What is a Pastor?

Today I watched portions of John MacArthur and well...

What is a pastor?

Pastor someone that you see on a Sunday, or on a Saturday, or on a Wednesday, or whatever day you happen to go and participate in your worship service of choice. The pastor is that person that stands up there and preaches, right?

At least, that's what I think most people think of when they think of pastor—that’s what you and I are told.

But for me, that's not going to cut it.

Let’s look at it at the word itself. Fancy word time—etymology (or the history of a word and how and why it works the way it does. Here is the etymology for pastor...

pastor (n.)
late 14c. (mid-13c. as a surname), "shepherd," also "spiritual guide, shepherd of souls," from Old French pastor, pastur "herdsman, shepherd" (12c.), from Latin pastorem (nominative pastor) "shepherd," from pastus, past participle of pascere "to lead to pasture, set to grazing, cause to eat," from PIE root *pa- "to feed; tend, guard, protect." The spiritual sense was in Church Latin (e.g. Gregory's "Cura Pastoralis"). The verb in the Christian sense is from 1872.

This, I think falls short however.

You see “Pastor” is not just a noun. It's a verb and it's an adjective. It's an action-it’s so much more.

And I'm sorry, if that offends you; if it offends what you’ve been told. Pastor is not some man, and only a man, that is gifted to preach and teach and shepherd.

So what is it? It is a person that gives advice, guidance, leadership, and service in a way that truly helps lead people see the divine.

A Pastor is not a woman or a man-gender is not a requirement for a pastorate.

A pastor is one that helps us hold bigger intentionality helping us move past binaries about God; all the while expanding our relationships with each other as a body and with God.

It is one that comes alongside people and loves as well as lifts them up all the while in counsel with them and God.

Getting back to the concept of a shepherd....

A healthy pastor, upon seeing those entrusted to them eating the field down to nothing, realizes how unhealthy this can be and lovingly leads to new pastures and new fields to graze in. Often this path requires many pastors and intentionality.

How does someone do that though? Look out at a field and determine if it’s still a safe place to be, if safe is even the answer to a question that needs to be asked? It will require the intentional allowing by we the congregation to give space to pastors to turn off, to not answer the phone, to be “not clergy” for a season. Back to the field.

Pastor's are allowed to be prophetic, to counsel, live, cry with, grieve with, laugh with, and yes at times even fail people-maybe even be allowed to be honest about their doubts.

You see Pastor for me is not a noun. Yes, it's a vocation. And yes, it's a job, but is also a call to living. I mean think about it. So many things are and so many, so many people are so much bigger than their job. I think of teachers. They're loving and self giving and self sacrifices, often to their own detriment, doing what they can to ensure that those that they are trying to instruct have the tools necessary to learn.

I think of nurses that self sacrificially pour out their emotions to those that are literally broken and not just to the patients but also with the families as well as the fellow staff. They too are in community with people, and are more than their vocation. I could do this for every single job, we are more than our vocation.

And pastor is often a beautiful expression of what the love of God is, what Christ's love is, not someone that constantly yells at you (I’m looking at you MacArthur). Not someone that constantly berates you and tells you that you're not allowed to be something or do something because of who you are. Be that gender, sexual preferences, or race-it's not somebody that does that.

It's someone that intentionally make sure again, that you have fresh grass to eat that you're well fed that you know that you're loved by the one that made the field. And the one that makes the grass, and the one that made you. And the one that made the pastor.

We, together, lament. Notre Dame…

My phone is constantly, incessantly, bombarding me with notifications and quite often times I just ignore them. Today, however, it went off like someone important had been shot and killed. My first responsive thought

Dear God no, another mass shooting!

Thankfully this was not the case. Instead what I saw was news alerts peppered from all sorts of sources around the globe detailing that Norte Dame was on fire.

My first reaction was that this couldn’t be or that it would soon be handled. So I went on with my day at work and largely forgot about it. A few hours passed and again the notifications. This time I quickly glanced and what I saw had left me in horror.

I watched on repeat as the spire collapsed under the weight of its own framing. Those that know me will tell you how often I am at a loss for words, yet today I am.

