Preaching: The Map of the Soul
In Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity, Eugene H. Peterson tells Herman Melville’s story of Dr. Cuticle. On a large sailing ship at sea, Dr. Cuticle is the ship’s only surgeon. Disappointed that the most medical attention the sailors need is care for their blisters, Dr. Cuticle is excited when a sailor is brought to him with severe abdominal pain. Diagnosing a problem appendix, Dr. Cuticle assembles and cleans his surgical utensils before a gallery of watching sailors. With a flare of energetic skill Dr. Cuticle begins the surgery, removes the appendix and sews up the patient. The sailors are not awed; they are appalled. The patient died during surgery. Dr. Cuticle, so engrossed in the surgery, didn’t notice, and the sailors, in their subservience, didn’t mention it. Peterson goes on to make his pastoral point: Pastors routinely go about their weekly and technical handling of Scripture unaware that, for all their skill, there is no pulse, no life in the subject. Granted that Eugene is discussing a lifeless kind of exegesis, I suggest that we can apply the story to pastoral ministry in general.
We emphasized in the last post that while preaching is a significant aspect of pastoral work, it cannot be the defining center. Let’s say that the average length of a sermon is 30 minutes, realizing that some pastors preach longer and some shorter. Given ample time for study, reflection and sermon preparation, what does the pastor then do with his or her time? How we answer this question reveals much about our “philosophy of pastoral ministry.” As long as the sermon is the apex of pastoral ministry and the pastor is the biblical, exegetical, and hermeneutical expert before which hungry people sit waiting “to be fed,” then an antiseptic distance can be maintained between pastor and people. Many pastors are cocooned in this “vision” of ministry. But if the pastor is becoming a shepherd (pastor) like Jesus, the Good Shepherd (John 10), then leading is a part of feeding. Jesus said, “I lead them out. They follow me.” The pastor is a guide as well as a preacher/teacher. Pastoral leading is an expression of spiritual direction. We’re all going somewhere…together.