“Pastor! Pastor!” was a common thing to hear as our cohort walked down the street with our host Pastor Joey. People would shout from down the street, from the windows of their homes, and even from passing cars. After hearing one person shout, I asked: “Is that a member of your church?” Joey responded, “No, that is a member of the community.”
My time in Santiago de Cuba challenged me to consider my assumptions about what it means to be a pastor in Western/North American culture. During my time there, one of my most significant observations was the deep understanding of incarnational ministry. There were no walls to define who pastors did, and did not, minister to. The connection was not determined by membership, but rather by living in community with one another. Pastors saw their work as it related to the community – not simply the church. Thus, members of the community who never attended a Sunday service still called Joey “their Pastor.”
There was something so beautiful to me about this picture. To be able to live and work in such a way to be called “Pastor,” not merely out of respect – but out of affinity. To hold with reverence the ordinary moments of those within a community and regularly be invited into them. To participate in the shared joys and sorrows. To bind yourself to another in Christ without requiring anything of the other person. To live out fully “God with us” not just “God for us.”
Joey regularly reminded us that he was not the pastor of a church…he was the pastor of a community. His ministry was embedded within the lives of those around him. I was reminded that this level of incarnational ministry requires three things: a deep and abiding love of people, the discerning of their ongoing needs, and a willingness to implicate myself in the process of pastoring them.
I thank my Cuban colleagues for this reminder!