I do however have a few things to say. I’m watching so many people demonize whom they call “other” and accuse them of vandalizing and doing something to purposefully cause this. There have been no corroborating reports that I have seen of this and so my brethren, I would ask you to show patience and have some empathy for those impacted. So too have I seen outpourings of love and compassion towards the communities that this is impacting. I’ve watched followers of the faith gather together to sing, pray, lament, and be in community with one another.

There are countless metaphors running through my head. Many of which are informed by the content I have been intentionally dealing with for this show over these past years. I can’t help but think of the symbolism of our church as I watch a symbol literally burn up and fall before my eyes. I won’t take this metaphor further than that though…you can if you like.

I also am reminded that change comes. Change is hard and heartbreaking as it comes. Change, if we will let it, will push us to grow. Painfully at times and this will most certainly be one of those times as we process this loss. We as a community need one thought as we press forward.

The form of faith you call home is inconsequential compared to love. The love that we display for one another is what will matter. Hold one another. Grieve if you need too and give others the space needed to do the same. As we enter into Holy Week know that Christ is bigger than any building and grander than any symbol or church cathedral.


The Most Impactful Episodes for Me in 2018 - Part 3 - Dominique Gilliard

This is part 3 of a larger series:


I honestly cannot remember how I first heard of Dominique, but I know that the moment I did I had to pursue it further. I distinctly remember sending IVP an email asking if a conversation would be an option, and they coordinated it. Then I was off to do what I do and prep for this episode.

Some context as to why this would be a hard conversation to prepare for: All past chats had dealt specifically, or mostly, with theology and interpretation directly. So few, if any, of the episodes had much to do with application of what it looks like to live with the tension of what Christ calls us to do and not just believe. Thinking back on this, I can clearly see in my note-taking, and in my sequencing of questions, the reason behind this. To be concise, I was afraid to push people at a personal level in their communities and afraid to be entirely open in my public voice. Theology is one thing, but religion, politics, racism are all topics that turn away friends and those closest to you while they wonder, “What happened to him?” What happened? Jesus happened.

Hell, atonement, ecology, etc.—they are big words that deal with a larger community involved. They call us to face God at a deeply personal level, and at that level the growth that comes is often moving us forward, even when what that looks like is hard to articulate. But at work, at home, in person, seemed to me to move the needle very little with how I presented and postured myself in front of others.

I remember the day I cracked open Dominique’s </I>Rethinking Incarceration</i>. I was at my son’s baseball practice; it was freezing outside so I watched from the car and read off and on as the kids batted and (tried) to catch pop flies. Then the words:

The church must confess that its support of a broken criminal justice system has emboldened systematic injustice. One of the ways the church has been complicit in our criminal injustice system is our uncompromising support of law-and-order legislation. We must repent of our complicity. Repentance requires naming sin, renouncing it, and turning away from it in order to return to God. (emphasis mine)*

They haunted me. How had I not known this? At some level I feel like I always did, but had been fine to let “government” work this out. Surely they were better or smarter at the convo than I was. Surely they had worked this out already. I read of private prisons and the economy of them. Of the slavery that still exists and of the apathy or blatant complacency that those that call Jesus Lord had about it.

This book caused me to deal with things more openly than I wanted to. But to do it right, I’d have to step well outside that comfort zone and be more vocal. I used to think that my voice was so small it didn’t matter. But in wrestling with this book and in wrestling with the conversation with Dominique about mass incarceration, I instead learned the value of one voice. I may not have a megaphone, but what I do have is two hands and two feet—and I’ve been called to use them for Christ. It was time I acted like it.

Nothing was the same for me after reading this book. The way I view criminals, the way I look at punishment, and the way (more importantly) I view forgiveness and grace for those that have wronged others. It’s made me a better person.

In closing, I’ll end with a voice raised with lyrics from the song woven into the episode by A New Liturgy:

Can’t we just admit together we’re not fine? Cause I’m not fine and you’re not fine. Can’t we just admit together we’re afraid? Cause I’m afraid and you’re afraid. Can’t we just admit together we have doubts? Cause I have doubts—do you have doubts? Can’t we just admit together we’re not free? Cause I’m not free and I wanna be. If you’re not free, then sing with me. Emmanuel-God with us today.

