Pastoring with Paul

Pastoring with Paul October 1, 2019

Pastors are straddled with expectations. Some come from their past, some from their education and seminary ideals, some from books they read about pastoring, some from pastors conferences they attend, some from ideal pastors they want to be like, and others — perhaps most demanding — from the congregation they serve.

Pastoring, I’ve come to observe, is a complicated calling, complicated because it is the congruence and incongruence of the pastor’s gifting and the congregation’s needs as well as the needs and expectations of individuals in one’s parish. John Ames, that wonderful pastor in Gilead, liked to go to church when no one was there — and if you make that observation to many pastors they’ll at least break into some head nods.

I teach seminary students. Many are pastors, others want to become pastors, and others have no plans to pastor but are doing some kind of pastoring role even when they don’t call it that.

In the first year at Northern Seminary, when we came to the Corinthian correspondence, I decided to compose a lecture, some notes, and some discussion questions about Paul’s pastoral strategy and theology … and I didn’t get past 1 Corinthians 1-4 … and, quite honestly, I wondered what in the world Paul thought he was doing.

So I started studying Paul’s pastoral theology to work out for my students what that theology looked like, and then I was invited to give lectures in Kansas City (by Andy Johnson) at the Nazarene seminary, I asked if I could lecture on Pastor Paul … and Andy kindly agreed. Which led to a my new book Pastor Paul (I’ll also begin doing a series on this book on the Kingdom Roots podcast soon.)

Today, I give Four P’s in Paul’s Pastoral Theology.

First, pastoring for Paul was about people. I mention here just two supporting observations. Read the end of Paul’s letters, where he mentions names of friends and associates, and you will discover a long list of names — people he knew, people he loved, people he worked with. Then pause every now and then to observe Paul’s pronouns: he weaves between “you” and “we” (hymeis, hemeis) in Greek. The “we” is noticeable as Pauline inclusion of others, of including himself, into his points. Paul was a people person. To pastor in a Pauline manner is to pastor people. I define a pastor at times as “a person who pastors people.”

Second, pastoring for Paul was about presence. The one who can say “imitate me” (2 Cor 11:1) is making a claim that he follows Jesus and that he is imitate-able. He saw himself, at some level, as a living embodiment of following Christ, which meant he knew his presence was to embody Christ. Think about this and then think about how many people see the pastor: as the one who ought to be a good example of what it means to follow Jesus.

Margaret Whipp, in her insightful study of pastoral theology, knows that pastoring is caring and caring is first about being present. She writes, “Pastoral care requires availability. Being there, for and with the other, in the steadfast immanence of covenant love is itself a presencing of the gospel, a tangible expression of the immediacy of God’s love and the nearness of his grace, through the extended ministry of incarnation which Christ has entrusted to his Church.” I hope that verb “presencing” stood out as much to you as it did to me because that’s my point: pastors are to “presence” the grace of God through the Spirit. To “presence” God is to recognize that pastors, though this is true of each Christian, are to embody Christ in their tangible presence.

Third, pastoring for Paul was about priesting. To say one of the pastoral responsibilities – even delights – is priestly is to raise the hackles of an old debate between what Flannery O’Connor calls the “Catlicks” and the Protestants. Hence, four typical observations have been raised against calling the pastor a priest: (1) no church leader is called a priest in the New Testament; rather, (2) Christ alone is the Great High Priest and Mediator for Christians (1 Tim 2:5; Heb 5:6; 7:11, 15–17, 20–23; 8:6; 9:15; 10:21; 12:24) but (3) within three centuries Christian pastors were being called “priests;” therefore (4), this was a departure that jumped the rails of consistent apostolic teaching. Ironically, those most suspicious of this term are often the most insistent on their own mediating roles between God and the church, that is, in knowledge, in piety, in example, and in structural location. They may not use the terms priest or mediator but such they are in identity and function. The criticism of pastors-as-priests belongs on the Shelf of Former Ideas. Why? The apostle Paul explicitly depicts himself in priestly terms: “because of the grace given me by God to be a minister (leiturgon) of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service (hierourgounta) of the gospel of God, so that the offering (prosphora) of the Gentiles may be acceptable (euprosdektos), sanctified (hagiosmene) by the Holy Spirit” (Rom 15:15b–16). One can hardly imagine a more priest-drenched sentence than this. If one attends to 1 Corinthians 9:13–14’s words (ta hiera, thusiasterion) as they form the analogy to ministry, one has yet another instance of the pastoral role as priestly. There’s another reason why this argument against priestly pastoring fails the Bible: we are all priests, as Peter for one tells us (1 Pet 2:9), and that means the pastor as a priest represents each of us in her priestly ministry. Because we are all priests means that the pastor must see herself especially in priestly terms or she will fail to represent us well.

The pastor, whether she wants to or not, whether he is conscious of it or not, has a priestly relation with congregants. I want to say this another way: the pastor is gifted with privilege to be priestly.

Fourth, pastoring for Paul is about the prophetic. In nurturing Christoformity in a congregation sometimes the pastor teaches and sometimes preaches, and sometimes the pastor’s communications are prompted by the Spirit in such a manner that we must say the words are prophetic. When that prophetic word is embodied it becomes prophetic action, which means the pastor or congregation or congregants become an embodied message that speaks from God to a community and often enough against the ways of the community.

For many today a prophet is someone who criticizes social injustices and systemic sins, and who often enough becomes a social activist. I hear this understanding all the time. This reduces the prophetic calling. To be prophetic in a biblical sense requires a claim of inspiration from God for a particular vision and message. There is a Spirit-promptedness to the gift of prophecy that must be respected and present before it can be called prophetic. Which is not the same as being passionate about something. The pastor at times, as a result of communion with God, of Scripture study, of theological vision, and of Spirit-promptedness has something prophetic to proclaim to her congregation and the pastor must have the courage to speak forth. I have never worshiped with a congregation for any length of time that didn’t at times show the presence of this gift though in some of those cases I know the pastor-preacher-expositor would have been wary of making the claim.

Briefly, neither Jesus nor the apostle Paul spent much of their time dropping comments on websites or lighting up the TwitterWorld with outlandish claims. Yet, they were prophetic to the core: Jesus in his summons to follow him, his offering of grace to the marginalized, his embodiment of the kingdom at the table, and his stunning words about moral corruption. Paul, even less, made direct comments to the authorities in the empire but everything about Paul’s mission, message and embodied living was an alternative to the way of Rome. Both Jesus and Paul, then, were prophetic in hearing from God and speaking to the people of God’s way.

I could add a fifth: preaching. That’s for another time.

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