What is a pastor?

The Relational Pastor, part 6

For other posts in this series, click on a number: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 1213, 1415.


The last post in this series, which is examining Andrew Root's book, The Relational Pastorconcluded with this rather provocative quote from Root: "To be a person is to be our relationships" (p67). This trinitarian, incarnational understanding of personhood as "being-in-relation" leads Root to ask and answer an important, related question: What is a pastor?

If we define persons as their individual functions and interests, then a pastor's job is to attend to those functions and interests. But if persons are their relationships, then a pastor's job is relational, not functional. Root comments:
We could try to define a pastor by his or her functions, and it has been en vogue for the last century to do so. The pastor is the one who preaches, gives the sacraments, runs the meeting, visits the sick, provides a vision for the church and so the list continues. But to define the pastor by the functional is to lock him or her into the "priest" [who is] is the projector and distributor of divine things, the true reader of the sacred text. This is a function. 
But isn't a pastor more? Surely, the pastor has to do some priestly things, but the pastor is only a pastor because of a flock of persons to whom he or she is called. A person is a pastor because she or he is called by the Spirit to open her or his own spirit to the spirit of the flock. The pastor does this by preaching the Word of God who encounters our persons, and by being present through the personal act of sharing in the sacraments, prayers and the story of her or his people. What pastors do is pastor, and pastoring is the brave action of leading by opening your person to the person of others so that together we might share in the life of God (pp67-68).
No doubt, some pastors will object to Root's assertion, responding, "But aren't there important functional goals I must strive to achieve. Must we pastors not strive to see people converted and then grow into maturity as disciples of Jesus? Is Root saying that having such outcomes as ministry goals is wrong? No, he is not saying that. What he is saying is that the problem arises...
...when the functional wants [goals] of our job [as pastor] drown out and can't support the reality of the personal (p68).
He then gives this example by way of explanation:
Good mothers or good fathers take on many functions: they work, clean, cook. Every week they have goals of getting things done. But a good mother or father does these busy functions for one purpose, she or he does them to facilitate the creation of an environment that allows mother or father and the rest of the family to encounter each other as persons. The functional goals are finally only for encounter of the personal.
Our busy pastoral schedule and our to-do lists should be similar. We brainstorm goals, not for the goal, not even for the results, but for the space it will open up to allow person-to-person encounter, the ways it will free us to share in each other's lives as participation in God's own life... Pastoral ministry is filled with busy functions, but they are stillborn if they ignore the personal. Like good mothers or fathers, we as pastors have to remember that all our functional doing is for the sake of facilitating encounters of persons in our churches and trusting that the God who becomes person meets us in such ways (pp68-69, emphasis added).
It is in this way that Root speaks of a "relational pastor." He is distinguishing being truly relational from merely using relationships as steps toward some functional goal. By God's design, relationship is the goal. Relationship is the means of sharing in Jesus' own relating with his Father and with humanity.

It is common for readers of Root (and of Bonhoeffer who is the source of much of Root's thinking along these lines), to take issue with Root's objection to the use of relationships as means to influence people toward some particular functional goals, even seemingly good ones such as conversion, church attendance, etc. The objectors might ask Root, "Isn't some influence in our relationships necessary, even desirable?" For example, would we not want to build a relationship with a person in order to influence them toward conversion (the idea of "friendship evangelism")?

Root's response to these objections is to point out that they utilize what he calls "the logic of individualism" (p69), which results in relationships being used as tools to move persons toward the fulfillment of particular functional goals. In that approach, what is important is not the relationship itself but the converting of the person's interests. Root contrasts this individualistic, instrumental approach with Jesus' relational approach:
Jesus calls people to see the kingdom, but what is interesting is that this kingdom does not come through individual conversion to the interests of the kingdom. No, this kingdom is different than an earthly political system or social movement, because it comes solely through the person, it comes by faithfulness of a person. 
Jesus, throughout the Gospels calls people to his own person. I am the way, and the truth, and the life (John 14:6); I am the true vine (John 15:1, 5); I am the bread of life (John 6:48); I am the good shepherd (John 10:14); I am the light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5); I am the gate (John 10:7). "Come to me" is his continued mantra (Matt 11:28; Luke 18:16). It is through his person that the kingdom comes. We find the kingdom only when we find ourselves sharing  in this life; it is about being in his person (pp69-70).
Jesus' ministry, the ministry we are called to share, is fundamentally relational because it is personal. In order to minister to us, God became a human person, the man Jesus Christ. Salvation is then found in sharing Jesus' person--his love and life.
The cross and resurrection aren't simply functions that give us something to possess (even salvation). The cross and resurrection are the acts of the personal that seek to confront and overcome all that keeps persons from sharing in the life of one another and God. Salvation is finding your person bound to God through the person of Jesus Christ. Salvation is not something that can be possessed, it is a personal reality of sharing fully in the life of God, where sin and death have no say. Sin and death must be overcome so we can find our life bound to God and one another, so that we can be in relationship. 
It is in the gift of sharing in Jesus' own person that we are give[n] our person; it is through sharing in his life that we are given our own. The goal of evangelism [and all other Christian ministry] is not to convince people to take on Christian interests in the world but to help them open their very person to the person of Jesus Christ. But they can only be helped to open their person to Jesus' own person if we too [as pastors] will open our person to them. The gospel lives in the logic of the person; ministry must then too find its lifeblood in the person (pp69-70, emphasis added).

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