Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Feed my sheep...

I always seem to do my best thinking in the morning as I'm getting ready for the day. I'm not sure why this is...I really prefer to think at night. I was getting ready this morning thinking about a question I have fielded twice in recent months...once in my interview for the internship at PCPC and once in conversation with a friend. The question can be expressed in different ways, but the gist is the same. What is a pastor? What are we called to do and be? Unfortunately, I think the American church is answering this question more and more with the CEO model in mind. We manage programs. We oversee church growth. We make sure there is something for everybody when they come to our program on Sunday. My answer in both cases was an attempt to reflect the influence of Eugene Peterson on my thinking, particularly in his work, The Contemplative Pastor. My thoughts this morning went to the way I wish I had expressed myself on both occasions (the Jerk Store dilemma for you Seinfeld fans).

In John Christ calls himself the Good Shepherd and speaks of calling his sheep, and his sheep knowing his voice and coming to him. I think the Puritans hit upon this idea with their emphasis on the beatific vision. This is the belief that although God uses various and sundry means by which to call his own to him, all circumstances consist of this: A vision of the risen Saviour that is more beautiful and compelling than any other truth they have yet encountered; a vision to which, as the sheep in Christ's analogy, we cannot help but freely come. This is the moment in our lives at which Christ reveals himself to us. But it is short sighted to believe that we must spend the remainder of our lives looking back and remembering this vision. God graciously reveals himself to us throughout our lives by making the beatific vision more clear to us now and again. I believe this is the essence of what it means to be fed spiritually. God feeds his sheep by revealing a vision of himself that is compelling all over again.

This is why (in part) communion is not merely a memorial. We are his sheep, feeding on him in the supper. But what is the supper if not a drama played out of Christ in all his glory? Christ broken for us to the glory of God the Father...Christ in whom we live and move and have our being? What is the place of the sermon and reading of Scripture in worship? It is the gospel...we raise Christ up in our midst and worship him, being spiritually nourished by the Word through the word. So we see this concept of feeding on Christ even in our worship.

What then is the role of the pastor? In short, we (instrumentally) feed Christ's sheep! Jesus certainly gives us ample reason to believe this is true by his instruction to the newly reconciled Peter in the last chapters of John. "Do you love me? Feed my sheep." We are to feed the sheep. And what do the sheep feed upon? Christ! So, I say, together with Eugene Peterson, that "my job is not to solve people's problems or make them happy, but to help them see the grace operating in their lives." What is "grace operating in their lives"? It is the beatific vision. It is the means by which we glimpse the presence of Christ. Peterson again: "Sometimes I think all I do as pastor is speak the word 'God' in a situation in which it hasn't been said before, where people haven't recognized his presence."

Conversely, I am reminded of something Dr. John Hannah was fond of saying in our historical theology classes at DTS. "What is someone who has abandoned the faith? It is someone that has found something more beautiful than the Savior." Although they believed Christ was most beautiful, they found something they believed was more beautiful. As under-shepherds we minister the grace of Christ by keeping always before our people, according to the means provided for in the Scripture, a vision of the risen Christ.

In our culture today the default by which pastors view themselves is all too often the CEO model in which they must be successful at managing and growing programs. They must make people feel better about themselves and their circumstances, essentially healing them of what ails them. Or they must keep people entertained (which is the basis of the question: How do we get people to come to our church and keep coming?). I consciously reject all of this. We desperately need more pastors in the church today that understand their calling: to minister the grace of God to their people by pointing them in all situations to the risen Saviour.


M. Jay Bennett said...

Excellent post Matt. I totally agree with you on this. I think this was one of the most important things I've learned from the Puritans and from that time travelling puritan we both revere, Dr. Hannah. The beatific vision of the triune God in Christ is the ultimate motivation of all Christian virtue. It is the source of our love and joy.

I think one of the most fascinating ideas I ever encountered in Jonathan Edwards's writings (from his Treatise on Grace I think) is that the beatific vision by which we love God and one another is ultimately also the way that God loves himself. The Son is the perfect image of the Father. When Father beholds Son he beholds himself and vice versa. Thus perpetuating, fueling, expressing the love of God for himself. That love is the person of the Holy Spirit. God's love of himself is both source, sustainer, and ultimate expression (or end) of the Trinity (and by analogy creation itself).

So the fact that God created us in his image is essentially an invitation from him to us to participate in his love for himself, which is the best reward and the highest possible state of being possible.

To see him, to be like him in reflecting his image, that is what it means to love him and rejoice in him. Praise the Lord!

GUNNY said...

Yes, indeed. Some good slooge, as Jay would say.

I came across a similar quote to Dr. Hannah's recently:
"Sin is what you do when your heart is not satisfied with God."
-John Piper, Future Grace, 9