There is a great and powerful need to learn how to pastor differently.
Imagine these words … that holiness dwells more so in what we don’t know than in what we do know. Or as Emanuel Swedenborg phrased it, “Holiness makes its home in ignorance that is innocent … holiness can only dwell in ignorance. (Secrets of Heaven 1557).
That is not speaking to the old business of pastoring, a business centered on a sealed “knowing.” It is a new business of pastoring … a business of curiosity and questions and engagement and mutual discovery, comfortable with blessed unknowing. Such business is not without a specialness to it.
There is a specialness, a specialness arguably more concerned with connection and care than with the heady mastery of unique and special knowledge.
A historian of religion once said that all religion begins by the making of a false distinction between the holy and the seemingly unholy. Soon a clerical caste, moral distinctions, purity codes, and temple systems emerge to keep these two worlds defined and apart, and to keep us separate from the unholy. This makes the ego feel safe and superior, so it usually works if you stay at the early level (of religion), where not much self-knowledge has yet been acquired. This becomes the very “business” of religion, and you can understand business here on several true levels: It keeps us busy, it keeps the customers coming back, and it is often a very subtle process of the “buying and selling” of God. It does give us clergy a good job, and most of us run to the occasion—because the crowds like it for some reason, and we get to feel important as “protectors of the sacred” (scriptures, rituals, and moralities). No one has told them any differently, for the most part—except Jesus.
And Christ spoke very differently! He spoke away from special, caste-protected religion to a democratized faith of the people. Such speech echoed the sacredness of the rich human lives with which it found itself entwined as a here-and-now, flesh-and-bones proposition. Christianity’s roots far more hearkened to engagement with the world from the dangerous position of a living alternative than to a deadened ritual more concerned with escapism.
It would be easy to blame pastors for moving away from people towards a role as hyper-intellectual content experts. But such a ministerial role is deeply comfortable for congregations. It demands little except passive listening. It places faith at a safe distance with a specialized cadre of those expert enough to handle it…. no wars need be fought because there are trained soldiers to do that. Many churches then get exactly what they want.
The truth remains … we are all here to learn. We are all here to do. Together.