What is a person?

The Relational Pastor, part 5

For other posts in this series, click on a number: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 1415.

Last time in this series exploring the book The Relational Pastor, we noted Andrew Root's definition of ministry as place sharing. This perspective is framed by a trinitarian, incarnational anthropology that embraces the biblical view of persons as beings-in-relation. From this perspective, personhood is understood to be rooted in and defined by the tri-personal being of God who created humankind in his own relational image. This view contrasts sharply with the predominant Western-modern idea of persons as singular, distinct individuals. Root comments:
There is simply no [human] life in being alone, no such thing as a singular person.... We could even stretch it to say that hyperindividualism, is the very judgment of God.... There is no humanity without relationship... [without] being bound one to another, through indwelling and sharing deeply with one another as bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh (Gen. 2:23). This is why Jewish philosopher Martin Buber states, "In the beginning was the relationship" (pp61-62).
Consider that in our Western culture, people tend to be defined by their interests and the functions that flow from those interests: boss, consumer, professor, voter and so forth.
[These] labels of individualism ...exist because they denote your function toward a goal. Bosses manage, consumers buy, professors teach and voters pick candidates; you are this thing because of the function bound in the goal of meeting or expressing your interest. But the [relational] denotations of "brother," "friend" or "mother" are not constructed to signify a function but a relationship. You are only a brother because there is another who calls you such... (p62). 
This trininitarian-incarnational-relational understanding of the nature of persons has profound implications for ministry. Truly Christian ministry is not about running programs to fulfill the interests of people as individuals, but about facilitating personal relationships with God and with other people. Christian ministry is about sharing in relationship--the very act that reflects our actual, relational being as bearers of the relational image of God. As Root notes, we see this in the ministry of Jesus and in that of his first disciples:
The personal stretches so deep in the discipleship of Jesus Christ that the young church calls one another brothers and sisters, for they are bound to one another through the person of Jesus Christ. And Jesus himself tells his listeners that whoever follows him by doing his command of upholding personhood finds true life by sharing in his person, and this person is his brother, sister and mother (Mark 3:34). It can't be missed; the familial language makes it shockingly clear that the faith of the Nazarene is one of personhood for all (p65).  
Jesus used the relational metaphor of friendship, with the understanding that such deeply personal relationships exist not for themselves, not for some other purpose or goal. The point of a friendship is not some interest, "the point is to be with and for, to share in the life of the other" (p65). In that regard, note that what often is referred to as "friendship evangelism" violates this definition by using friendship for the sake of meeting the interest of conversions. This instrumental approach to relationships tends to ignore personhood, which, according to Root, is a dangerous move:
The love of [a] person has no ends, it only acts so that the beloved can live and love. Friendship evangelism actually loves the idea, the third thing it is trying to get people to know, do or come to. In friendship evangelism I don't really love the person, but the idea of church membership, the idea of converting you. I love not you but the thing I'm using the relationship to get you to do" (p66).
But when we view Christian ministry as sharing in Jesus' own place sharing with another person, our focus will be on the delight of personal encounter--of sharing the life of the other. As Root emphasizes, "We are called into the world to love the world as our Father loves--as persons" (p66).

In John 15:12-15 Jesus called his disciples friends because he was sharing deeply in their lives by opening his life to them in a way that enabled them to share his relationship with the Father. Root comments:
Calling his disciples friends makes it crystal clear that it is personhood that matters to God and rests at the center of Jesus' ministry... Friendship has no goal, no interest outside the friend. I am your friend not to get you to a new interest but to share in your person. 
Jesus is friend, and what do friends do? Friends share in the life of friends--"I no longer live but Christ lives in me (Gal 2:20). Friendship can have no goal of influence--it seeks only to share our place, to invite us to share in the life of the other. Jesus calls his disciples friends, telling them that in his Father's house are many rooms and he will go make a place for them (John 14:2), because the point is not getting them to a goal but living with them, embracing their person. They are given a room in a house where God's own person is given to share in as a gift. 
Jesus invites people to come and share in his own person, to find their own personhood in sharing in his life as person. "Come and see," he invites (John 1:39). So we call people (do evangelism) as the invitation to come, see and share in the personhood of God through sharing in the personhood of this community
At its most fundamental, what it means to be, what it means to be the one who encounters God, is to be a person. It is to be given our personhood through the gift of relationship. To be a person is to be our relationships (p67).
This understanding of personhood and the understanding of Christian ministry that flows from it points us to a particular understanding of what it means to be a pastor. We'll look at that next time.