The following program is a presentation of
Grace Communion International and Grace Communion Seminary and is made possible by generous
donations from viewers like you. On this episode of You’re Included, theologian, Dr. Andrew Purves, discusses how pastors should connect the story of God with the context of individual people. Our host is Dr. J. Michael Feazell In your book, The Crucifixion of Ministry,
on page 128, you wrote, “At its core, pastoral work involves bearing witness to the joining
of two stories, the parishioners and God’s. Who is Jesus Christ specifically for this
person amid the particularities and the exigencies of his or her current life experience?”
How does a pastor bring those two stories together?
It really is a fundamental question in this way in two regards. First of all, as a pastor,
you have to live in Christ. You have to know the Lord. That doesn’t just mean passing
the theology test—that’s important—know the Lord, knowing how to speak appropriately
of the Lord. But you must know the Lord as the Lord of your life. That means a life of
piety, a life of prayer, ethical attentiveness and so on. It means a life of worship, a life
of living in Christ. Saint Paul used the phrase “in Christ,”
“in the Lord,” “in him” in his letters around 164 times. It’s his fundamental statement
about what it means to be a Christian. A Christian is someone in Christ. I take that to mean
an organic connectedness, a relationship…even in rather hackneyed terms, a “personal relationship”
with a living, reigning Lord. That’s something we have to attend to. It’s
just like cleaning your teeth. You get up in the morning and you clean your teeth. It’s
a fundamental good habit. Just because it’s a habit doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing.
Our habit, the habitus, the rhythm of our life, is to attend to our life in the Lord.
You can’t do ministry unless you have a life in Christ, in him, embedded in him, rooted,
growing up in him, so that the flower of your ministry and faith is a result of your roots
of faith—life being deeply embedded in the soil of the word of God. That on the one hand.
The other thing—to be a pastor you have to be embedded with your people. You’ve
got to know your people. One of the sad aspects, I think, of contemporary ministry is that
ministers tend to sit in big offices with a sanctuary outside, and people come and visit
the minister. In the olden days, the ministers used to go and visit the people. The word
parish comes from two Greek words para, oikos, beyond the house—and the parish was the
walking distance that the minister or priest could cover to get to the houses of the people.
We read in Acts that Paul visited from house to house—all of which is to say the pastor
must know his or her people. You’ve got to be involved in their lives. You’re with
them in their births and their deaths and their getting jobs and losing jobs and in
their hospitals and all of their ups and downs. You’re with them. I think that’s the genius
of a pastoral charism, of a pastoral giftedness—that your joy is to walk with these people.
So you know the Lord, you’re embedded in the life of the Lord…when one thinks perhaps
of John 15—you’re a branch connected to the vine, you’re organically connected and
you are in Christ, abiding in him. But you’re also in the people, you’re abiding in them.
As the pastor, then, you are the one who enables that conversation. They know the Lord, too,
but you’re the one whose special job and appointment is to bear witness. So I tell
my students don’t use phrases like “pastoral counseling.” If somebody needs a therapist,
find a good therapist. Your job is rather to help them interpret their context of their
life—the vicissitudes, the pains, the tragedies, the joys. Go to the graduation parties as
well as the funeral homes. Make the connections, and in the small things you often don’t
even have to say words. You are making connections between Jesus and them. It feeds into the
sermons. For example, I preach all over the country
and I come in on a parachute. You know, here I am. I preach, I don’t know the people,
I don’t know the context. I preach, people say how wonderful it is and all the rest.
But at the end of the day, that’s not effective preaching.
Effective preaching arises out of a preacher or pastor, a man or a woman who is embedded
with the people and preaches into the context of their pain, preaches into the context of
the silence of their cry to God—“where are you, God?”, and they hear nothing back.
They preach into these terrible cosmic silences and these ambiguities and these confusions
that are the normal part of ongoing life. So I think there’s that dual embedded-ness.
