|a continuing series|
An excellent path to help us think-through the pastoral task within the human condition -- by which I mean the common experiences we share as humans; the struggle for meaning, the common estrangement we feel with nature, with each other and even within ourselves, the problem of evil around us and in ourselves, and the common experience of death -- is to latch on to some of St. Paul's thoughts at the end of his letter to the churches in Galatia.
Paul is embroiled in a steep controversy with the Galatians. He is answering the question: Must followers of the Jesus-way become Hebrews (experience circumcision) before being accepted as Christians?
Much is at stake here, including the Christian Gospel. But, what must be remembered is that this issue is so divisive that the Galatian fellowship is ruptured and on the brink of destroying itself (Gal. 5:15).
In Galatians 6:1-5, Paul brings his argument to a conclusion. He writes:
1 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. 2 Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 If any of you think you are something when you are nothing, you deceive yourselves. 4 Each of you should test your own actions. Then you can take pride in yourself, without comparing yourself to somebody else, 5 for each of you should carry your own load.
For our present purposes I want us to notice the sound council for pastoral ministry within the context of the human condition:
- Sin abounds, but in the context of this letter, sin (which I define as the self-life -- I live for me and literally the hell with everybody else) is what violates the community fellowship [see: 5:26]. This is typical of the text. It pulls no punches. Sin catches all of us, and sometimes it cracks open wide our fellowships, leaving shredded hearts. This realism is necessary for pastoral ministry to occur.
- Those who are controlled by the Spirit apply restoration. This, of course, is the goal of pastoral ministry -- restoration. We are called to bring back the fallen from the brink; we are called to love beyond our own ego (this is what it means to be controlled by the Spirit)
- Restoration involves helping carry the burdens of another. This means we witness the ravages of sin within the body of Christ, we see it all, and we get down in the sheep pen, getting sheep shit all over us, and we lift the load. There is no other way to see the work. If it is genteel or pristine (all theory) it is not pastoral ministry.
- We must always keep in mind our own load of sin. I know of no pastor of worth who is not profoundly challenged by her own sinful heart. "How can I minister knowing my own life?" The only excuse I have for pastoring is the calling. Other than my calling, I have no business doing any of this.