The Subversive Pastor–Part I

The Pastor is often viewed as a docile and marginal creature by other seemingly more significant beings. However, the pastor must remember that his calling from an invisible God is a subversive calling.  Jesus, God in flesh, walked planet earth as a subversionary example for his present and future disciples. A subversionary leader is one who “intends to subvert, overthrow, destroy, or undermine an established or existing system…” This kind of leader is often antagonized by the religious holding the status quo and ill-treated by the ungodly.

The pastor, as a subversionary leader, is called to preach the gospel and pastor the flock in a world that is opposed to Christ.  The pastor is subversive when he, in the power of the Holy Spirit, preaches the word, counsels the saint, shares Christ with unbelievers, and when he restores the broken. The very nature of his calling is subversive.  In his book, The Contemplative Pastor, Eugene Peterson writes, “In general, people treat us with respect, but we are not considered important in any social, cultural, or economic way.  In parody we are treated as harmless innocents, in satire as shiftless parasites. This is not what most of us had in mind when we signed on.  We had not counted on anything either so benign or so marginal.” (Peterson, 29)

As pastors we know we are important in the economy of God, but most of the world (and even a portion of church folk) do not seem to agree with God’s view found in his Word.  Too often we vacillate between accepting others view of our role and trusting in God’s call as defined in his word. Peterson writes, “Many pastors…slip into the role of chaplain to the culture…But some pastors do not; they become subversives in the culture.” (Peterson, 30)

I have tried to make it a personal goal to be a subversive pastor and writer.  It is my desire to take the people of God under the surface of the ordinary to the extraordinary where the Spirit of God is moving in glory and mystery.  The Holy Spirit is the real agent of subversion in the heart of the pastor and the one he is ministering to at any given moment. The Apostle Paul wrote, “I Cor. 2:10-12 “But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. 11 No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit.12 And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us.”

The pastor’s real power for subversive ministry comes from deep prayer, quiet meditation on the Word,  a deep listening to others, and courage to move others from the surface of the ordinary to the depth of the extraordinary.  We must take listening to people serious because God does. Pastors, as subversive listeners, wait as a harpooner on a whaling vessel poised for the right time to speak into the life of the individual before them. In his book, Moby Dick, Herman Melville writes of the importance of the still harpooner before the tossing waves and the wicked whale.  He writes, “To insure the greatest efficiency in the dart, the harpooners of this world must start to their feet out of idleness, and not out of toil.” Peterson comments on Melville by writing, “It is a strategic necessity that pastors deliberately ally themselves with the quiet, poised harpooners, and not leap, frenzied to the oars.  There is far more need that we develop the skills of the harpooner than the muscles of the oarsmen.” (Peterson, 25)

So, it is not possible to be a subversive pastor without a quiet prayer life, a meditative devotional life, a deliberate commitment to listening deeply into the lives of others, and a courage to speak the truth in love.  We must, as subversionary counselor-pastors, look and listen for opportunities to move others from the surface of their self-proclaimed mundane lives to the subterranean spiritual life where God is at work and life is teeming with hope.

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