One other thought that I’ve played with through the years is that I think all ministry
has a “from-to” character. That is, you move from your place as the pastor, from your
life in Christ, from your safe place, to where the people are. That may be not be a comfortable
place. Although I’m well acquainted (sadly) with
hospitals because of my own cancer, I don’t like hospitals. I have a daughter-in-law who
is a physician. She’s very comfortable in hospitals. I will never be comfortable in
hospitals. But, you know, hospitals are not my “to” place. And yet as pastors we have
to go into these uncomfortable “to” places. But we can only do what we do in these, as
it were, “to” places because we have a deep grounded-ness in our “from” place,
and that’s our anchor. So I would encourage pastors really, really
seriously in this regard. If you have no life in Christ, you have no ministry, because we
read in John 15:5, “Apart from me, you can do nothing. Unless you are connected into
me, the vine, you can do nothing.” So, the most practical, pertinent question
I can put to a working pastor is, “What’s going on in your life in Jesus?” Because
if you don’t have a life in Christ, you don’t have a ministry. No matter how technically
proficient you are in the skills of ministry, no matter how many committee meetings you
go to, your life in Christ means that you can go into these situations and you know
who Jesus is, what he is up to in all of these contexts, and you can point to that, bear
witness to that. It might seem like a trite question, but what,
how does a pastor do that? How does a pastor remain?
It’s not a trite question. It’s a critical question. Most seminaries in the United States—this
is a non-scientific poll, but I have the sense —do not have enough attention paid to the
spiritual formation of the pastor, or in different terms, to the pastor’s own formation in
Jesus Christ, the pastor’s own relationship with Jesus Christ.
I’ve often been struck, when the disciples saw Jesus praying, they asked, “Lord, teach
us to pray.” Some form of God’s history with Israel had been around 1100, 1200 years.
They knew how to pray. And yet something was going on here, because what was the Lord praying?
Surely he was praying out of his own Sonship in the Spirit with the Father.
I think he was praying, “My Father” because he alone is the only begotten Son. “My Father
who art in heaven.” The disciples discern that something profound in its spiritual connectedness
and power is going on between Jesus and the Father. So they’re not saying “teach us
the techniques of prayer,” they’re not asking, “teach us how to do deep breathing
when we pray” (I don’t know if that’s bad), but they’re saying, “How do we get
in on your Sonly communion with the Father in the power of the Spirit?”
That’s the point of prayer, is that we are in on the Son’s…the technical word might
be perichoretic…communion of love with the Father. So Jesus teaches them the Lord’s
prayer. But back of that, theologically, is that Jesus is teaching them, “pray in me,
pray through me,” so that our prayers are through Jesus Christ our Lord. Our prayers
are accepted not because Andrew Purves is pious—God knows he’s not—but because
they are given to the Lord, who takes what is ours—broken, muddled, irregular, incoherent,
distracted—our broken prayers…takes them in himself, heals them, and gives them to
the Father in his name. He takes what is his own communion with the
Father, his life of love, discipleship, obedience, worship, and says, “Here, this is yours.”
Not just “here, take it”—“it’s yours! It’s yours! It’s yours!” Not just a
possibility. Karl Barth, the Swiss theologian—it’s an actuality. It’s the actuality that we
are in Christ, participating in his life, that makes it possible for me to pray, makes
it possible for me to write books, teach my classes, engage in ministry.
The question is for me, for pastors: “Will I pay attention to that life in Christ? Will
I seek to grow more deeply in Christ?” Someone…this is glib…Psalm 1 is Psalm 1 because of Psalm
1. Psalm 1 is Psalm 1 because Psalm 1 is doing something that no other Psalm can do. Psalm
2 can’t do what Psalm 1 is doing. What is Psalm 1 doing? Psalm 1 is the gateway, the
threshold, the entrance into the book of Israel’s response to the Lord, or rather the five books
of Israel’s response to the Lord. Realize you have the Pentateuch, five books…the
five books of the response, five books of the Psalms.
Psalm 1 is setting up this whole response. It’s a two-way Psalm. Will you abide in
the way of the wicked, or will you abide in the way of the Lord? I think that’s the
challenge for any Christian disciple. What does it mean more deeply, more convertedly,
more faithfully to live into that reality that has already claimed them—to find me.
