Friday, December 9, 2011

Chaplains & Shepherds

This essay and this follow up are particularly hard hitting but it needs to be said. Kudos to Mark Galli for nailing the real elephant in the room.

Rarely for me does something level the expression "must read"--these essay might come close, but my reserved personality can't bring myself to type.

Here's a teaser of the first essay:

One wonders where we got our other ideas about the pastorate. For centuries, the pastorate was thought to be about "the cure of souls"—souls being understood not as the spiritual part of us, but as the fullness of our humanity. The pastor has traditionally been thought of as one who does ministry in the midst of a people who are sick and dying, and who administers in word and sacrament, in Scripture and in prayer, the healing balm of the Lord. 
So who told us that the pastor is primarily a leader/entrepreneur/change agent and anything but a curer of souls? And why do we believe them?
...  
I've been a parishioner in many churches over many years. In each church, the pastor has been tempted, as I was, to become the great leader, to shape himself in our culture's image of success. To be sure, the modern pastor does have to "run a church"; he or she is, in fact, the head of an institution that has prosaic institutional needs. I've been thankful when my pastor carries out these institutional responsibilities with efficiency and joy. 
But the times I remember most, the times when my troubled soul has been most deeply affected and moved—outside of preaching and receiving the sacraments—have been when my pastor acted like a chaplain. When he pulled me aside in the narthex, put his arm around me, and prayed with me about some matter. When he visited me in the hospital. When in unhurried conversation I felt less alone, because I knew in a deeper way that God was present. 
Some say that pastoral moments like these are like germs, and if we let such moments take over, they'll make the church sick. I beg to differ. During such moments, the church is never more healthy.
 Here's a teaser from the second follow up blog post:
This does not mean that each and every member of the church is primarily called to make the local church the be all and end all of his/her life—as if the church were nothing but a happy holy club.  Some are called to give themselves to the church in this way.  But most are simply called to spend the bulk of their energies raising families, being good neighbors, fulfilling their callings.  In this sense, the pastor is the “chaplain” of these people—leading them in worship, catechizing them, praying with them so that they can go about their daily lives as witnesses to the love of Christ.  The pastor is not “the leader of a people on mission,” but the shepherd of a community that worship and grows together in unity, and of people who are learning to love God and neighbor in their daily lives.
For those who disparage the role of the pastor as chaplain, these two essays are a healthy corrective. There is a reason that the Bible calls the elders in the church as 'shepherds/pastors'. God has entrusted a flock to them and they are to see to the care of those souls.

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