This is my final entry in the “Fruitful Solo Pastor” series. Over the past several weeks, I’ve listed a variety of skills, traits, and qualities that are characteristic of fruitful solo pastors. While most – probably all – can be applicable to pastors who serve on staffs with other pastors, I’ve tried looking through my particular lens as a solo pastor. The list was never intended to be exhaustive, so I wonder what other traits and skill-sets you would suggest? Feel free to contribute in the comments section below, but for today we will look at the final trait: holy discontent or, aka, rebel rousing.
One of the most formative books I’ve ever read was G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. His poetic prose and audacious surety stirred within me new possibilities and gave me a new language with which to speak. With chapter titles like “The Maniac,” “The Ethics of Elfland,” and “The Eternal Revolution,” Chesterton’s avant-garde approach to traditional orthodoxy made the Christian faith interesting to me again. Moreover, when “I had heard that I was in the wrong place…my soul sang for joy, like a bird in spring.” I think there is a trait, an internal understanding, a Christian imagination within fruitful solo pastors that understands this is the “wrong” place – that the way things aren’t the way they are supposed to be – and that realization fosters within them a holy discontent. Fruitful solo pastors see the world vis a vis the light of heaven. They have seen glimpses of the new earth and rebel against this one in order to bring about the new.
A couple weeks ago I alluded to Greg Jones and Kavin Rowe’s concept of Traditioned Innovation. Such an understanding holds to the past, while also acknowledging – in the words of ESPN’s Ron “Jaws” Jaworski – “We have too many historians in this world; I’m looking for pioneers.” But innovation for innovation’s sake is not being faithful to the Christian tradition. Rather, true Christian innovation is birthed and shaped by our living tradition. Our tradition as Christians, in fact, demand and necessitate innovation.
The Testaments of scripture are replete with examples of innovation, shaped and informed by the past, as God continually works in new, different, and particular ways.
I think solo pastors, especially the fruitful ones, really get this – and they strive to make the churches they serve understand it as well.
Too many of our United Methodist small-membership churches are treading in their 1968 bath waters and have changed far too little. Sadly their “tradition” can too frequently be confined to their nostalgic re-membering of their own histories. What good it would do to remind them of the book of Acts, for example, and how early Christians strove to tell the “old, old story” in new, fresh, and particular ways. And what good it would do to be reminded that this “old, old story” isn’t primarily about us, our desires, or how we want worship to be. These realizations, at least according to the testimony of Acts, are not easy or neat. They are combative and disruptive. They are messy. They are costly. ButThey are faithful to the God who wants “all to be saved” through the Good News of Jesus.
There is something naturally rebellious about the Christian message. It is subversive, while being transformative. It is adventurous, unending, and relentlessly enduring. It loves us exactly the way we are, but way too much to let us stay that way.
Fruitful ministries are grown from the Vine of the God revealed in Jesus Christ. This God knows no limits to His grace, mercy, and love.
“Once [we] have seen Him in a stable, [we] can never be sure where He will appear or to what lengths He will go or to what ludicrous depths of self-humiliation He will descend in His wild pursuit of [you and me].” Frederick Buechner’s The Hungering Dark.
God tenaciously goes after the world in humiliating and self-deprecating ways, all because God so deeply and profoundly loves us. God doesn’t the world to be as it is, but on a mission to “make all things new.”
Fruitful solo pastors just seem to get this. And everything they do is bent toward joining up and participating with God.