To abide in the Lord and to make my home there. The Psalm uses an image about a tree being
planted by a stream of running water. It’s Psalm of the exile. It’s all desert—emotionally,
spiritually desert, but also physically it’s desert. And yet the Psalmist used, “In the
Lord you will be like a tree planted by a stream of running water.” And out of that
planted-ness, a plant of faith grows, and the plant of ministry grows. So in the education
of ministers, clergy for ministry, we need to help people know what it means to have
a deeper, more abiding life in the Lord. I’ve gone on too long with that question in answer
to it, but it’s really important. I don’t think you’ve gone on too long.
It also raises the question of the meaning of grace in terms of one’s devotion to the
God of grace without there becoming a legalistic framework or an attempt to be something that
we aren’t. How do those work together? How do we bring a complete faithfulness to God
in his grace toward us without bringing our own so-called righteousness and yet living
in Christ, in union with Christ? To answer your question, let me refer to a
Bible verse, if I may, in order to be quite precise, because your question is terribly
important. Colossians 2:6…and this picks up the Psalm 1:3 image too, “So then, just
as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built
up in him…” That’s the piety, that’s the formation.
“…Strengthened in the faith you were taught.” This is the faith of the apostles; this is
the faith of the church. Get the theology wrong, and you will get life and ministry
wrong. And then at the end, and this comes directly to your question, “…overflowing
with thankfulness.” In other words, the response that comes out, the life that comes
out of this rootedness in Christ, is not a life of guilt or obligation or of duty. It’s
not “I ought, I should, I must, I have to.” It’s a life overflowing with thankfulness.
The Greek word for overflowing here sometimes in other translations it’s translated “abounding.”
Abounding is an old funny word. I don’t abound (especially as we get older) much anymore.
The word, this is the better translation. The word literally means overflowing. It’s…Paul
uses it in Romans 5 to talk about grace. Overflowing. Three times he says, “Grace overflows.”
Again he says grace overflows, and the third time he puts it in the superlative—grace
super-overflows—it’s Niagara Falls of grace, not just a little trickle-down effect.
It’s this huge grace so that sin has no chance.
He uses the same word here, “Now out of this life in Christ, growing up in the faith
and every way into him who is the head, we abound [or we overflow] in thankfulness.”
Eucharistia in Greek. What a wonderful energy system—gratitude, thankfulness, not obligation
and duty. Not musts and should and don’t and have to-s, but a heart filled with gratitude.
I think this is the…I don’t know the right word to use…the genius of the Christian
gospel. The point where we are called into practice, into ministry, into service, it
is not at the point of our “Oh dear, I’ve got to go to another meeting, oh dear I am
exhausted, oh dear I’ve got to go and work harder.” Guys, I tell my students this,
I get to get up in the morning to come and talk to you about Jesus Christ.
Or you say, “Folks, I get up in the morning to preach…11:00 on Sunday morning that Jesus
is Lord.” And when that has taken hold of your life, and gratitude and thankfulness
abounds within you, your preaching will not be dull, because a thankful person is not
a dull person. A thankful person is a person full of the joy and the energy of the gospel.
We’re only told we love him because he first loved us.
That’s right. It reminds me, as you’re describing that,
in Titus as well, that grace, “It is grace that teaches us to say no to ungodliness,”
and so on. It begins with the grace of God. He moves for us first, and we can move ahead
in that. Again, a terrific question because so often
our own sense of guilt or need or obligation begins to take over. There’s another verse
from Paul in Philippians 3. Through the chapter he is saying that nothing can compare with
the fact that—“I’ve lost everything for the fact of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ
is my Lord.” And at verse 12 in Philippians 3 he writes, “Not that I have already obtained
this, the fullness of Christian life, the perfection of life, or have already arrived
at the goal. But I press on to take hold of it.”
Sometimes you hear preachers say we’ve got to press on, we’ve got to work harder, go
to more committee meetings, give more money, press on, press on. You know, “I guilt you,
I guilt you, I guilt you,” and I’m tired of guilt. But if they’ve read the whole
verse, “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”
What is the first thing? It’s not that I press on to attain the prize of Jesus Christ.
