Pastors and Lonely People

eleanor rigby from pophistorydigIt is interesting to me that Andrew Root gives his better definition of the office of pastor in a chapter titled “All the Lonely People.”  Search the terms pastor and lonely online and you’ll find at least one article a year from a religious news site about the struggle of the lonely pastor.  The ubiquity of the topic doesn’t make it any less real.  Nor does it help congregations that might be full of lonely people, too.  But Root weaves these threads together in The Relational Pastor.

Before he gets to redefining the pastor from a ministerial perspective, though, Root adds to the significance of personhood (as opposed to individualism) by talking about loss:

Loneliness reveals personhood because loneliness is the confession of lost relationship; it is clutching to find your personhood.  And it can be so radical that some psychologists actually say that the hardest thing to get clients to discuss is loneliness; they hypothesize that this is so because the feeling of loneliness is the closest experience we have to death.  It is to be dead to all others; it is to be alone.

The sharing of a life with another, then, is friendship.  If anything, Root’s work ensconces the following truth in my mind: one of the best and greatest gifts of the church, and the thing it can lack the most, is friendship.  In fact, I’m convinced that church as it exists today for many actively works against friendships.  But that’s a post for another time.  Root acknowledges great significance to Jesus’ calling his disciples friends by the end of his ministry as recounted in John’s Gospel.  How, though, does a pastor fit into this?

Root tries to stay away from a more functional definition of the term for as long as he can.  But he starts with this:

You can only be called pastor, as a mother can only be called mother, because there is a reltionship that gives you this personal reality, this identity.

A pastor has to be more than simply a priest, what Root calls “the projector and distributor of divine things, the true reader of the sacred texts.”  He continues:

A person is a pastor because … he is called by the Spirit to open … his own spirit to the spirit of the flock.  The pastor does this by preaching the Word of the God who encounters our persons, and by being present through the personal act of sharing in the sacraments, prayers and the story of … his people.  What pastors do is pastor, and pastoring is the brave action of leading by opening your person to the person of others so that together we might share in the life of God.

By chapter’s end, Root acknowledges that he’s left a few loose ends, including the goals of evangelism/conversion as well as the day-to-day practical expectations of a pastor.  Two wonderfully terse responses:

Yes, as pastors we still have things that must be taken care of; we still take on goals to get the institutions to function . . . But it is bad, or at least warped, when the functional wants of our job drown out or can’t support the reality of the personal . . . Pastoral ministry is filled with busy functions, but they are stillborn if they ignore the personal.

And:

To confess the incarnate Christ is to confess the centrality of the personal to ministry . . . Salvation is finding your person bound to God through the person of Jesus Christ . . . The goal of evangelism is not to convince people to take on a Christian interest in the world but to help them open their very person to the person of Jesus Christ.

If you’re interested, you can purchase The Relational Pastor here.

(image from pophistorydig.com)

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