Friday, July 14, 2023

Building an Identity of Unnecessariness

In my seminary spiritual formation classes I require students to pray. In the first class, after introductions, I send us all out to pray for one hour, using Psalm 23 as our meditative focus. I ask students to leave their cell phones in the classroom. I tell them:

"God wants to break you of the illusion of your indispensability. You are not needed. You are loved, and God desires to manifest his glorious presence in you. But God does not need you."

This is an important lesson to learn. Without it, all kinds of bad things happen to the self and those they lead.
(Holland State Park, Michigan)

I'm reading Eugene Peterson and Marva Dawn's really good and necessary book The Unnecessary Pastor. Pastors are unnecessary in three ways that we might think are necessary.

#1 - "We are unnecessary to what the culture presumes is important: as paragons of goodness and niceness." (Loc 71)

Many people are good and nice. This is not our distinctive.

#2 - "We are unnecessary to what we ourselves feel is essential: as the linchpin holding the congregation together." (Loc 84)

None of us are indispensable. "We have important work to do, but if we don't do it God can always find someone else - and probably not a pastor." (Ib.)

#3 - "We are unnecessary to what congregations insist that we must do and be: as the experts who help them stay ahead of the competition." (Ib.)

"Congregations get their ideas of what makes a pastor from the culture, not from the Scriptures: they want a winner; they want their needs to be met; they want to be part of something zesty and glamorous....

...With hardly an exception they don't want pastors at all - they want managers of their religious company. They want a pastor they can follow so they won't have to bother with following Jesus anymore." (Ib.)

If you are a pastor, you are unnecessary in relation to these three expectations. To counter them one must build "an identity of unnecessariness." Peterson writes:

"Only when we realize how unnecessary we are will we be free to do the "one thing needful" - the gospel necessity laid upon the glorious but battered life of the pastor." (Loc 97)