Thursday, December 02, 2010

Recapturing the Vocation of Pastor

M. Craig Barnes
The Pastor as Minor Poet: Texts and Subtexts in the Ministerial Life
Eerdmans, 2009.

In my perfect world the kinds of books ministry majors in Bible colleges and seminaries would read are exemplified by this offering by Barnes. Instead of the corporate style leadership models and the slick gimmicking of church growth seminars, future pastors would soak in views of pastoring that begin and end with biblical influences and remain solidly against the reigning cultural models. Barnes has written such a book.

The goal, it seems, is to clarify a confusion pastors live with right now – what it means to be a pastor. It seems to be a great problem if men and women are entering professions they can’t properly or deeply define, but I think he is right. We have simply let the role of pastor be defined for us in recent decades and we need to work to recover its true meaning.

The image Barnes uses to control the book is that of pastor as a “minor poet.” Major poets are the larger-than-life biblical and historical figures who change almost everything, but the vast majority of us fit into the “minor poet” role as we work on translating the truths of God into a fuzzy and broken world. All in all, I think the metaphor is a helpful one. From time to time it seems a bit stretched, but it really comes home in some of the final chapters as Barnes uses T.S. Elliot’s “The Three Voices of Poetry” to help define the pastoral vocation. I was surprised at how helpful that rubric was.

The book is short but important. If you are a pastor, I challenge you to pick up this book and others like it to re-ground your vocation and break away from the definitions placed on you from the outside. If you know someone wanting to be a pastor, give them this book and see how it strikes them. I found it encouraging, helpful and needful at the same time.

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