This post is part of a blog series on Pomomusings, discussing pastoral identity. To read about the series, as well as get a full schedule of participants, click here.
When I was learning how to preach in the 1980s, the two choices for pastoral identity were 1) prophet or 2) poet. I was told by a preaching professor that those were our two basic choices. The assumption was that both voices were pastoral, but just one could be dominant.
God knows that we need both prophets and poets in pastoral ministry, but the 21st Century Church first and foremost needs leaders who cast a vision. Yes, we can also be doctors of the soul, fixers, and scholars. But our unique identity as pastors is Vision Caster.
This is not to say that we are called to pitch a random vision which serves our particular and personal hopes and dreams. We know pastors like that and it’s scary. (His vision is that “This is a stepping stone to greater things” for him. Her vision is that “This is the forum from which she’ll make a name for herself.”) No.
What’s at least as dangerous, is the pastor with no vision of any kind. Yes, we all know that the people perish without a vision (thank you Proverbs 29:18 KJV) but first they’ll die of boredom and disengagement.
No, I’m talking about The Vision – that vision which is our very best interpretation of God’s revelation of a world that looks like heaven on earth. In the thick of our lives – overwhelmed by screen-addiction and ordinary cruelties, by narrow-mindedness on both sides of the political aisle and gun violence that no longer outrages us – God knows we need a vision. That vision comes from the parables of Jesus, from the stories of his first followers, from the history of the Hebrew people and the wisdom of ancient days.
The world casts a vision and we know it so well that it’s become our default narrative. It’s a false vision. It erroneously teaches us that:
- Stuff will feed our souls.
- Sex will make life exciting without necessarily meaning much.
- Poverty is what happens only to people who don’t make good choices.
- Being pro-life is a narrowly defined political stance.
- We should feel shame if we don’t measure up to our peers.
- Numbing out is the best way to cope with life.
- Excluding people who make us uncomfortable is perfectly acceptable.
Jesus lived and died exuding a different vision that – in my book – is a better way to live our lives. My identity as a pastor – in the way I preach and mostly (yet imperfectly) in the way I live – is to cast a vision towards a different way.
Jan Edmiston is the Associate Executive Presbyter for Ministry in the Presbytery of Chicago after serving as a parish pastor for 27 years. In addition to being a pastor, she also identifies as a partner, mom, Tarheel, and writer. Her blog is A Church for Starving Artists.