Miss the episode with Dominique find it everywhere it is or here you go:

This is part 3 of a larger series if you’ve missed parts one or 2 check them out right here: part 1 / part 2

*Dominique Gilliard: Rethinking Incarceration - p46

The Most Impactful Episodes for Me in 2018 - part 2 - Alexander Shaia

Deciding on the next conversation to follow-up on part one of the most impactful episodes, and why, from last year was a hard one for me. As I’ve said before, each episode holds a special place for entirely different reasons; and yet, as I’ve given it thought over the past weeks since the post about the Eternal Current (if you haven’t read that I’d recommend it) the episodes and corresponding conversations that come to mind for me are the ones with Alexander Shaia. 

The Most Impactful Episodes for Me in 2018 - part 1- Aaron Niequist

This past year of discussing faith and life with some of the most genuine and brilliant minds on the show has been so fulfilling. I am partial to each and every one of them for so many reasons but a few changed me in ways that I’m most grateful for. Over the next few weeks I’ll discuss those few:

Aaron Niequist:

Somehow I had been able to at least fake that I knew what I was doing on this podcast. I’d emailed a publisher directly; luckily, they’d responded. Soon enough I’d be conversation with Dominique Gilliard about mass incarceration (which was a great conversation, but another time) and at the end of our chat I was at a loss for words. Dominque’’s book left me unsettled and entirely sad. It left me feeling hopeless, even though I know we are called to be hope when there is none. In short this book left me in lament—and American’s hate lament. For a considerable amount of time I stayed there and this posed a problem…the music.

Each episode is, for me, entirely unique, and so I try with intention to match the music for each episode to the subject of discussion. Not that I wouldn’t love one day to have a theme music, but right now I most often find, and worship, God through song. At some base level my heart sings things that my mouth is unable to voice. It’s overwhelming and entirely worth it; but which music could honestly fit a conversation about prison. For me I found that the music and the intentionality of the liturgies from A New Liturgy by Aaron Niequist. So I emailed and fast-forward a few weeks and boom…music is set and I felt comfortable with the emotion in the music fitting with the intention of the episode.

Often that’s the end of it for me: record topic, find music, insert, go on to the next thing. But this was different.

Aaron, in his response about music, asked if I’d be interested in chatting about a book he was writing that would come out mid-summer. So, being in the position I was in at the time, of course I said yes. Who would say no? The hardest part is always securing the interview.

The Eternal Current:

So I began reading the Eternal Current and what my heart had found in the music of A New Liturgy, my head found in the pages. Aaron’s book shook me, not because of the content, necessarily, but because of the introduction to The Examen form of prayer. In the past I’d meandered about in contemplation but never really tried to engage in it. But if I was to be able to speak with Aaron about his book that would need to change. So why not try?

Months went by and, as my wife will tell you, I don’t come to sleep early so I filled those times, intentionally, with the Examen. This process had me getting into parts of me that I’m still today working on and, through Christ, reforming and hopefully turning into a better human that I was yesterday and the years prior. I find the struggle and angst in my own being. I find facets of Jesus that I had never seen prior—both in God and in myself. As the weeks fade, it is finally time. Fire up the laptop, hit record, dial-up Aaron, and after the usual “can you hear me?” and sound checks ask him if he’s ready to go? The answer was yes but with a caveat.

Slight Changes:


Times up. Time to rock and roll and work through this hour, all the while desperate to not make a fool of myself—a constant fear, in the discussion of God and the current of life, as we are called to join into the presence and peace of God. The difference this time, though, is me.

So the reason this conversation has helped foster some change in me:

Aaron asked me some questions: “How are you? What is God doing in your life through this? How is this podcast changing you? How has the book sat with you?” Honestly it took me aback…usually I’m the one asking the questions and I felt bare. But honestly I needed that and I think I was, and am, at a point I was healthy enough to answer that question.

Fast forward 20 minutes and I realized something in me had shifted. Community was happening in real time between a man I’ve never actually met as we spoke with conviction about how God was working in our lives. I was ready to talk about what I was ready to talk about but Aaron slowed me down.

This conversation and the practices from the book that fostered it have helped me slow down and see the patterns in life that I need to flow in too. To find grace where before I saw annoyance, to find compassion where before I saw rigidity; and it stems from slowing down.

If you’ve not heard this episode before you can find it on iTunes and right here: