Wecome to Logia, the personal blog of Paul Hartwig. Reflections and resources to enhance understanding of what God has revealed of himself in Scripture.
G K Chesterton, that great English writer of the early 1900’s, ‘had a fancy for writing a romance about an English yachtsman who slightly miscalculated his course and discovered England under the impression that it was a new island in the South Seas’ (Orthodoxy). His hilarious parable has become for me a pastoral parable useful as a cure for the common pastoral itch of moving on to another church.
In Chesterton’s story I see a restless pastor who moves from church to church only to discover that his original congregation presented (though camouflaged) all the conditions necessary for him to satisfying his calling on; his romantic idealism and wanderlust found gratified on the pedestrian realism of a very ordinary local church. In my parable I see countless pastors perpetually searching for their dream church when the real one back at home is exactly that! In the books of Eugene Peterson on pastoral ministry we have a chaste power to discipline the desultory mind of any pastor and rivet it on the glories that are right under his nose in the local congregation. This power to unmask the ‘ordinary’ and reveal the God-colours and Christ-realities of church life is what Peterson is brilliant at.
Of primary importance in the pastoral call is attention to God. Peterson is convinced that the quality of the activity of worship in the pastorate determines its health. God Himself constitutes our work, and devotion and attention to Him is the defining context within which we fulfill our calling. This work of worship is not preparation to our ministry, it is the ministry. Paying attention to the Trinity and what Christ is doing and then leading others into this divine reality is our focus. Worship is the centre and circumference of pastoral work. Thus in the truest sense, Peterson’s writings call the pastor back to being a worship leader in the congregation, away from the cultural distortions and idolatrous attractions of our time. This means we have to know God first-hand: ‘I want to do the original work of being in deepening conversation with God... I don’t want to live as a parasite on the first-hand spiritual life of others, but to be personally involved with all my senses, tasting and seeing that the Lord is good’ (The Contemplative Pastor).
Pastoral work is thus a personal participation in God revealed in Christ and is today diametrically opposed to the insidious temptation of the managerial, the pragmatic and the success driven models of ministry. Judging the quality of pastoral work in terms of results in the pews and efficiency in leadership rather than in terms of prayer and intimacy with God reveals the intrusion of prevailing cultural assumptions in our ministry. Don’t be so busy getting ahead in your ‘work’ that you do not cultivate a deepening relationship with Christ. So Peterson reminds us that the definition of ‘pastor’ should never be socially or vocationally defined, but always and only theologically! God is the object and subject of our calling.
Peterson in Working the Angles reminds us of the difference between a job and a profession.
‘A job is what we do to complete an assignment. Its primary requirement is that we give satisfaction to whoever makes the assignment and pays our wage... But professionals and crafts are different. In these we have an obligation beyond pleasing somebody: we are pursuing or shaping the very nature of reality, convinced that when we carry out our commitments we actually benefit people at a far deeper level than if we simply did what they asked of us.’ Employees have job-descriptions. Professionals rather have callings to something beyond a task (which ‘work hours’ cannot circumscribe). Professionals are called to the integrity of the matter itself: health (not just making people feel good); justice (not just winning a case), learning (not merely helping people pass an exam) etc.
With pastors, our professional subject matter is God and we dare not pervert our ministry into a job. Our vocation is irreducibly God-focussed and priestly. It certainly entails other dimensions, but this is our sovereign concern. I close with Peterson’s favourite image of the pastor (The Contemplative Pastor). It is taken from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. The scene is of a small whaleboat scudding across the wild sea in pursuit of the whale. All the sailors are labouring fiercely at the oars. In the boat however one man does nothing. He is the harpooner. He is quiet, poised, and waiting. Melville adds this sentence: “To insure the greatest efficiency in the dart, the harpooners of this world must start to their feet from out of idleness and not out of toil”. Our ‘idleness’ is the practise of attention to God.