Getting messy

Eugene Peterson writes in Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work that the craft of pastoring is all about dragging religion out into the common places of life.

I take his meaning to be in part that the pastor is the place where theology and what we call “real life” intersect. It is where people come to you with questions about their dead niece who was not a believer and their husband who cannot express love. It is where a church board frets over how to spend a limited budget and turns to you for some sage word. It is where someone proposes a hymn for worship or a book for Sunday School that commits theological malpractice. It is where a nasty letter shows up in your mailbox from someone who just heard you preach about loving each other and from the content of the letter clearly did not hear the sermon.

Even in my short time in this part-time roel as pastor, I have grown to appreciate the boots-on-the-ground theological work of the pastor. Being in the places where men, women, and children come into contact with each other and God shapes theological reflection in ways that reading books and talking around the seminar table — or the Internet connection — never could. At least not for me.

This is the great and messy gift of pastoral work. Sometimes I wish things could be more tidy, but I thank God for the mess all the same.

3 thoughts on “Getting messy

  1. I am beginning to see discipleship for all Christians in similar terms: the place where our theology (spiritual discernment) informs and is informed by our lives. So that scripture, experience, tradition and reason are all integrated into our daily lives. In other words, Christ is really in us as we are really in Christ.

    I’m not sure how I would have come to this realization outside of the pastoral lives. It’s shameful, really, given so many bright, curious and faithful laity. I can see in my current appointment the real possibility of such enlightenment being a real part of the congregation. It is, then, a joyful and important challenge as their pastor to provide opportunities for growth.

  2. I think it’s not only the place where people come but also where we go – to aid people in naming the theological dimensions of their life and work in their home and in their communities and in their work places. During Advent a few years ago,one of our pastors – Rachel- and I, tried to take a step in this direction by visiting, every day in Advent, one of our parishioners in their places in the world, and pray for them and bless them and listen to them. It was very rewarding for us – and I hope so for those we visited. I think that a large part of our theological (and pastoral task) is celebrating/blessing as well as walking with folks through crises. Both are gifts of God. Both are aided by naming the theological dimension of what is happening. I still find myself embarrassed that too many people think only of ministry as what they do in and around the life of the Church.

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