Sunday, December 11, 2011

What is a pastor?

What exactly, is a pastor?

Who are we and what do we do?

In his book, "Under the Unpredictable Plant," former pastor Eugene Peterson, using the Old Testament book of Jonah, reflects on the role of pastors and the pressures they face in shepherding their flocks.  In one section of his book, Peterson elaborates on a dilemma that I often find myself facing as a pastor.  He reflects on the issue of the central role of pastors.

Are we messiahs armed with great listening skills and compassionate hearts ready to rescue weary souls struggling with physical or emotional wounds?  Are we managers eagerly looking for able bodied men and women who can unleash their talents in building the church and advancing the kingdom of God?

These are important questions to consider.

Who are we really?

Are we saviors arriving on the scene to bring healing to the wounded?  Are we supervisors equipped to bring order, direction, and administration to the work of the local church?  Or are we primarily called to something else?

I find myself drawn to both of these important roles.  It is a great honor to offer help to families in difficult situations, serving as the hands and feet, the eyes and ears of Jesus.  And I love putting my planning and organizing skills to work in finding and coaching small group leaders, serving as a good steward of the gifted men and women God has brought to our church.

But Peterson argues that each of these roles, as important as they are to pastoral work, is inadequate to serve as the core identity of a pastor.  Instead, he suggests that we serve primarily as those who pay attention to the Spirit's activity occurring around is, in us, and in the lives of the men and women we encounter in our daily interaction with those who make up the body of Christ.  We are the ones called to help the Samuels in our lives recognize and respond to the voice of God who calls out to them (1 Samuel 3:1-10).  The classic title of this particular pastoral role is "spiritual director."

Ironically, Peterson identifies this role as what we do when we don't do the visible things that we get paid to do.  It is our most significant work and yet it is the easiest to dismiss and by far the most neglected aspect of our role as pastors.  But if we do not help busy men and women stop and pay attention to the Father's activity in their midst, then who will?

How do you practice spiritual direction in your own ministry setting?  Do you tend to default to one of the other two legitimate roles of ministry?  How do you keep the other roles of ministry from crowding out this most central work?  How do you help others recognize and respond to the Spirit's work in their life?  How can we practice the other roles of ministry while living from the central role of attending to the Spirit's voice, both for others and for ourselves?

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