Where have all the pastors gone? So went the question from a retired pastor who wondered if those following in his wake were anything but. As our conversation continued, my friend reflected on his personal observations of individuals with the title “pastor” who, from his vantage point, function like managers of the local Walgreens or like chief executive officers of small businesses or like scholars who while researching in an ivory tower seldom interact with those they have been called to teach. They function in those ways and more, he noted, but surely not like pastors called to shepherd the flock of Christ. “Some of them,” he concluded, “don’t even like people.”
That conversation took place about the same time I read Eugene Peterson’s vision for his pastoral ministry. In his excellent book, The Pastor: A Memoir, we read Peterson’s response to an elder who asked “What do you want to do?” (278):
I want to be a pastor who prays. I want to be reflective and responsive and relaxed in the presence of God so that I can be reflective and response and relaxed in your presence. I can’t do that on the run. It takes a lot of time…
I want to be a pastor who reads and studies. This culture in which we live squeezes all the God sense out of us. I want to be observant and informed enough to help this congregation understand that we are up against, the temptations of the devil to get us thinking we can all be our own God. This is subtle stuff. It demands some detachment and perspective. I can’t do this just by trying harder.
I want to be a pastor who has the time to be with you in leisurely, unhurried conversations so that I can understand and be a companion with you as you grow in Christ – your doubts and your difficulties, your desires and your delights. I can’t do that when I am running scared.
I want to be a pastor who leads you in worship, a pastor who brings you before God in receptive obedience, a pastor who preaches sermons that make scripture accessible and present and alive, a pastor who is able to give you a language and imagination that restores in you a sense of dignity as a Christian in your homes and workplaces and gets rid of these debilitating images of being a “mere” layperson.
I want to have the time to read a story to (my daughter).
I want to be an unbusy pastor.
Then, a few pages later in his Memoir Peterson offers a variation on some of those same themes (284): “When I get a congregation, I want to be a patient pastor. I want to have eyes to see and ears to hear what God is doing and saying in their lives. I don’t want to judge them in terms of what I think they should be doing. I want to be a witness to what God is doing in their lives, not a school mistress handing out grades for how well they are doing something for God.”
Such is the vision of the “Contemplative Pastor,” an apparently rare breed in today’s competition marketplace of American Protestant congregations. So, I return to the beginning and ask, “Where have all such pastors gone?” Or has the day of that type of pastor passed?