As he does in some other books, Andrew Root attempts to give some historical context to what being a pastor has looked like throughout history. This is also true for The Relational Pastor. Early in the book, Root traces the role of pastor (and, by default, ministry) from via “energy practices from “hunter-gatherer” to “steam and coal” to “electric and managed oil” up to what might be “a new day.” It’s an interesting and brief survey that at least gives some food for thought, though it might not give as much bang-for-buck as other surveys. But it does get us up-to-date and prepared to see what pastoral ministry looks like beyond “self-help entertainer.”
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In the last post on this thread, we ended with the idea of the person versus the individual. And it might sound like a splitting of hairs, I gut-level feel the distinction that Root makes. Person is the better way to be, the best way to go. It’s the self in multiple dimensions, where individual is a kind of shifting caricature. And because persons are involved, there must be some way to move towards empathy and understanding. The pastor stands at the heart of whatever this looks like going forward:
Pastoral ministry in our new era must surround the practice of facilitating personal encounter, of setting a space for people to be in relationships not of individualized self-help but of human person to human person. Relationship in ministry cannot be for the purpose of influencing people (a blind spot of the era of pseudo-therapeutic self-help programs in the oil era), because such a motivation blinds us from personhood. The other person becomes a problem to solve, something to fix, someone to win loyalty and resources from rather than another to encounter, a person to see and be with and for.
That last part reminds me of something my former pastor tried to articulate to us occasionally from Scot McKnight’s A Fellowship of Differents: that love is a rugged commitment to be with and for another person unto godliness (you can see a summary of that thinking here). While I liked the concept, it didn’t seem to get much traction, possibly because there was no easy way to see a transition to that kind of love actually happen. The mechanism just wasn’t there.
We are often too busy at church to get a sense of this. We have too many lots to fill, too many pressing institutional/organization needs to meet, to see beyond the individual to the personal. Because being personal means needing space for the messes that we are:
Personhood demands that the other see me, and see me not as a will that decides, not as someone to get to a program or a church, but as a human being bound to others in love and fear. Personhood demands that I see the other as mystery to encounter, not as a will to mold through influence.
And so the question is posed:
Will a pastor be one who can win the loyalty of individuals or one who opens space in preaching, teaching, liturgy, study and fellowship for persons to encounter persons in the confession of God’s own incarnate person?
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It is worth thinking about the various “mechanisms” in church life that can help people see others as persons and not as individuals needed to fill slots. Surely preaching and liturgy (or whatever you call the “order of service at church) play a role. That’s kind of where the official take on things gets communicated. For many, then, a place like Sunday School or a small group is where you are most likely to encounter persons. Except that many Christians are also leading other groups like children or youth and therefore not easily connected with. Or they are involved with committees and planning groups that are Spirit-sanctioned but also instrumental. Beyond that, Sunday School is primarily didactic, which can weirdly enforce the individual while giving some airplay to the personal. Add the fact that many churches tend to be “commuter churches” that meet Sunday only and you’ve got a real confusion of hopes and possibilities.
You can purchase The Relational Pastor here.
(image from app.emaze.com)