Resting Pastor Face
These last few weeks we’ve heard from various guest writers as they reflect on their own sense of pastoral/vocational identity. We asked these writers to share their thoughts believing that an essential piece of overall health and well-being for clergy is a sense of self that extends “beyond the pulpit”, but that also embraces the realities of their calling to ministry. We’re grateful for the thoughts of these fine pastors and welcome your engagement with them in conversation.
This week’s contribution comes from the Reverend Brandon Gilvin, Senior Minister of First Christian Church, Chattanooga, TN.
My wife has, from time to time, observed that when I think my face is expressionless, it actually looks angry.
It often happens when I’m considering something, thinking an issue through, trying to come up with a solution. When I’m deep in thought, I look mean.
I am not the only person who does this, but as I begin a new ministry, I’ve been thinking about whether or not this is a liability. After all, I want to be part of helping to create a welcoming church that shares a gospel of joy, hope, and inclusion.
Will anyone really want to be part of a community with a pastor who has made a face like Jonathan Edwards contemplating all those sinners in the hands of an angry God for so long that my “RPF” has—as my elementary school teachers warned—become permanently “stuck that way”? Even more concerning—if I smile like a cruise ship director all the time and abandon my “thinking face,” will I lose my ability to think?
I guess my new church can kiss that strategic plan goodbye.
I’m kidding, of course. I do smile. I do believe that the story that God is writing with the church is one of reconciliation, inclusion, peace, and deep, deep joy.
But I also believe this only happens if people feel called to bring their whole, authentic selves to be in relationship with God and all of humanity. To be Christian shouldn’t be about performance, especially if it’s a performance that forces you to deny something true about yourself because you want to appear to be “good,” or to convince others that everything is always okay.
Because we live in a world where not everything is okay. From the most extensive refugee crisis since World War II to what feels like a never ending parade of mass shootings across the United States to the smaller, more easily hidden but no less difficult struggles families face in our communities every day, there are a lot of things that make me think that making a welcoming church is about making a church where cries of lament are as valued as songs of joy
It’s not about performance.
It’s about creating a culture of care—so people can feel welcomed, be loved for who they are, and know that God loves them for everything they are.
And to figure out how to bring such a culture to life, I’ll be working with my congregation on strategies, relationships, programs, and a number of other things that will bring this culture to life. I’m sure we’ll laugh as we do it. I’m sure there will be tears shed. And as I listen and strategize, I’m sure I’ll make that mean face I don’t realize I make. But that’s okay. I am a pastor in my humanness, not despite it; not by pretending to be something I’m not. Even sticking my tongue out or rolling my eyes at a colleague’s bad pun, I’m always wearing my Resting Pastor Face, because the face I wear, no matter how I feel, is still my face, a big part of who I am.
The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) is a partnership between the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and Lexington Theological Seminary. MLCI’s goal is to assist pastors in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship spans the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister.