Pastoral Reflections // December 3rd, 2018
By Pastor Duane Smets
Books have consistently been a formational influence in my life. Above all the book of all books, the Holy Scriptures, has brought about the most life changing moments. It was reading its first pages God used to melt my broken, hurting and angry heart. As I read of God’s creative power, design and delicate care for His creatures I began to believe He cared about me.
Along the way from becoming a Christian to becoming a pastor and now after being a pastor for over twenty-one years I’m entering the later half of my career and have begun to reflect more deeply about many things. In accompaniment to God’s Word I’ve consistently found books written by theologians, church leaders, psychologists, novelists and poets to both fuel my spiritual life and help shape my own thoughts about God.
In my life I’ve read hundreds and hundreds of books. There’s a small handful of them that have either caused a major shift in my thinking, ministered to my soul in a significant way or just given words to the stirring convictions within me.
Karl Barth’s “The Word of God and The Word of Man” stoked the fires in me that could not accept the Bible was simply a book to be dissected and demythologized as a primarily human document with many errors. Though I would later come to reject Barth’s existential view of the Scriptures, it formed a holy respect and love for the book God’s Spirit uses to pierce the joints and marrow of men and women.
I discovered John Piper’s “Desiring God” after recently embracing reformed theology. It not only reinforced a radical shift in my thinking coming to believe that all my decisions, all my salvation and all activity in the universe is directed by a Sovereign hand but also opened a door of freedom for me by explaining that it’s okay and even Godly to have fun and enjoy God and His gifts.
After Piper there was a flood of books that collectively shaped what would become the core components of my theological outlook. John Frame helped provide the foundational contours by introducing me to presuppositional apologetics. Anselm gave me the key piece to understanding the atonement. Alexander Strauch became a friend who made sense of my studies in who should run a church and how it would be run. And Tim Keller became the gift that keeps on giving, particularly in identifying the deadliness of Christian moralism and what that means for mission in a postmodern age.
I ran on the gas of these men for many years until I found the gas had run out and that God was inviting me into something deeper, the things of the soul. Rich Plass and Jim Coefield’s book, “The Relational Soul” was a game changer for me. It opened up a whole new world, supplying a lens through which to see my own story and the the story God was working in me and the souls around me.
While at a family gathering I picked up Eugene Peterson’s “The Pastor.” I had never read anything of his because I didn’t like how people called his Scriptural commentary, “The Message” a translation. Turns out “The Pastor” is the best book I’ve ever read on who a pastor is and what his job is. In it Peterson gives words to things I have felt for a long time but been unable to articulate. I could be wrong but at this point I’m pretty sure it has already made it’s way into my top five books of all time. The book has been so significant to me I’ve decided to record my own reflections as I re-read it for a second time through.
Join me in a journey as I journal through the things stirring in my soul of the kind of pastor I sense God making me as I walk with Him in caring for His church for the next twenty years.
Reflections on “The Pastor” by Eugene Peterson // Introduction
When Eugene became a pastor in 1962 “pastor” wasn’t that common of a term, Reverend, Minister, Bishop or Doctor were more common titles for church leaders. He simply introduced himself to people as Eugene but soon people started calling him pastor, which he enjoyed. He writes, “Pastor sounded more relational than functional, more affectionate than authoritarian.”
I started The Resolved Church in 2005 and true story I always just introduced myself as Duane. After the first year people started calling me pastor. It’s never really sat well with me but I gave in and embraced the term. As I reflect on why it hasn’t sat well with me I think it may be because the term “pastor” in church circles now seems to describe a functional role of authority rather than the relational affection of one caring for souls.
The word “pastor” literally means shepherd. A few years ago I spent a number of months preaching through Psalm 23 in the Bible. Something I never shared with the congregation was how the chapter silently provoked the way I had thought of being a pastor. Seeing the people as sheep navigating the tough terrain of the world is a very different perspective than one who leads an organization and offers biblically funny, clever and entertaining speeches each week. I wonder if it would change anything if we just starting saying shepherd instead?
Eugene writes, “Men who are pastors in America today find that they have entered into a way of life that is in ruins. The vocation of a pastors has been replaces by the strategies of religious entrepreneurs with business plans.” He says, “I don’t love the rampant consumerism that treats God as a product to be marketed. I don’t love the dehumanizing ways that turn men, women and children into impersonal roles and causes and statistics. I don’t love the competitive spirit that treats others as rivals and even enemies."
Eugene worked to established a different perspective of a pastor, one who takes Scripture seriously, takes Jesus seriously, takes church seriously and takes prayer seriously. He talks about pastors being part of the cultural landscape but not a significant part of it, men who are seen as “marginal to the actual business of living” in cities and says, “Our two-thousand-year old tradition is not someone who ‘gets things done’ but rather the person placed in the community to pay attention and call attention to ‘what is going on right now’ between men and women, with one another and with God.”
I’ve struggled with this tension. Only 4-6 percent of the city I pastor in regularly goes to church and I’d guess only 1-2 percent of those people see God and His church as central to their lives. For most church is one option among many things they occasionally attend if they’re feeling like it. I’ve always envisioned the church as being the driving force in people’s weekly lives, a God-ordained rhythm wired into the fabric of how He made us as worshipping beings.
In that perspective the “pastor” ought to have a significant voice and role to play. Yet, people regularly make major life decisions without even thinking about consulting their pastor. Perhaps, this serves as a humble reminder for the heart of a pastor. In the midst of caring for all kinds of individuals at work in all kinds of different professions I’ve sensed the lurking desire to be seen as someone who is respected, reputable and works a regular job. I think its a dangerous desire. I want to be the pastor who is seen as marginal but somehow has a hand in the central place where God is working in the lives of His people.
In looking at the pastors around him Eugene noticed few seemed to last. He says, “Many pastors, disappointed or disillusioned with their congregations, defect after a few years and find congenial work. And many congregations, disappointed or disillusioned with their pastors, dismiss them and look for pastors more to their liking.”
In my tenor as pastor I have seen so many other pastors come and go. It always comes with some sort of explanation of what God is calling them to do now. I’ve simply always had a hard time believing God changes His mind that much. But I do understand the temptation. When things are not going well or when money is sparse it’s easy to be tempted with the thought of going somewhere else or doing something else. Yet it rubs up against the calling of a pastor who commits to His people for the long haul. I want to be a pastor for the long haul. I have no desire of pastoring any other church in any other city for the rest of my life. May God help me to stay that course.
- Duane Smets