I press on because Jesus Christ has already taken hold of me and I am his prize.
The Greek word here literally means “seized hold of.” It’s not just that Jesus Christ
has taken hold of me, it’s Jesus Christ has seized hold of me. It’s an intensive.
“I seize hold of the Christian life because Jesus Christ has already seized hold of me.”
I’ve preached on this verse, and I think of it as we’re grabbed by the scruff of
our spiritual necks. We’re seized hold of intensively.
And when Jesus Christ has us by the scruff of our spiritual necks, we can buck and we
even try to get out of it, but he has got us by the scruff of the neck. And because
we are seized hold of, with thankfulness I am going to live this life the way he wants
me to live it, and give it my best shot, knowing that no matter what, he has seized hold of
me, and on that I will depend. And your success or failure is not what determines
his grip. No.
His grip is the reality. Remember Peter walking on the water. I’m
thankful, so thankful for silly Peter. I mean, Peter the doofus, because he’s walking toward
the Lord on the water, his faith deserts him, he begins to sink. And what stops Peter from
drowning is not that he’s reached up and grabbed Jesus’ hand, but that Jesus has
reached down and grabbed his hand. There is a place for us to seize hold, but
it’s lower down the theological food chain. What saves me is not my decision for Jesus,
but Jesus’ decision for me. He has seized hold of me, and my response is: In gratitude
I say, “Yes Lord, yes Lord. Show me what you want me to do.”
In that story, the word immediately is used. Immediately.
That’s right. There’s not a lot of time when you’re
sinking. That’s right, and that’s so comforting
because as pastors, we can’t throw people back upon their own strength and resources.
My teacher Tom Torrance used to say this all the time, “Don’t cast people back upon
themselves, upon their own faith, their own ethics, their own piety, because we break,
we will give out. Cast them back upon Jesus Christ. And held by Jesus Christ, they will
discover the resources of their piety and their ethics and their service, but again,
out of gratitude and thankfulness, not out of guilt or fear.”
Ephesians 2 is a long number of verses about the grace, the riches of kindness and so on
that has come to us. And it concludes in verse 10 with, “We are created in Christ Jesus
to do good works.” That’s right.
Not that you do good works to be… That’s right. Put it in the terms of what
high school English teachers used to teach us, using indicative and imperative language:
The imperative is prior to and conditions the indicative. The imperative is the statement
of fact, of reality. You are in Christ. You are loved cosmically from the foundation of
the world. You have been seized hold of by Jesus Christ. Now therefore, this is how…
Now therefore, yeah. But the imperative, how you are to live, is
the consequence, and is conditioned by the prior reality that we are in Christ by God’s
choice and act. That to me is the gospel. In so much preaching, though, it makes people
feel it’s the other direction… that they need to do something in order for God to feel
this way toward them. Right.
So they’re looking over their shoulder for what they’ve done wrong, for where the weak
link in the chain lies. And scratch… Most of us scratch a little
bit theologically and spiritually, and we say oh, you know, I deserved this from God.
I deserved this punishment, this cancer, this divorce or what have you. And that is tragic.
It was the great Karl Barth, the Swiss theologian, who, in the 1950s, published the message that
said that God had decided from all eternity that God would no longer be God without a
people to love—that God is the God of love. That doesn’t mean to say that he’s not
the God of justice, of judgment, but I can say to you, “I forgive you,” and implied
within that “I forgive you” is…you’ve done wrong. I wouldn’t “forgive” you
if you hadn’t done wrong. But it’s the “I forgive you” that is the larger reality
under which the judgment is subsumed. So there is judgment, and we need to preach
that. But we preach it within the context that there is something bigger than the judgment,
more that overwhelms the judgment, in fact, the “I forgive you, I love you, you are
mine, you belong to me, I will not let you go.” That is grace. That is why the Word
became flesh—that we may know God is a God of love.
To put it differently, the relations within the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
are not relations of law or obligation. The Trinity is a communion of love—three persons,
one being. The heart of God, if we can speak, the being of God, who God is, is God is love.
