Years ago, I read that being a pastor is like being the lead dog in a team of Alaskan sled dogs. You’re the only one who can see what’s on the horizon, so you need to tell the others what you see. That way you can keep moving forward together. (This isn’t exactly how the quote went, but that’s how I remember it.) Sometimes I feel more comfortable in the role of lead sled dog than others. And I’ve often wondered if it’s true. Are the others who are a part of my team even listening to what I have to say, or am I barking in the wind? This was particularly true back when I was a young woman struggling to be taken seriously.
This past Sunday, on the Day of Pentecost, I preached a sermon that challenged my congregation. I tried hard not to be scolding, but I suspect for some it may have sounded that way. What they may not realize, when I’m preaching one of those sermons where I’m pushing them to become more than they are, is that while they’re squirming a bit in the pews, the most uncomfortable person in the place is in the pulpit.
I did my best to soften my words because a) I truly do love these folks, and b) I know nobody is going to hear a word I say if I alienate them in the process. And yet, it was the challenge of the gospel, and I knew it had to be said if I am really a pastor to these people. So, I said what I felt compelled by the Holy Spirit to say, and I trusted that the same Spirit would use my words to move within the people of Ascension so they might become all that God intends for them.
Guess what! Last night, at a committee meeting, people were talking about the challenge I put to the congregation in my sermon on Sunday morning. They were listening! They took exception to one of my points, and rightfully so, I realized. But mostly, they embraced the challenge. They wrestled with how my words could draw them forward in the ministry we share.
They had no idea how moved I was by their conversation and how affirmed I felt as their pastor. My energy for ministry has been a little low lately, so I really needed this. And I must add that I often receive feedback from the congregation after I preach; my sermon doesn't end for them in pulpit/pew. They actually listen, and they take my words seriously. It’s one of the reasons why I love serving Ascension, and it’s why I work harder on my sermons now than I ever have with any other congregation. Preaching matters for them.
There’s something to be said for the team of sled dogs barking along with their leader so she doesn’t feel all alone. She needs to be reminded that she’s not bearing the weight on her own, and she needs to be encouraged to continue. I’m grateful to serve with such a team.