Does the faith of the congregation mirror that of its pastor?
Yes, but also, not really.
Yes, in the sense that the pastor must model an evolving faith. She must be honest from the start that she, too, will experience changes in ideas, understandings of certain texts, and that she will go through stretches of theological realignment. It’s just not feasible to stand by a static faith in such an organic and dynamic environment as a congregation. The ideal first sermon would be more of a confession of ignorance than anything else. She could stand among her people and say something like, “Look, this journey of faith is one for a lifetime and there are many trails I have yet to explore. I assume it’s the same for you. I did not leave seminary with all the answers, but with more questions to explore, with more things to work out in the settings of real, everyday life. What I do know is that the Bible – and all its surrounding ideas – are not easy, but difficult. This book can be both freeing and frustrating, as you already know. So, together we will walk. We will learn new things and discard old things. We will not grow weary or decide that we are done. We will, together, ‘continue to work out’ our salvation.”
Not really, in the sense that the pastor cannot decide how people will believe what they believe. If she thinks this is possible, she is not in touch with her congregation. The truth is more complicated: in a crowded church house there are multiple opinions and beliefs about things like the virgin birth, the miracles, the way prayer works, the story of Jonah, even the resurrection. Just because the website is succinct and the sermon is well-crafted and logical doesn’t mean that the entire congregation is in the slipstream of the pastor’s faith. Further, the design of the church ought not be a place where certain levels of faith are required, but rather a place where there’s an ongoing conversation around the both the facts and the mysteries of all that faith entails, and where people are free to learn at their own pace.
The trick with both of these is for the pastor to remain comfortable with the tensions of faith and formation. Not everything moves in a sequential order; the same people who appear to be growing one year can go sideways the next. But it’s all part of the lifelong journey of being a disciple.
Grace and peace,