he/they are and let them flourish in their own way. Your pastor is a gift to you. Be sure to be a gift to your pastor. AMEN.