Eugene Peterson's, The Pastor, stands amongst written Christian publishing as a giant. In the great history of spiritual autobiography from which we get Confessions and The Seven Storey Mountain, Eugene has staked his claim. As a pastor I have found his vision of my vocation to be exhorting, encouraging, refreshing and enlightening.
Eugene offers a brief definition of the pastoral vocation by drawing contrast to the way in which we often define it in America, which I have found quite profound.
"I wonder if at the root of the defection is a cultural assumption that all leaders are people who 'get things done,' and 'make things happen.' That is certainly true of the primary leadership models that seep into out awareness from the culture-politicians, businessmen, advertisers, publicists, celebrities, and athletes. But while being a pastor certainly has some of these components, the pervasive element in our two-thousand-year pastoral tradition is not someone who 'gets things done' but rather the person placed in the community to pay attention and call attention to 'what is going on right now' between men and women, with one another and with God-this kingdom of God that is primarily local, relentlessly personal, and prayerful 'without ceasing.'" (The Pastor, 5)
Thank you Eugene. At the point on my vocational journey when I thought my calling would be swallowed up by the demand your words have reanchored my soul for that which God has shaped me to do.
People are messy. People are sinful. People are uncomfortable.
In the last eight years of pastoral ministry I have learned much about this treacherous vocation God has called me into. Pastoring is no light task, fit for the faint of heart. It is a task done on the ground. It is a job of manuel labor. It is a job in which you get dirty, in which you constantly feel out of sorts, in which you feel ill-equipped and in which you are not under control. Namely, because it is a calling to be with. It is a calling to be with people. Real, actual, breathing people.
I think for a while I had this vision of the pastoral vocation that had been so grounded in years of pontification, theorizing and musing (seminary years) that I had no idea people had anything to do with it. People were that forgotten part of the equation amidst the perfectly envisioned ecclesial praxis, doctrinal ordering, Scriptural understanding of church and pastoral life. I had it all figured out, and then came people.
Once I acknowledge that perhaps people had something to do with it I could only envision people who "got it". People who understood that I had all the answers, people who understood that everything I had to say was important, and people who were equally interested in the dynamics of church leadership, the shape of Christian community and the doctrinal placement of ecclesiology.
My family and I recently went on vacation. It was quite timely. We explored God's creation together, experiencing the magnitude of his creativity at Zion National Park. When I say it was timely, what I mean was that it was "needed" both as a family unit and as individuals. We had been pushing ourselves, overextending ourselves and were quite frankly exhausted (emotionally, physically).
As we were driving one day I began to ponder what vacation is. It certainly seemed like this vacation was a gift (as I mentioned it was timely), but what kind. As I paused to consider I realized vacation was largely an escape. It was a means of escaping the stress, the rules, the regimen, etc. It struck me that it was a gift, but that the gift was intended to be rest not escape. Rest is something wholly different. Rest is not a means of avoidance, but rather relinquishment. Rest is still connected to who one is, while escape is in effect simply letting oneself go. Rest is marked by peace, while escape actually maintains the frenetic pace fo life, but focuses its energy on different things (racing to pleasure, fun, fantasy, etc.: whatever helps let lose).
I read an article this week about a pastor who lied about having been a Navy SEAL. In the wake of the Osama Bin Laden event this pastor thought he would ride the tidal wave of goodwill and intrigue that Navy SEALism was receiving in our culture. Apparently, he thought that this would increase his popularity within the congregation and potentially serve as a creative branding niche for his church. Or, perhaps he just had run out of good stories (I already feel I have run out stories and I have only been in ministry 7 years).
I must admit I was truly shocked. Of course, I have heard about pastors taking some unique (to put it as positively as possible) approaches to ministry and leadership. Of course, I have seen pastors make sinful and devestating decisions with their lives. But, I must admit that I have never come across a pastor falsely claiming to be a Navy SEAL.
But, once I got past the initial shock of the story I began to ask myself a few questions. Who do you pretend to be in ministry? And, why? Maybe I am not pretending to be a Navy SEAL, but I am pretending to be emotionally put together. Maybe I am pretending to be brilliant. Maybe I am pretending to be outgoing. That way the people I minister to will...like me, respect me, think I am significant, etc.
So, what is it? Are you pretending to be a Navy SEAL? Or, are you pretending to be something else? And, why?
Our Lord goes to the cross this day. Thanks and praise be to the Lamb who was slain.
My kids are moving into that stage where they no longer simply ask "why" repeatedly when I tell them something. The incessant "why" stage is interesting, let me tell you. Now, my kids are able to articulate more thoughtfully their questions.
"Daddy how many soldiers took Jesus?"
"Daddy why did the people want to hurt Jesus?"
"Daddy why do we make bad choices?"
It is the countless questions of my children that bring the harsh reality to the surface of my heart that "I don't know." For this pastor theologian the "I don't know" is like death. It is the innocent and basic, yet profound, questions of my children that are teaching me I don't have all the answers and that drives me mad. It is the questions of my children that are teaching me I have a hard time living with questions.
Yet, that is the call of the Christian life isn't it? To live with... In fact, to live in questions.
Yet, the truth of my heart is that I want to have all the answers. I want to have certainty. I want to feel the power that I believe comes in "knowing."
Perhaps the call is less to answer my children's questions and more to live in them with them.