Sweaty Masks & Parish Priests

Have you ever put on one of those rubber masks? You know, the kind you have to pull over your head? I bought one a while back as a joke. I put it on and came down stairs to see the reaction of my family. Someone must have warned them because they were obviously prepared and didn’t give me the response I’d hoped for. All I got was some smirks that seemed to say: Dad’s obviously got too much time on his hands. Oh well. But one thing I did get, and it didn’t take long, was the realization that masks are uncomfortable and sweaty. What a relief to tear that thing off.

As pastors there are many expectations placed on us, masks, if you will, that we’re pressured to wear. These masks can come from our culture, from the denomination or movement we’re affiliated with, or even the people in our church.  One mask is that of the pastor who is up to date on all the latest trends in the church world. Another mask is that of the pastor of a successful and growing church.  A while back we were told that as your church grows (an assumption) that you must move from pastor to rancher (mask) to CEO (another mask).

Why is it that no one ever tells us to wear the mask of a humble parish priest? Actually I believe Eugene Peterson has attempted to do this but he must be the exception. In the old days, and in many places of America today, you will find these men and women. Parish priests (the parish priest ideal is not limited to those of the Catholic faith) were/are simple contented pastors of smaller congregations who give themselves to the care of their people. They are there to marry and bury, to teach and preach, to laugh and cry, to counsel and visit. They are available and approachable, reliable and consistent. They are faithful to their calling regardless of the size of their congregations. The story is told of a new pastor in a small rural church.  One Sunday morning he showed up and the sanctuary was empty except for one old farmer sitting in the back. The pastor was prepared with his sermon but it all seemed silly to proceed as usual. He asked the farmer what he wanted to do. The wise old man answered, “Well sonny, if I had only one cow I’d still feed her.”

The only mask you should consider putting on is that of the parish priest. But I think of it more as an identity than a mask. Either way, it certainly is the only one that will not make you sweat. Your church might grow and if it does you will certainly have to adapt your leadership style accordingly. But whether you’re larger or smaller embrace the identity of a parish priest. Don’t sweat it.

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