And God gives us law in order to help us live life in an appropriate way. But the heart
of things, the center of things is not law, but love. Not condemnation, but forgiveness.
And that’s freedom. For freedom Christ has set us free [Galatians 5:1], not for guilt.
For freedom Christ has set us free. Thanks be to God.
The gospel really is good news. That’s right. It’s called gospel.
What skills then…what does a pastor need? What skills should a pastor have? What knowledge
and experience should he or she have, expect to have, or strive to have, to be an effective
pastor? That’s actually a very complex question.
Let me work my way into it, because I have no slick packaged answer to your question.
The first thing I would say: To be a pastor, you need to be well-apprenticed to a theological
heritage. There are good theological heritages out there, and to be apprenticed to them means
that you put yourself, as it were, under the authority of a tradition that the church has
said “This is faithful.” If you’re in a Pietistic tradition, under
the Wesleys perhaps, my Reformed tradition under Calvin… And who was Wesley apprenticed
to? The Greek fathers. Who was Calvin apprenticed to? The Greek fathers. You apprentice yourself
as a pastor to the men and women who have framed and converted the mind of the church,
so that the pastor, as the teaching elder, is a man or a woman who has the mind of Christ
and who can teach the people that they may grow and have the mind of Christ.
Being a theologian is not just something that strange people do…get a technical education
and so forth. Being a theologian is a requirement for everyone who would be a pastor—anyone
who would teach Sunday School, even if it’s just the tiny tots. My wife this week in her
church is doing Vacation Bible School, and there are little tiny tots running around.
But those who teach these little children, they need to be theologians. They need to
know who is the Lord, who is God, the God whom we name, the God who we trust has claimed
us, and to be able to express that in cogent and accurate and careful terms.
I think too, to be a pastor you need to be apprenticed to a tradition of ministry. Too
much modern ministry is gimmickry. I don’t mean to be offensive in saying this, but too
much modern ministry is enthralled into passing psychological fads or sociological fads.
In the fall at Pittsburg Theological Seminary, I will be teaching a course on classical texts
for pastoral theology. I think there’s a copy in your pile of books. We’ll be reading
old dead guys: – Gregory of Nazianzus, 380s, the first systematic
text in pastoral ministry in the history of the church.
– John Chrysostom, the Greek father from Antioch. Gregory the Great, 590, became pope. His book
of pastoral rule was the book of pastoral care for the next 1000 years in the Western
church. – Martin Bucer, the most important pastoral
writer of the Reformation age, his pastoral theology just being published in English for
the first time. – Richard Baxter, [who wrote] The Reformed
Pastor…it doesn’t mean the Calvinist pastor; it means the renewed pastor, the pastor in
Christ. – And the reminisces of my favorite, John
McLeod Campbell of Scotland. All of these texts are available. They are
old texts, but including them…I’m sorry there are no women in them, I wish that were
the case, but this is what we have. This is the great wisdom, the depository of pastoral
knowledge in the history of the ecumenical church. And I teach this stuff, and the students
catch fire. They are staggered at this stuff, this wisdom.
We’ve got to apprentice our students to the wisdom of the pastoral heritage that has
been passed down. People knew how to do pastoral ministry before Sigmund Freud came along.
They knew how to do pastoral ministry before we got into all this modern psychology and
sociology. None of that’s wrong, but it’s not what defines our work. Read the great
texts, study the great theologians. The third thing I would say is: Read the great
spiritual saints. Read the Augustines and the Gregory of Nazianzuses, read Calvin’s
chapter on prayer in his Institutes, and read Luther on Galatians. And read some of the
great Roman women—Teresa of Avila. You may not agree—that doesn’t matter! But these
are books that have been around for a long, long time for a reason.
C.S. Lewis, in an introduction a few years ago to a translation of Athanasius’s book
on the incarnation, a famous little introduction…Lewis said, “For every new book we should read
two old books, because the old books have been around and are tested.” Read the old
theologians, read the old ministers, read the old teachers on prayer and be guided in
your formation. Read contemporary books, too, but they probably won’t be around as long
as these old books. You’ve been watching You’re Included,
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