“The Versatile Reverend”

Ms. Edna Bennett of East Marion, L.I. by Loren A. Rowley

There is no question about it, a local church should operate like a small business. That’s not meant to be an excuse for a pastor to act like a cold, heartless, ruthless, “You’re fired!” (in my best Donald Trump voice) type of leader. I’d never make an excuse for anyone to act that way. I’m simply stating an often overlooked quality of a pastor. As the leader of the congregation they serve, pastor’s are expected to be shepherds, prophets and counselors, while dabbling in the skill sets of a small business owner (i.e. financial planning, strategy setting, market forecasting, etc.). Take a look sometime and see if the office door of your pastor lists “Versatile” as their middle name and “Pastor/CEO” as their job title. I personally wouldn’t be surprised.

Nowadays many pastors can get away with “only” being a pastor. As versatile as they may need to be, a pastor can make a sustainable living being a pastor. An article in the Sunday NY Times reminded me that this has not always been the case (and admittedly is not the case for some pastors today). Not long ago there was a time when the versatility of a pastor was not hidden from their community by the veil of the pulpit on a Sunday morning. Versatility was required to simply make ends meet.

N.H. Dickerson in a photograph by Loren A. Rowley

According to the NYT article the Southold Historical Society is featuring an exhibit titled “The Versatile Reverend” displaying the works of Rev. Loren A Rowley: A pastor by vocation (calling) and a photographer by occupation. He was a Baptist pastor, serving from 1891 – 1904 in New York after graduating from Hamilton Theological Seminary. He was a successful photographer, selling mounted prints of everyday life in East Marion, Shelter Island, Gardiner Island, and Camp Wyckoff. In addition to photography, he lectured and demonstrated a piece of technology called the stereoscope. His versatility was birthed out of necessity but can still speak to the inherent and natural responsibility of a pastor.

Around the turn of the 20th century it was no secret that Rowley was more than “just a pastor”. In the 21st century not many people are privy to the work of a pastor beyond the pulpit, especially their pastor. I’ve heard pastors say, “There once was a time when all the congregation expected of their pastor was a decent sermon and a hospital visit. Today they expect so much more.” I am now reminded, “There once was a time when the congregation saw their pastor scraping to provide for their family by maintaining entirely separate occupations. Today they expect to see a similar work ethic, so show them.”

How would you respond to the challenge to “show them” in your ministry context?

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