A couple of months ago I was privileged to read and review Dave Rohrer’s book The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry. He was gracious enough to answer 7 questions, we looked at the first 3 yesterday and today we will consider the next 4.
4. Who have been the most influential people in your life? (Both non-biblical historical and modern day friends).
Hands down, my wife Mary Ann, and my children Justin and Laura, are the most influential people in my life. Most of the big decisions I have made for the last 27 years have somehow been influenced by them. I’ve come to believe that covenant relationships are the most fertile soil for growing the fruit of the Spirit in us and my relationships with the members of my family have taught me this.
Beyond family, those next in line are the people who have influenced my journey as a disciple of Jesus and as a pastor. Apart from Eugene Peterson’s books and his willingness to answer my letters I would probably be doing something other than being a pastor. Apart from hearing Fr. Gregory Elmer (a Benedictine monk from St Andrews Abbey in Valyermo, CA) reflect on the scriptures I wouldn’t know very much about prayer and about allowing the scriptures to lead me into prayer. Apart from the life and lectures of Dr. James Loder I’m not sure I would live expecting to be a part of the work of the Holy Spirit. And apart from the teaching and friendship of Ian Pitt-Watson, my preaching professor at Fuller Seminary, I don’t think I would have ever had the ability to hear God’s call to pastoral ministry.
If you look on my bookshelf you would also be able to deduce that Wendell Berry, C.S. Lewis and Marilynne Robinson are authors who have had a major influence in my life.
5. In your book you encourage pastors to see their role as fundamentally being pointers to Jesus. What practices have you cultivated in life and ministry to make you a better pointer? Both to keep the focus off yourself and to help people see Jesus better.
The word mystic has very little appeal in the protestant world. In fact, I have traveled in some circles where the word is about as attractive as the words mass-murderer or pedophile. Yet I think there is in this word a key to being a pointer. A mystic at his or her best is simply one who chooses to stay awake and be an observer. A mystic, like a scientist simply wants to see what is and respond to it accordingly. A mystic is not one who transcends his/her body in order to attain some higher spiritual and non-material plane, but one who embodies faith in a time and place and seeks to stay away to the presence of God in that place. I would say in order to be a pointer to Jesus you have to stay awake and be willing to engage the disciplines of silence, observation, openness, humility and hospitality.
6. Pastors are to be pointers. But, how much should they polish their fingers?
Looking ahead to the next question I am going to assume that you are using a metaphor here and are not talking about regular manicures. The finger is important only to the extent that it grabs enough attention so that folks can follow it to where it is pointing. In the book I use the image of John in the crucifixion scene from the Isenheim altarpiece. Grunewald has depicted John’s finger with enough artistry to draw our attention to John, but not so much that we can’t also apprehend his message. That bony forefinger is edgy enough to get my attention but not so prominent that it keeps me from seeing of the figure of the Crucified Christ.
Similarly, I make the point in the book that John was actually quite popular in his day. The way he did what he did, played well among the seekers of his day. It caught people’s attention. But there was never any doubt about the core content of his message. The medium never became more prominent than the message. In short, we need to bring our whole self (our gifts, our unique personalities, our skills, etc.) to bear on the work of pointing.
We will each have unique ways of pointing that are developed according to who we are. The polish, if you will, is to play the role given to us by our office with “energy, intelligence, imagination and love.” (Those words are taken from one of the ordination questions we are asked in the PC(USA)). In short, the polish we use is the willingness to bring all of who we are to this work. That requires discipline and dedication, planning and preparation. It is hard work, but hard work to an end of drawing attention to someone other than ourselves.
7. Dave, I notice from your profile picture that you are not bearded. This confused me. John the Baptist certainly had a beard, right? When I picture John the Baptist I picture a guy similar to Grizzly Adams. So, two questions. First, why did you not include a chapter on beards? Secondly, have you found John the Baptist type ministry difficult while not also sporting a John-esque beard?
I feel about beards what I would also probably feel about wearing a camel hair cloak. I don’t like itchy things. Most married men I have talked to don’t grow beards because their wives don’t want them to. That is not my story. In fact, when I have grown a beard Mary Ann has loved it. The reason I don’t grow a beard is that the process of growing it drives me crazy. Getting through the itchy stage without the experience of wanting to cuss or kick the dog is always something that has eluded me. So no; no chapter on beards. I have no word from the Lord on beards… only my opinion.
In spite of this shame of a naked face, I have not found the John the Baptist type ministry to be difficult. But then I fear this is because I have perhaps done something similar with John that those 19th century “Life of Jesus” theologians have been criticized for doing when they wrote about Jesus. In many cases their quest for the historical Jesus often produced a figure that looked very similar to themselves. I fear that I may have done the same thing with John. Thus I feel no need to look like him, since he already looks so much like me…
Dave, thanks for taking the time to answer these question. I pray that the Lord continues to bless your ministry efforts. I know this book was a blessing to me and I hope that others are inspired to pick up their own copy.