In seminary we were offered just one pastoral polity class. Along with the Bible, our suggested textbook was Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. We consulted the Bible for the baptism formula and how to lead the Lord’s Table. Either the seminary fathers assumed pastor and pastoral ministry was well-understood, or no one had a clue. When I graduated and engaged in vocational pastoral ministry, I realized it was the latter. What tipped me off were the incessant pastors’ conferences where, instead of thoughtfully defining pastoral ministry, attendees were invited to listen to the latest rising pastor-stars. Because these shining stars had different personalities, abilities, and denominational models of ministry, I assumed that pastors’ conferences were simply ecclesial cafeterias.
If you defined “pastor” by what your pastor “does,” what would your definition be? Who has been most influential in your understanding of “pastor”?
I was free to pick and choose my own ingredients to form a vision of what a pastor is and what a pastor does. So American. Being active in pastoral work, I patched together my own vision of my calling. My vision was ragged, but it contained snatches of Bible-exposition, seeker-sensitivity, small-group value, NIV-priority, vision-mission-objectives-standards continuity (i.e., corporate), multi-staff variety, and the whole venture went stone-cold dead in my soul. I had been urged to be a coach, a CEO, a Bible-teacher, a leader, a servant, an administrator, a visionary, a funny guy, a counselor, a cheerleader, a person who wins friends and influences people. Amidst these chameleon roles, I lost Jesus.
The annoying horse-fly buzzing over this smorgasbord of pastoral models was commercialization. We could buy the books, get the kits, view the videos, and unwisely mimic the successes of others. I don’t know how many times “successful” pastors would present how God worked amazingly in their churches and affirmed it was God’s work in their context. We were urged, “Don’t think you should imitate us. Trust God in your own context. Yet, hey, our books and videos are on sale at the break.” When the local church is market-driven, we all die. The decades of the eighties and nineties saw the church hemorrhaging pastors. Why? Because the traditional vocation of pastor was hijacked by innovative thinkers who seemed to know a lot about culture and little about the Bible and church history. The word pastor was gutted by well-meaning, but misguided gurus of the more “relevant” way.
I met a man who did a simple thing for me. He grounded pastoral ministry in the Holy Scriptures. His name was Eugene H. Peterson. At a writers’ conference at Spring Arbor College, Peterson was the keynote speaker. Providentially, he sat with my friends and me at the lunch table. He suggested I read Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work. I purchased a copy, he signed it, and I read it. My soul, on life-support from the battering of foolish and culturally-driven ideas about being a pastor, revived as the biblical blood of tested truth was injected. I could not recall even one pastor-scholar who presented at one, just one pastors’ conference, the simple idea that the Bible might just have something deep and significant to say about pastoral work.
Then I met the Man, Jesus, who, of all things, called himself the Good Pastor. Two times! This meeting anew of the Jesus I had lost caused me to do some serious repenting, some thorough changing of the mind. Instead of looking outward onto the ever-changing, trendy landscape of marketed, local church ideas, I gazed downward into the sacred text. While I had been trained to honor Jesus as LORD, Messiah, Savior, Friend, Prophet, Priest and King, no one ever suggested that I get to know Jesus the Pastor. While I had been urged to comb the Gospels to find ample data that Jesus Christ is 100% God and 100% human in one Person forever, no one ever suggested that I should read the Gospels in order to meet Jesus, the preeminent Pastor of all time, the authentic Senior Pastor (see 1 Peter 5:4).
My friend, Scot, has suggested that I present Eugene H. Peterson’s taxonomy of “the pastor” as presented in The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction. Taxonomy means classification or grouping of similar things. As I have observed vocational pastoral work, many ecclesial taxonomists still do not have a clue about “pastor.” Pastor is still a word on our cultural landscape in search of meaning. I know that many do not accept Eugene Peterson’s taxonomy. Some seem to despise it. Let’s continue the conversation with the aim of listening well and learning more about the beautiful word “pastor.” We’ll consider “the naked noun” next time.