Associate Pastor for Cruise Direction?


Post Author: Krystal Leedy


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I took a cruise once, and I did not particularly enjoy it. I love the people who went with me. I love the amount of sunbathing and swimming I got to do, but I did not particularly enjoy the loud-speaker that was above my bed. The loud-speaker rang true and clear each morning as the captain updated us on our course and the weather for that day. I had to work through some of the terminology like knots and starboard, but I got the gist, “We are moving forward.” But then came the cruise director, Party Dan.

Party Dan’s voice would come across the loudspeaker informing us of the activities for that day: casino games, lunch on Bravo Deck, entertainment, excursions, and of course, the evening parties. Some people probably really liked Party Dan’s saccharine enthusiasm, but I did not. I grew to hate it.

Now, I understand that as a pastor, I might think about different things than the average person. I am called to provide spiritual guidance for a community. Even before being ordained,  I do find myself in that situation quite a bit. But I also find myself wondering if my role sometimes slips toward Party Dan. I’m sure I’m not as cool (or annoying) as Party Dan, but I hope that I never have to be that cool or annoying as Pastor Krystal.

There are many different hats that pastors wear. When we train in seminary, we learn about these different roles. We read about pastor as priest (worship leader) or pastor as caregiver. We read about pastor as teacher, preacher, administrator, and even toilet-paper-replenisher.  But I don’t remember pastor as cruise director.

My job title, Director of Campus Ministries, concerns me. I share this same title, “director,” with many people, and I find myself under the “Programmatic Staff” heading in our bulletin. Sometimes I wonder if pastor as program director starts to look a little like pastor as Party Dan. Could the piece of my brain that wants so badly to be theologically thoughtful get lost in the meal count for the next campus ministry event?

Are we offering so many programs that we are bombarding people with church advertising? Each week there is a meeting, a meal, a Bible study, a service project, a special event, a party. Bulletins and emails and announcements on Sunday morning become that loudspeaker over my cruiseship bed. All these events are good things, but I wonder at what point we go overboard with this stuff. In meetings, we talk about how we are going to do things rather than why. And, honestly, when I ask people how they are doing spiritually, I usually get the answer, “Fine.” At what point do food, fun, and fellowship turn into ways to ignore what is really going on with us? What if all our programs give people something to do rather than someone to be?

I wonder, as I await ordination, if event planning makes it difficult for “program staff” of churches to take on a pastoral role? How do pastors, consumed with the details of programs, remind themselves of what it means to be pastoral? It’s deeper than “being nice.” I understand that potlucks and parties have a place in the life of the community,  but I want to make sure the point of being a pastor is about care, guidance, study, and theological thought instead of “The next party on Aledo deck starts in 20 minutes!”


Krystal Leedy is the Director of Campus Ministries at University Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas, and she is a Candidate for the Ministry of Word and Sacrament in the PC(USA). Krystal , a 2011 graduate of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, is the recipient of the Charles L. King Preaching Award. When not at the church, Krystal loves drinking chai tea, playing the djembe, and hanging out with her husband, John, and two dogs, Cricket and Radar.

3 replies
  1. Kate
    Kate says:

    I am an Associate Pastor and while I can identify with the role of event planner, I don’t think pastoral roles and event planning have to be mutually exclusive. For me, I think one of the best things I think I can do is to try to give voice to how our faith informs how and why we do events and then be a pastoral presence while engaging at the event.

    Reply
  2. rabbiisa
    rabbiisa says:

    Have you read Robert Putnam’s American Grace? It’s well worth reading. He speaks of religion in America, how it makes a difference, and what things churches (and synagogues) do that make the most difference. And, to paraphrase, it’s the dinners that have the most impact. It’s so easy to sell short those programs and those aspects of our clergy work, but they can be so important. And those can be the moments with the most opportunity for engagement and forming relationships.

    But yes, we all have those cruise director kinds of days. And wonder why we’re doing what we do.

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