A Different Kind of Cuppa

This past Sunday’s WuMo by Wullf and Morganthaler is a nice picture of cultural appreciation taken to the extreme.

In the TeaI remember the first tour guide I ever had in England talk about how the best thing to do when your tired or stuck or just need a break is to go into the kitchen and simply make a cuppa tea.  I imagine a whole bathtub of it would be a different and difficult thing, particularly with getting the sugar and cream amounts correct . . .

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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.


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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Missing the Mechanism for Persons?

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.”

+ + + + + + +

Person or IndividualIn 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?

+ + + + + + +

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)

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The Personal and the Individual

The Relational PastorLast week I started looking at some of the concepts articulated by professor Andrew Root in The Relational Pastor.  I’d like to continue to unpack some of his thinking this week, particularly as it relates to the shared life of Christians in community.

I think it’s significant that Root contextualizes things in terms of ministry.  While he gets theological and ecclesiological, Root reminds us that there is also a necessary place for ministry within the church.  And possibly moreso than more specific things like preaching and teaching and leading in worship at church, ministry is messy (and maybe difficult to define).  In most churches, ministry manifests through programs and acts of compassion.  In his thinking, Root wants to “place [ministry] again on the Christian concession of personhood.”  He continues:

… relationships in ministry are an end.  Relationships are the very point of ministry; in and through relationships people encounter the person of Jesus Christ and are therefore given their own personhood– a true personhood free from sin and death.

And so we come together, we relate to one another as people who have encountered Jesus Himself.  And that changes everything for us . . . and between us.  This serves as a potent contrast to a culture, our culture, that has capitulated to an unhealthy individualism.  Root asserts that our views on something as fundamental as conversion have been effected by it.

But even the theological concept of conversion has been overtaken by individualism.  In our churches we desire ministries that change people, that transform and convert people from death to life, from the old to the new.  But too often, caged by individualism, we contend that transformation or conversion is solely an epistemological reality.  Even when we dress it up with personal language, like saying we want people to “have a personal relationship with Jesus,” what we actually mean is not something personal but something individual; we want them to individually, in their own minds, assimilate knowledge about Jesus and become loyal to the idea of Jesus.  We use our relationships as leverage to get people to know things about their own individual ideas or behaviors, to change to new ideas and behaviors.  We use the relationship to convince them that our Christian subculture is better than another.  And so often in ministry we become burned out or discouraged, or burned out because we are discouraged, because transformation never seems to stick.  People can individually be be converted to an idea, only later to be individually captivated by another competing perspective.  Bound within individualism, transformation is like fashion, it is important for the now, but eventually we’ll move on.

“Relationships as leverage” is sobering enough.  Root’s inclusion of “transformation” as something affected by individualism is also a shock . . . because I don’t think he’s wrong.  There was a time when conversion meant personal encounter and change because of the revelation of Jesus and the power of the Spirit.  And transformation was towards a likeness of Jesus Himself.  That’s a big part of what I thought Christian maturity always pointed to.  But maybe transformation really is like fashion.  And we are expected to roll with the punches, change with the times, and trade out one style for another even if some of the substance gets lost.

That last part I don’t actually believe.  But I do believe that we have lost a sense of “the long story” with Jesus and what that “long obedience” can and should look like.

You can purchase Root’s book here.

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Sunday’s Best: On Brainstorming

A good collection of Sunday strip today.  This one from Jef Mullett stands out nicely from an educational perspective: sometimes the way to get to the hard work is to look like your playing . . . or at least not getting work done.

Caulfield Mulling(image from gocomics.com)

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Tolkien on Sermons

From the late-April 1994 from JRR Tolkien to his son Christopher concerning sermons:

But as for sermons!  They are bad, aren’t they!  Most of them from any point of view.  The answer to the mystery is prob. not simple; but part of it is that ‘rhetoric’ (of which preaching is a dept.) is an art, which requires (a) some native talent and (b) learning and practice.  The instrument used is v. much more complex than a piano, yet most performers are in the position of a man who sits down to a piano and expects to move his audience without any knowledge of the notes at all.  The art can be learned (granted some modicum of aptitude) and can then be effective, in a way, when wholly unconnected with sincerity, sanctity etc.  But preaching is complicated by the fact that we expect in it not only a performance, but truth and sincerity, and also at least no word, tone, or note that suggests the possession of vices (such as hypocrisy, vanity) or defects (such as folly, ignorance) in the preacher.

Good sermons require some art, some virtue, some knowledge.  Real sermons require some special grace which does not transcend art but arrives at it by instinct or ‘inspiration’; indeed the Holy Spirit seems sometimes to speak through a human mouth providing art, virtue and insight he does not himself possess: but the occasions are rare.  In other times I don’t think an educated person is required to suppress the critical faculty, but it should be kept in order by a constant endeavour to apply the truth (if any), even in the cliche form, to oneself exclusively!  A difficult exercise …

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The War of Winners Begins

Wednesday night brought the two-hour premiere of Survivor‘s fortieth “season.”  This time around they’ve brought together twenty winners to battle it out for twice the normal prize.  And those first two hours didn’t disappoint.  A few interesting things:

  1.  It’s always interesting to see early players learn first-hand how the game has changed. From alliances to voting blocks to every day-something different, the tempo of this has changed.  I’m not a big fan of the tempo change, but that’s kind of how it’s worked out.  It’s also sobering to be reminded that there was a time where hidden immunity idols weren’t in play.  The addition of “fire coins” will definitely make this season a little more interesting.  Anything, I think, is better than Exile Island.
  2.  It’s amazing to think that life outside of the game has at least a strong initial influence on voting.  That some of the players have played together multiple times, that some have played poker together on television . . . that’s the kind of “meta” thing that I wasn’t quite expecting.  And it will be interesting to see how that plays out over the next few weeks.
  3. We saw two contestants voted out in the first evening.  One completely makes sense.  The other, not so much.  It’s amazing to watch older players still play such a great social game.  Any time Sandra talks you just assume that she’s turning the game her way.  Same with Boston Rob.

Here’s a quick interview done with contestants about who each thought should get voted out first.  Interesting to see how some things happened and some things didn’t line up at all.

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