What Pastors Urgently Need
First , a big “thank you” to Scot McKnight for inviting me to post a weekly reflection on pastoral ministry in this 21st century. You can read my first two posts on this topic at my blog “Jesus the Radical Pastor.”
Second, a word about my purpose. I am writing very intentionally about the traditional view of pastoral ministry within the current milieu of many contentious views about the vocation of pastor. To get a feel for this purpose, please read the first two posts. These are my own reflections about being “a pastor” and I believe these ideas have an enduring and rightful place in any discussions about local church ministry. Now to today’s thoughts.
Because many pastors and local church leaders have not met Jesus, the Pastor, the pastoral vocation and local church ministry gets needlessly skewed. If you’re new to this idea, read slowly through Ezekiel 34, John 10 (the Good Shepherd) and ponder these two titles of Jesus–the Great Shepherd (Hebrews 13) and the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5). For some odd reason many pastors have been led to fixate on Paul the Apostle and his letters. With this Pauline fixation, pastors neglect Jesus the Pastor and ignore the Gospels as pastoral documents. I’ll make the point again, Paul never describes himself as a pastor nor is he referred to as a pastor. He is Paul the Apostle (to the Gentiles).
I am inclined to trace the origin of current debates in pastoral ministry and ecclesiology, especially in the USAmerican evangelical church, to inadequate mental constructs of Jesus the Christ. Because the “Jesus” offered to potential pastors (in their Seminary days) is dished up as a theological construct, the local church gets smothered over with a precise, doctrinal Jesus. Churches need to meet the Jesus of Revelation 1 who walks among real local churches in real geographical places (Revelation 2-3) bringing commendation and correction. I would not have met this dangerously-alive, fiery Jesus if it were not for scholars like Scot McKnight, N. T. Wright, Ben Meyer, E. P. Sanders, Darrell Bock, Conrad Gempf, Sean Freyne, and so many others who have worked hard to ground our theologically-constructed Jesus in the hot, dusty Palestinian world of 1st century Judaism. While God purposely incarnated in the fierce particulars of time and space, theologians through the ages have worked hard to de-incarnate Jesus so Jesus could be the God-Man for all peoples in all cultures in all times. When Jesus is lifted out of his 1st century historical particulars and squeezed into timeless theological categories, his timeless impact actually is severely blunted. Am I against theology? Of course not. But a theological Jesus does not and cannot hold a candle to the radical, courageous Jesus of the Gospels and the blazing Jesus of Revelation 1.
I was a pastor for many years and was frankly getting bored with the Jesus I had inherited. I had embraced unwittingly the Jesus described by Ken Medema in song–“a corner drug-store Jesus pushing happiness pills.” I had a Jesus who wasn’t worth dying for, and so, was not worth living for. I had a Jesus who could easily affirm the American Dream and middle-class values while making many Christians think they were deeply committed “disciples” of Jesus. The Jesus proclaimed in the early church who was turning the world upside down was now a valet parking spot guy who heard prayers for good parking places–a fuzzy first world problem on a bloody, desperate third world planet.
I am convinced that USAmerican pastors urgently need the skilled historian-theologians to help them reimagine Jesus as the good pastor. As long as pastors look to other pastors wearing suits and sipping tea with the African Violet Church Ladies or wearing Levi’s and tattooes and sipping lattes at Starbuck’s, praying at the potluck and re-cycling sermons by Swindoll, Hybels, Stanely, or Ortberg, pastoral ministry will soon go to seed. I think many men and women have left the pastoral vocation, not because of church “models” or doctrinal conflicts, but because of a stale, we-already-know-all-we-need-to-know-about-Jesus mental construct. Jesus is an incarnate lightning bolt. Read the Transfiguration accounts.
The challenge for aspiring and serving pastors is to read the Gospels all the while saying, “This is the recorded life of the Good Pastor!” I cannot think of a more powerful adrenaline rush for the pastoral vocation.