Pastors called to stop trying to be superheroes
“Ring the bells (ring the bells) that still can ring / Forget your perfect offering/ There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything) / That's how the light gets in.”
These words from Leonard Cohen’s 1992 song, “Anthem,” framed the theme of this year’s annual Mennonite Church Eastern Canada annual School for Ministers. Mandy Smith, an Australian national pastoring the University Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, spoke on the theme of “Ministry on a human scale” to the 60-plus pastors who gathered at Conrad Grebel University College in late February 2017.
In three sessions, she moved from the pastor’s personal attitude of humanness; to cultivating such an attitude among fellow leaders, lay and paid; and then to how this affects all the ministry done in the church, including preaching, teaching and evangelism.
Exposing her own humanness and needs to the gathered pastors, she encouraged pastors to stop trying to be superheroes and to be the limited people they are. Ministry in this mode is collaborative.
Smith told the story of giving up being invincible for Lent and instituting a 10-minute break for herself every lunch hour. In so doing, she both cared for herself and taught this to fellow staff and the congregation. One danger she saw in naming herself as weak, especially as the only woman pastor in a large denomination, was to be simply seen as weak and not able. She said she was afraid to be seen as “too female, too disorganized, too foreign, too emotional.”
Leading the group in an exercise in which they could name their “too” or “not enough” feelings, she reminded the pastors that Satan challenged Jesus in just that way in the desert. Was he powerful enough to create bread or would he depend on God?
“Where do we go to take away the shame of being normal human beings?” she asked. “God knew who we are when God called us,” she said. God knew each person’s weaknesses and called that person anyway.
Smith’s presentations were surrounded by worship, including an anointing service at which pastors could name their brokenness and receive prayer as well as anointing, and communion. This was led by a group of Ethiopian pastors from Toronto.
Afternoons included workshops for both intellectual, emotional and creative aspects of humanness.
Lydia and Gary Harder’s “Naming our struggle with power as Mennonite leaders” workshop drew the largest crowd. Reflecting on their own experiences with the theology championed by John Howard Yoder, they told stories about coming to terms with their own power and vulnerability. Pastors, most of whom had studied Yoder’s Politics of Jesus, with its radical submission and the near denial of any leadership or pastoral power, spoke of the re-evaluation of Yoder as refreshing. While sharing power with lay people in church councils, worship committees and shared preaching—all outcomes of Yoder’s theology—the need for leadership was highlighted.