In it he wrestles with the distinction between the pastor’s own personal beliefs and the role of the pastor within the church. In part he writes:
One of the many reasons I am fond of Will Willimon is something he wrote that helped me. He said that the job of the pastor is not to offer his own personal faith, but to teach the faith of the church. The pastor is a creature of the church. She is not self-created or self-authorizing.
I find this distinction incredibly helpful. It’s not about the pastor’s personal opinions, doubts, or convictions. It’s about what the church believes and teaches, and demands that we preach and teach. We are not afforded the luxury of proclaiming our personal pet theories, though those will inevitably come out at points. We are called and ordained to proclaim the “faith of the church.”
This clarifies a great deal for me. We as pastors may still have our doubts. We may not be fully convinced of everything the church teaches. But we set our doubts aside and we proclaim what the church teaches anyway.
If one is not convinced of infant baptism, fine. But the United Methodist Church teaches infant baptism. So teach it. Baptize babies. Pass on the faith. I think this kind of distinction could well be applied to any number of other areas.
The bottom line is, once we become a pastor, we represent the church. To so many people, we are the church. Everything we say and do represents not only the UM church, but also God – to our parishioners and to the secular world. What we proclaim publicly and how we live is too important to the faith of others to let hang on the changing whim of our personal opinions and doubts.