The Solo Pastor: A Spirit-Led Playground Builder

Last week I listed several qualities, traits, and skill-sets Solo Pastors might possess in order to be fruitful shepherds.  While those qualities and skills might also apply to staff and senior pastors, I am looking at them primarily in regard to solo pastors.  “Intrinsically motivated by the Holy Spirit” happened to be listed first, so I’ll start there but with a little twist (because that sounds too boring and flat to me right now): Fruitful Solo Pastors Need to Be Spirit-Led Playground Builders.  

Last year I took a unit of CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education – a program I would highly recommend every pastor take) at St. Vincent’s Hopsital in Indianapolis.  Sister Barbara, a nun herself, was my supervisor, and we met weekly to discuss what I was learning.  During one such conversation, Sister Barbara reminisced how her career had taken her to various and random occupations throughout the country.  One question she found herself asking during each transition was whether the next opportunity would be a large enough playground to keep her engaged and having fun.  What she said resonated with me.  I liked the idea of seeing professions as playgrounds – places to explore, have fun, and keep your imagination engaged.  

Part of our United Methodist polity is the itinerant system of appointing pastors to local churches.  Local churches and pastors have their respective voices in who goes where, but ultimately they do not have final say – the Bishop does.  The merits of this system are both fruitful and fruitless, but it’s not this post’s purpose to reflect on those merits.  Rather, it is a reality our denomination’s pastors have agreed to live into.  So what happens if the local church we are appointed to is a small, broken down, dilapidated playground?  What does a solo pastor do then?

I think a distinguishing mark of the fruitful solo pastor is to be a Spirit-Led Playground Builder – to fix what is broken, to restore the colorful sheen of the once-well-used playground, to remove unsafe and unused structures, to add new pieces of equipment, and to invite the surrounding community to be part of its rebirth.

This takes a Christian Imagination (next week’s quality of a fruitful solo pastor – click here for an awesome, out-of-the-box playground that certainly required an untamed imagination!), but it also necessitates a motivation intrinsically led by God the Holy Spirit.  To see ourselves as playground-builders, and to see the immense potential our respective playgrounds have with their as-is equipment and people (or lack thereof) of all ages, personalities, and abilities is possible only through the Holy Spirit.  The logical response to many of our playgrounds (be they pastors, churches, denominations, pasts, presents, or futures) is hopelessness, discouragement, and despair.  Fortunately for us, however, our God is the God of the resurrection!  Our God sees the heart, where we see only rust and shortcomings.  Our God is the Creator.  Our God is the Redeemer.  Our God breathes life into dry bones.  And our God is on a mission.

The Playground-Building Solo Pastor is keenly aware of this God revealed in scripture and places his or her hope in that particular God.

The Playground-Building Solo Pastor is also probably at a smaller-membership church and, therefore, might not have the biggest playground.  The difference between Solo Pastors who simply play with the playground they’ve been entrusted with and Playground-Building Solo Pastors is that the Builders don’t get bored.  The Builders are not limited nor confined.  Because they are in regular communication with and are under direct supervision by the Spirit, there is always possibility: possibility to use old equipment in new ways, possibility to add on to existing structures, and the possibility to tear the whole thing down in order to build something new.  That’s how fruitful Solo Pastors think, live, and play in ministry.  

One of my “quotes to live by” comes from Walt Disney:

“Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long.  We keep moving forward, keep opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious…and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

Spirit-led curiosity opens the door to possibility.  Perhaps that is the greatest gift fruitful Solo Pastors can give to themselves and to the congregations entrusted to their care: the possibility of living into God’s glorious future – a playground where all are invited to come and play.  God is on a mission.  Are we working with God to build God’s Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven?

Solo Pastor, may God’s curiosity stir afresh in your heart, and may you become a Playground-Builder wherever you find yourself this day.


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