Simplicity Part 7: Pastoral reflection

For someone who has the pastoral role, simplicity is part of the role by definition. One of the words pastors have been called for years is parson — which is an alternative spelling for “person.” A minister does not clock out at the end of the workday. Vocational ministry is something that becomes part of who the minister is, as opposed to something that a person does.

This radical simplicity though is contrasted by talk of the need for a balanced life. While a minister cannot clock out of that role, the same is true for anyone who is in a relationship, whether that is the relationship between family members or friends. A vocational ministry is accepting the role of relationship both with God, and with a community of people seeking to grow in their relationships with God.

Relationships are time consuming, and can be a lot of work. When seminaries talk about issues such as self-care, and living a balanced life, these are advices on doing what is necessary to take care of ourselves so that we can continue to give to these relationships. Too often, pastors focus on the relationships within the congregation to the point of neglecting their own health, or the health of their family relationships.

Unfortunately, the simplicity of not needing to step out of the professional role introduces a complexity to relationships that are independent of the pastoral role. A pastoral role is, by definition, one sided. Pastoral care is concerned with the needs of others, but puts aside the need of self. This is an acceptable role, as it is similar to the role of any other caretaker however every person has their own needs. While the pastor remains defined by that role, there is a need of other roles that are more equal.

While in many ways people are simple, and we yearn for greater simplicity there is a danger of being simplistic rather than simple. When we are simplistic, we forget that even with simple rules, we live in an elaborate universe. The math behind gravity, for example, is simple enough that High School students are expected to solve it in their math and physics classes, yet we have to consider that this simple principle exists for every object. Our relationships are simple, however every additional relationship adds complexity to our lives. We are like the planetary system where we live — ultimately everything in the solar system orbits the sun, however every object in the Solar system pulls on every other object. Even those who live in Christian simplicity, and clearly have God as their one thing are pulled by those around them.

Ultimately, the goal of simplicity, as a pastor, is the goal of being a “safe person”. Simplicity is fulfilling the role of the caregiver without playing politics and posturing for what are truly small and temporary gains. Simplicity is honestly listening, and respecting the value of people and relationships. Simplicity makes pastoring possible.


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