What Pastors Urgently Need: John Frye

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.

 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • David Dollins

    Great post! I would suggest Gary Burge’s book ‘Encounters with Jesus’ helps in this area too.

  • Don

    As a 32 year into it…absolutely true! Thanks

  • Michael Teston

    I remember when my girlfriend now wife of 34 plus years first gave me a Bible. I was literally drawn into the pages of the Gospel following and being mesmerized by this guy Jesus. Jesus having the capacity to both storm the institutions of his day but also able to shepherd/pastor the broken hearted, the ability to speak and the ability to listen. I was hooked. I didn’t need any theological classes to let me know this guy was the real deal and he was offering real life. After 26 plus years in pastoral ministry much of that passionate first encounter stuff has sunk deep within, its there, but needs to be raised. Just an excellent article by John Frye. thanks

  • CGC

    Hi John,
    Your words especially resonate with me after I just watched “Blue Like Jazz” last night. People fall in love with the Jesus in the Gospels but struggle with Jesus of the contemporary church.

  • jamie

    Yea, but…..we don’t want to piss anyone off…..or love that inconviently. And how does one survive when my senior and thus the church is all about being safe, and all the about niceness, and all about the “theological” Jesus?

  • Clay Knick

    I love, “Jesus is an incarnate lightning bolt.”

  • Dawne Piotrowski

    “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).”

    John (and Scot), thank you for this greatly encouraging post! As a woman who is finally able to embrace and pursue my call to pastoral ministry (I’m heading to seminary this fall), I am reminded, again, to keep my focus on Jesus the Pastor.

    As I read the above quote, it brought to mind the idea of the five-fold ministry, something I am hearing a lot about in my local church. I wonder how this might relate?

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John W Frye

    David (#1),
    Thanks for alerting me to Burge’s book. I’ll get a copy ASAP.

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John W Frye

    Jamie (#5),
    Been there, done that…all in King James English. Please ponder why you’re in that context and how long you believe Jesus wants you to stay there. Hard, but an adventure.

  • michael

    “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.”

    yep. That pretty much sums it up for me John. Thanks.

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John W Frye

    Dawne (#7),
    I am glad we are colleagues in this intriguing call to be a pastor. I allude to the alleged “Five-Fold Ministry” concept in a previous post (see link above). I will think more about it and post something here at Jesus Creed.

  • Dawne Piotrowski

    John, thanks for the encouragement. I would like to read your post on the five-fold ministry but have been unable to locate it on your blog, even when I searched for the term. Can you help me out with the name of the post? Thanks!

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John W Frye

    Dawne (#12),
    You’re correct. I just checked those two posts and don’t see the reference to “five fold ministry.” I must have mentioned it somewhere else. I’ll pursue writing about it here on JESUS CREED.

  • Rob Henderson

    The words Jesus said that had the most profound impact on my ministry was when he said, “I now call you friends.” (John 15:15) In that moment my view of the people God put within the fold changed. I immediately began viewing people not as “sheep” but as friends.

    There is no hierarchical concept in this way of thinking for me. We work side by side with the love of Christ. Certainly, in my ordained role I am the leader but at the same time my view is of them as friends. I don’t lead to control but lead them to a deeper grasp of God’s love and His holiness.

  • http://www.godhungry.org Jim Martin

    John,

    Wow! Very, very good post!

    I am delighted with these three posts in which you reflect on pastoral ministry. You are right in your assessment of pastoral ministry today. This good work is in trouble as long as we have a diminished and domesticated Jesus who no only is not all that attractive but would hardly be offensive to anyone. I love this paragraph, John:

    “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.”


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