Personhood, Loneliness, and Relationships

Andrew Root, in The Relational Pastor, says it well: “Loneliness reveals personhood because loneliness is the confession of lost relationship; it is clutching to find your personhood… the feeling of loneliness is the closest experience that we have to death. It is to be dead to all others; it is to be alone” (61). That’s heavy, especially for an opener to a blog post. But Root presses on: “there is no humanity without relationship.”

He illustrates this by comparing an individual and functional model: boss, consumer, professor, voter — these are known for what they do and not for who they are to someone else. Personhood is typified in husband, wife, brother, sister, father, mother — that is, the husband husbands, the wife wifes, the brother brothers, the sister sisters, the father fathers, and the mother mothers. There are functions but the functions are only done to foster the relationship. When the functions dominate personhood diminishes.

What do you think of Root’s definition of pastoring in the mode of personhood below?

Personhood is a gift: you become a father or a mother or sister or brother or daughter or son not by choice but by existence and gift. You are called to share life with one another, and the sharing of the life is personhood. To live with in order to perform a function turns us into individuals. Friendship is the same kind of sharing of life — so this is not for married and parents but for singles and all of us. At its core, we are our relationships. Our relationships define our personhoods.

Personhood has no end other than presence.

Root says “friendship evangelism” needs to be seen for what it does: it “violates the personal” (66). It doesn’t love the person; it loves the idea; it is not friendship with the person but friendship with a hope for what an exchange might entail — conversion.

Now for pastoring: pastors can be defined by their functions — preaching, administrating, distributing sacraments, leading, guiding, declaring, telling, commanding.

Here’s what pastoring in the mode of personhood his about: “A person is a pastor because she or he is called by the Spirit to open her or his own spirit to the spirit of the flock…. What pastors do is pastor, and pastoring is the brave action of leading by opening your person to the person of the others so that together we might share in the life of God” (68).

About Scot McKnight

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

  • RJS

    Root’s comment about friendship evangelism puts a finger on something that has been bothering me lately.

    The utilitarian view robs interactions of authenticity and – perhaps sooner, perhaps later – it leaves both the evangelist and the evangelized wary and cynical.

  • John W Frye

    Andrew Root is right on! As a pastor myself, I find Root’s definition of pastoring “in the mode of personhood” refreshing and corrective to so much of what is called “pastoring” today. When commericalized Christianity began packaging the faith with its ceaseless “how to” books, we experienced the triumph of function over relationship. The biblical mode is “who to,” not “how to.”

  • Jeff Greathouse

    Love the article. I enjoy reading and listening to Andrew and can’t wait to read the new book.

  • docdek

    Root has it right. I did my dissertation on adolescent understanding of respect (how it is understood to operate according to teens). They told me that when respect is evident toward them, it comes through personhood forms. Interestingly, they respect adults through rules based forms and they said that is what adults expect from them. If adult relationships with teens are dominated by rules, it would appear that the adolescent experience of ‘aloneness’ or “abandonment’ from adults makes sense. Respecting people as persons fundamentally drives true relationship, as Root says. Without respect, one cannot have personhood relationships. I’ll stop there before I go off on a theology of respect.

  • Paul

    As i read the post I was thinking of the pastor at our small Anglican church. When he administers the blessing to our children (during Eucharist), he kneels to their level, calls them by name, and gives each of my children a personal prayer. My children seek him out during Eucharist for this reason…they feel loved and known by him. It is this personal/relational side that many folks in our church (official or unofficial pastors) emphasize…it is what keeps my family and many others so drawn to our community, and so wanting more.

  • Merv Olsen

    What a great article!

    I must admit to being perplexed on why it is that so few people respond to blogs on such immensely practical, relevant and useful topics like this … whereas dozens do about other issues.

  • Ross Southern

    In my ministry I have come to believe the following…
    “It is more important to ‘BE’ than to ‘ACHIEVE'”