Friday, July 30, 2010

The Unnecessary Pastor: Opinions on the Idea & the Book by Marva Dawn & Eugene Peterson

I recently finished a book called The Unnecessary Pastor: Rediscovering the Call by Marva Dawn and Eugene Peterson. I am not impressed at all by the book. I like the idea of a unnecessary, but useful pastor. However, I don't think either author brought the idea to fruition. Nowhere in the text does either author call for pastors to eliminate the parts of their job that feed the idea that pastors are necessary, i.e., the pastor preaching every Sunday, the pastor being the only person called to pastoral roles, the pastor being the main leader/servant, the pastor being the only person who is a pastor, despite the priesthood of all believers.

Peterson mostly defines "unnecessary" by giving a few snapshots of how he pictures the ideal pastor who does much of the things current pastors do, but with a much-needed unloading of baggage. Unfortunately, Peterson foresees that baggage unloaded by the giving up power mostly in word, not in reality--a sort of meaningless, but spiritual "giving to God."

Dawn spends much of her time talking about whatever catches her eye while she sits at the computer writing, with an occasional reference to being unnecessary. She has a good ability for analysis, which she displays in reading Ephesians. She definitely did her homework, although she cannot resist dipping into social commentary of the "the thing wrong with the world/church today is [blank] and it wasn't that way when I was young or when the church started." I'm unfamiliar with the rest of her corpus, but if she puts all of her analytical powers into one bit of social commentary in one full book, then that book would be a powerful tome.

It took me a while to warm up to her, but I am appreciating more and more of her writing and her style. I've heard her speak and she speaks the way she writes. I wish more people would give up the idea of formal and write in diction people actually use. To me, her conversational style comes across as cheesy at times. Of course, I am incredibly cheesy and I haven't sold any books, so perhaps I could learn a few lessons from Ms. Dawn. I appreciate her wide approach to the topic, I just don't always make the connections she makes.

While reading this book, I did a lot of thinking. I am trying hard to appreciate the book, but it is hard to appreciate when I don't approach scripture the way either of the authors do and their spirituality is too much like a spirituality I left years ago (whether that is "traditional," I don't know, but it is "traditional" from my perspective). Most of my appreciation for the book is nostalgia. In a different life, I could have loved a lot in this book.

One day, my mind wandered as much as Dawn's does. I started trying to think of concrete reasons for my general displeasure in reading the book--which is not the same as saying the book has faults, hopefully I have not harshly criticized, but rather emphasized reasons why it isn't my cup of tea. I made some of the observations I put in writing above, thinking more about the idea of an unnecessary, but useful pastor.

I decided I could be a pastor someday, if I were an unnecessary one. Like Peterson, I see "unnecessary" as my ideal concept of the pastoral role, but not one I can define as much as Peterson. In my ideal, pastor shouldn't really be the same thing in every community. From the outset, my idea of church differs from Peterson and Dawn who are parts of denominations whose churches are rigidly structured to be very similar. I like similarities, but I want more differences, especially when it comes to worship, organization, and, most of all, community.

And I'm not talking music style. I'm thinking more of the dissolution of sermons and singing as the staple of church services. I want to replace weekly sermons with discussions and occasional sermons. I want to replace singing with various art expression and appreciation and with fellowship, not a 15-minute coffee break between Sunday school and the "worship service." I think worship is best expressed through loving what God loves. The first thing on the list of things God loves is not "himself," it's us and the rest of God's creation.

In this setting, the pastor becomes "less necessary," because the pastor doesn't speak every week. An unnecessary pastor wouldn't even facilitate discussion weekly. Perhaps not even often. A pastor--notice "a," not "the"--could give educated, biblical and/or theological perspectives on the discussion. Another pastor could be involved for more counseling and group process purposes. Another for administrative purposes, namely, organizing outreach and putting theology and the fruit of discussions into action, into social action, not marketing for members and "souls."

We are all ministers, right? So, maybe pastors are necessary, because without pastors, that is, all of us, there is no church. Of course, I'm talking ideal body, which we don't have. However, I do not think the current concept of pastor is necessary, not even Dawn & Peterson's idea of an "unnecessary pastor," an idea that stops too early.

If I ever become a pastor, it will be the type that everyone is, which is necessary. The unnecessary part would be having the title and calling everyone else something other than pastor. And I see those sorts of "unnecessities" as burdens to leave at the cross.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't read the book, but from what I read here, I agree with you about the unnecessity of a pastor. To get to this point is, as you have pointed out, an ideal, and one which will only be met when people who are "pastors" crave less attention and power. Only when pastors match their actions with their mouths when they affirm the priesthood of all believers will the church be any closer to seeing the unnecessity of pastors.

    Moreover, being an "unnecessary pastor" in thought only (meaning that you may see yourself as an unnecessary pastor in your mind) but not sharing that view with others so that they can help you become less necessary, says to me that you don't actually see yourself as unnecessary at all. This is where I see a lot of "well-meaning" pastors. They will speak as if the body is necessary while she/he isn't, but they never try to work themselves out of a job (both figuratively and literally).