It’s a well-used word within the Protestant-evangelical community. And we have all sorts of ideas of what a pastor is, or at least should be.
He’s the guy (and, yes, male only, some would say) who delivers the 45-minute homily every Sunday morning (or 50 our 52 Sundays). Or he is to make sure doctrinal purity is maintained within the church, in accordance with biblical standards. Or she’s the one who visits the sick in the hospital or home. Or he or she make the direction and vision known to the church. Or she is the one to implement different programs that the members would like to see within the church community. O, problem of all problems, the pastor functions as the CEO of a corporate-esque entity.
And there are probably a host of other ideas out there.
But, as I was recently reading J.R. Briggs’ Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure, which I reviewed here, there was a very brief statement that caught my attention. It spoke of the main responsibility of a pastor. This was not Briggs’ own thought, but rather the relaying of words from long-time pastor, Eugene Peterson:
The pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God. (from Working the Angles, pp1-2)
Read it again and let it sink in.
Agree or disagree?
Interestingly enough, a few years back Briggs was able to spend some time with Peterson and his wife at their Montana home. When asked about the role the pastor played in the life of the congregation, Peterson respond briefly with very similar words: “To help people pay attention to God and respond appropriately.”
And knowing his consistent “definition” of the role and responsibility of the pastor, one can imagine this notion has seeped down deep into the heart of Peterson.
I think it a beautiful summary of the pastor’s, or shepherd’s, role.
Oh, and have I ever mentioned how I love Eugene Peterson? I’m sure I have just a few times. I’ve read a few of his books and they only ever leave me wanting to read and interact more with the words of this wise and seasoned pastor. He’s someone I try and turn to once a year in order to learn from his rich journey as a pastor and practical theologian.
But back to the definition. What a wonderfully focused statement about the pastor: to keep the community attentive to God.
I think it is very easy to put so many expectations upon the pastor. I, myself, fell for many of them as a young pastor. Or as a perfectionist and people-pleaser, I took upon many things that I should have simply let fall to the wayside, not to mention getting distracted by a few other tasks. All of them were peanuts compared to the call of helping the sheep of the great Shepherd stay attentive to the voice of God and respond faithfully to that voice.
What if every pastor focused towards this call, and that every task they did put their hands to would fall under its purview? Whether it be preaching-teaching, meeting with someone one-to-one, gathering in the home of a family, even in building relationships with those who are not yet followers of Christ. What a beautiful call to keep at the forefront of our hearts and minds.
Such is a refreshing call for the pastor.