Monday, February 21, 2011

The (in)significance of a pastor?

Maybe it's the rain. Maybe it's the saying good-bye. And maybe it's just that I'm feeling a bit too necessary. Today I leave for a three-day conference. I know it will be beneficial to my spirit. I know I will learn. But I always hate to leave home and office.

Pastors are "Vain" and "Lazy?"
Eugene Peterson writes poignantly to pastors. In his book, The Unnecessary Pastor, he and co-author Marva Dawn deconstruct many myths regarding the pastor's role.

My favorite of Peterson's books, however, is entitled: The Contemplative Pastor. Here he shames clergy for their self-importance. He charges that we stay incessantly busy because we are vain and we are lazy. Ouch! What can this mean?

We want to be seen as busy and as vital to every cog in church and community activities. We want to impress people with our work ethic. We want people to be amazed at how many things we can do well, and how we seem to show up at every crisis.

What a Contemplative Pastor Looks Like
Pastoring, according to Peterson, should be something very different. Pastors should pray, preach and listen. More specifically, we should pray on an intimate level. We should preach after being drenched in scripture and prayer. And we should listen out of unhurried leisure. "Leisure," says Peterson, "is a quality of spirit, not a quantity of time." Hmmm.

An Allegory from Melville (long quote from The Contemplative Pastor)
"In Herman Melville's Moby Dick, there is a turbulent scene in which a whaleboat scuds across a frothing ocean in pursuit of the great, white whale, Moby Dick. the sailors are laboring fiercely, every muscle taut, all attention and energy concentrated on the task...In this boat, however, there is one man who does nothing. He doesn't hold an oar; he doesn't perspire; he doesn't shout. He is languid in the crash and the cursing. This man is the harpooner, quiet and poised, waiting. And then this sentence: "To insure the greatest efficiency in the dart, the harpooners of this world must start to their feet out of idleness, and not out of toil.

"....The metaphors Jesus used for the life of ministry are frequently images of the single, the small, and the quiet, which have effects far in excess of their appearance: salt, leaven, seed...It is, then, a strategic necessity that pastors deliberately ally themselves with the quiet, poised harpooners, and not leap, frenzied, to the oars."

Is there even a chance that any of us who are called pastors would be willing to practice such a style of ministry? Would it work? Would we remain employed? Peterson claims that he dropped out of the hustle, and into contemplation, and found that no one noticed.


Zee said...

Good post as always, David.

Kept thinking about Trent last wednesday when we had our Church board meeting... And this post only stressed the point further...

Since the pastors are the ones up front, it's all too easy to assume that they have to be everywhere, doing everything, and setting the example. Little wonder at why so many pastors (leaders) burn out...

Please pray for pastor Vova.

K Ross said...

Thanks Dave, I have read Peterson's book (several of them) and since taking my present post I have been pursuing this "style" of ministry . . . love God, love the people, preach the Word . . . that, I have found, can only be done successfully "contemplatively."

david said...

Thanks Zenatchka. So what you are saying, is those expectations are real. We pastors don't just imagine that we need to be visable and looking busy? I do pray for Pastor Vova everyday, when I pray for you and your mother. Thanks again.

david said...

Thanks Keith. I'd love to hear more from you about this. I'm guessing that establishing such a practice at the outset of a ministry would be easier than shifting mid stream. I know that my sabbatical really amped up my desire and willingness to commit to prayer and study. I've not lost that yet.

I also received a great deal of permission from my congregational leadership to leave some things alone, and do what I am called to do. Still, my old habits as well as congregational expectations are hard to renew.

I must say however, that I love what I'm doing, and feel supported.