Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Mission or Task of "Pastor"

Scott McKnight, blogging at Jesus Creed has a link to John Frye's post on the pastor as pastor

As I continue to re-imagine the mission of pastor against the backdrop of Jesus' self-definition as the good shepherd, I am becoming more convinced that pastoring is sadly missing and greatly needed in the USAmerican church. [I'd include the Canadian church here as well.]

A "pastor" thinks seriously and creatively in two worlds simultaneously. The pastor lives and breathes kingdom "shalom" and the pastor engages and challenges and leads away from all non-shalom realities in the lives of God's people. The pastor's expertise is in the realm of symbols, especially religious ones. The symbols that promise "life," but actually breed death are exposed as frauds. For example, in Jesus' world the tight Jewish family was a symbol of national purity ("We are Abraham's children!"). Jesus challenged that symbol and redefined it, saying, "Anyone who does the will of my Father is my mother, my sister, my brother." Anyone? Even a Gentile?

As I see it (and this is tentative now because many are exploring the functions of the five-fold leadership pattern of Ephesians 4:11 ff.), apostles are used to forge ahead into areas of the world unpopulated with a people whose citizenship is in heaven (outposts of the future). Prophets challenge all compromise with the powers that be (religious and political) and call people to God's shalom. Evangelists announce the presence of a supreme Master who rightly deserves our adoration and obedience ("Our God reigns!"). Teachers steward and tell the grand story of God culminating in the mission of Jesus of Nazareth: the story that defines and energizes the identity of God's people.

Pastors redefine the symbolic world of people so that people begin to see the kingdom of God at work in their everyday lives. Ordinary people are credited with the ability to discern the kingdom's presence when fraudulent symbols are exposed. Thus, contemporary stories ("parables") are told that wisely dismantle the control that "the powers that be" assume to have and replace that power with the energetic love of God. No power can conquer the love of God in Jesus the Messiah (Christ) as the cross and resurrection confirm.

Jesus knew the symbols of Second Temple Judaism that were oppressing if not killing his people. Do we know the contemporary fraudulent symbols that are being offered as "ways to life"?

Earlier Frye had these posts on the definition of a pastor.

Pastoring offers and shapes an alternative reality in Jesus the Christ so that others reconnect with God as his new people for the sake of all creation.

With reflection on Jesus' mental map informed by such texts as Ezekiel 34, Isaiah 40, Psalms 23 and 100, and Zechariah 10-13, I will expand on each of the terms:

"To pastor/pastoring" = to lead out of exile into God's promised "alternative reality" which is "the kingdom of God." This kingdom through the "way of Christ" subverts and resists all other "powers and authorities." "In Jesus the Christ" means that the kingdom functions only within the relational purposes of the Triune God. The overarching purpose is "to reconnect" and " make new" a people for God; to use Scot McKnight's image "to restore cracked eikons." Pastoring has "all creation" in view-- human beings, animals, creation itself (the cosmos).

What is often elevated as pastoring today, for example, good Bible teaching, is too limited, too reductionistic. Bible teaching for what? Well, how about caring for souls? Again, a very good thing to do, but it, too, must answer, Soul care for what?

All of these fine services point to something so much greater; something literally cosmic: the renewal of heaven and earth. Don't ever divorce Revelation 1-3 from 4-22. It all began with Jesus and it continues on. Pastors live in and lead, speak, and invite from an alternative reality (as Jesus did) while engulfed in a cracked reality. While not uncracked themselves, pastors nevertheless live on what the Bible calls "Shalom." Pastors breathe shalom air even in cracked lungs. They see shalom sights with cracked eyes. They hear shalom music with somewhat still dull ears. They challenge all non-shalom issues because those issues are obstacles in finding the doorway into the kingdom of God.

Isn't this more compelling than managing the corner religious shop?

Re-imagining "Pastor" for the USA Church

When Jesus declared that he was "the good shepherd," surely the image he had in mind was the good shepherd of Ezekiel 34:15-16, "I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice." Then couple the Ezekiel text with Isaiah 40:10-11 where Yhwh is leading his flock from exile back to the homeland, "See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young."

Now think of Jesus, immersed in these texts (as well as Isaiah 53 and 61), and we begin to imagine a picture of "pastor" (shepherd) from Jesus' mental map. His image is not one of being a "good Bible expositor" or competent CEO of church business or nurse to "care" for the afflicted or the "coach of the team." There is nothing wrong with any of these things and perhaps these functions are necessary for "church" to be effective these days. But I am resistant to reducing "pastor" to any or all of these activities.

In the Gospels, Jesus saw that the people were "like sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:26). He didn't think "expository teaching," "a well-functioning team," or "soul care." He knew his people were living in exile (under Roman oppression, that is, under pagans) and that this was not his Father's future for his people. "Like sheep without a shepherd" means "The people have no one to guide them out of this in-the-land oppressive exile where life is lived very harshly under foreign political power and under imminent destruction which will be brought about by their own religious/political escape routes."

Then Jesus declares, "I am the good shepherd." He was saying, "I will lead the people into their destiny, not in the way they expect nor in the various ways they are trying to solve their problems. I will lay down my life for the sheep."

Many Christian social commentators point out that the USAmerican church is very sadly in oppressive exile similar to Jesus' homeland under Rome. A great segment of the USA church is narcotically in love with conservative politics. Many "pastor-teachers" in the name of biblical teaching are unwittingly (or deliberately) supporting a civil religion. They seem to be saying, "Exile. It's not so bad really. You can make a nice living in exile." If we think middle class American culture is God's dream future for his people, then we need an uprising of "shepherds" like Jesus.

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