A couple of months ago I had the opportunity to read and review an excellent book written by Dave Rohrer. The book, The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry, is gritty, honest, and helpful. I was overjoyed to get an email from Dave Rohrer and also to secure a seven question interview with him. We’ll do this in two parts, expect part 2 tomorrow.
1. What inspired this book?
For me the word “inspired” connotes a suddenness that was certainly not a part of creating this book. It’s not like I woke up one morning and said: “Gee, what a great idea to write a book about pastoral ministry using John the Baptist as an archetype.” I did not have a vision of John and hear God say: “Write what you see in a book.” What I do know is that ever since I have been a pastor I have struggled with what I am doing and why I am doing it. I have loved and hated this work; and as I have navigated the journey of being a pastor I have relished those opportunities I have had to reflect with other pastors about our common calling.
This book mainly grew out of the work of theological reflection I have done with interns at University Presbyterian in Seattle. Over a period of about seven years I developed this material on John the Baptist in the context of reflecting on the theology of ministry with these interns.
I started to think about John in this way because of the richness of the story in Luke 7. That expression of John’s doubt and Jesus’ subsequent affirmation of John arrested my imagination. I wanted to get to know John better and in seeing his doubt I saw him as a vulnerable person and a kindred spirit in ministry. The more I worked with John’s story and discussed it with these interns the more I began to feel like turning it into a book. When the idea for the book finally came it was like it had been gestating in me. Once it was ready to be born I had the energy to write it and that took about a year.
2. What do you hope the book accomplishes?
I hope that this book will start or continue conversations among pastors and church leaders about who pastors are and what the essence of their work is. In the face of a rapidly changing church, pastors are barraged with all sorts of material designed to help them to plant and grow or revive and stabilize congregations. What we don’t get as much of is an opportunity to think together about why we do what we do. So I hope this book can contribute to the discussion of what pastors ought to be doing to faithfully answer their call in the midst of these changes.
I am not proposing this book as an alternative to the books on leadership and congregational development. I see it as a completely different beast. It’s an attempt to reflect on the one necessary thing we need to keep close to us as we work to lead a congregation. It offers a set of lenses through which to see and evaluate that work of congregational leadership. Hopefully it sets our work in context. I don’t see it telling people how to do their work as much as offering people a reason to keep doing their work.
3. You are on a bus when a seminary student sits down next to you. You discover that within the week he will begin pastoring his first church. He asks you for advice on being a pastor. You have 3-5 minutes before he has to exit the bus. What do you tell him?
“Stay on this bus and get as far away from here as you can.”
But seriously folks….
First, I would tell the student to cultivate a listening heart and learn some practice of reflection that cultivates self- awareness. We pastors spend a lot of time wondering about whether or not we are effective and what God might be accomplishing through us. But the only thing we can ever be certain about is what God is doing in us. So pray for the eyes of your heart to be opened to the truth of who God knows you to be and let that awareness open your ears to the Spirit’s invitations to grow into the image of Christ.
Second, I would say, all of your work as a pastor is about participating in work that is already in progress. The most freeing thing about ministry is that God is inviting us to be a part of what he is doing. So start every pastoral encounter with this prayer: “Lord how are you at work here and how are you inviting me to be a part of it?”
Third, (if he’s still on the bus or hasn’t told me to mind my own damn business) I would quote two passages from St Paul, II Corinthians 4:1 and Romans 12:16: “Since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry….do not claim to be wiser than you are.” The ministry we have as pastors is God’s gift to us. It is an opportunity to experience God’s gracious mercy. So seek the way of humility: stay in touch with the truth of who you are and who you aren’t, and be on the lookout for the gifts God is wanting to give you.
Dave will answer 4 more questions tomorrow. Stay tuned…
If you have not already you can, and should, pick up the book.