Will Willimon is such a nice guy... if you've ever heard him speak, you know what I mean. His slight southern drawl, his folksy demeanor... very disarming.
And then he just kicks your rear...
From his book, Pastor,
The pastor is [often] reduced to the level of the soother of anxieties brought on by the dilemmas of affluence, rather than the caller of persons to salvation. My colleague Stanley Hauerwas has accused the contemporary pastor of being little more than "a quivering mass of availability." Practicing what I call "promiscuous ministry"- ministry with no internal, critical judgment about what care is worth giving- we become victims of a culture of insatiable need. We live in a capitalist, consumptive culture where there is no purpose to our society other than "meeting our needs." The culture gves us the maximum amount of room and encouragement to "meet our needs" without appearing to pass judgment on which needs are worth meeting... In this vast supermarket of desire, we pastors must do more than simply "meet people's needs." The church is also about giving people the critical means of assesing which needs give our lives meaning, about giving us needs we would not have had if we had not met Jesus.
What Willimon is hitting on here is a critical area of balance for pastors... the balancing of the role of shepherd and antagonist, of pastor and prophet.
I love that phrase ""a quivering mass of availability."
I've been doing some thinking about availability lately. Of course we want to be available, but not indiscriminantly. Of course we want to meet people's needs, but not without helping them to consider which needs are real and which need to be left behind as we follow Jesus...
In the OT there was a division of labor of sorts. The priest got to take care of the people, to make the sacrifice for them, to marry them, bury them, basically perform the role of pastor. And every once in awhile, the prophet would come down from the mountain and rile everyone up, point out the injustice and idolatry in the community and then head back out into the wilderness... leaving the priests to clean up and help the people process "now what."
Of course, the problem in pastoral ministry today is that we have to do both.
And realistically, that's practically impossible. To be able to speak both words of love to people and also hard words of correction? To care for them and confront them too? Who can possibly keep their balance on that particular beam?
The key, Tony Campolo says, is that it's the pastoral work that legitimates the work of the prophet. It's loving people well that gives you the ability to tell them the hard things they would rather not hear.
He tells the story of a pastor who felt he had to speak out on the war in Viet Nam, and confront our militaristic ways. There was a man in the congregation who had made his life in the military, supported the effort in Viet Nam and was deeply offended by the words of the preacher. He sat and listened, but visibly seethed as he did so.
At the end of the sermon, he went to the pastor and told him just what he thought of that particular sermon... The pastor asked, "So why didn't you just get up and leave?" The man said, "I wanted to... but I kept remembering how when my wife was dying, you sat with me all night holding her hand."
It's the pastoral work that legitimates the work of the prophet. It's loving people well that gives you the ability to tell them the hard things they would rather not hear.