In the monastic stream of the Christian tradition, men and women with religious vocations removed themselves from the daily comings and goings of life with people in cities and towns so that they instead had to be sought out in remote places. This is not the model for being a pastor in any contemporary church in North America that I’ve ever seen. For our era, pastors show up to stuff. They might visit you at work. They meet people in coffee shops as much as in their office. Pastors are still sought out by people in the church or the community in need of particular counsel or aid, but my pastoral training at least did not encourage me to sit in the church and wait to be sought. It told me to seek.
Our expectation of pastors in this regard suggests an expectation of church and the role we want it playing in peoples’ lives–not marginal, but central. Not a fragment. We hope that the church is a sort of central hub of relationships, meaning, and conviction that informs all the other parts of our peoples’ lives, not just something they do on Sunday. When they’re not traveling. Or working. Or at a soccer game.
For some people, that expectation is easy and enlivening to meet. Some contexts, too, make that rhythm of church life easier and more natural. But in others, the church is a fragment in the lives of people who are committed to multiple challenging and important things in multiple spaces, from the home to the workplace, the school to the neighborhood, the gymnastics team to the food pantry. In those contexts, maybe urging pastors to seek admission to their peoples’ other fragments is less beneficial, pastorally, than advising them to embrace the fragment they’re given and to do the most they can with it.
Is there some vitality for these latter contexts in that monastic stream of the Christian tradition that makes of the church the sought community and the pastor the sought figure? Is it okay for those pastors to occupy themselves mostly with work at the church, then, and to worry less about getting out to peoples’ workplaces and soccer games, to pour themselves into preparing for people experiences and spaces that, while but a fragment, perhaps invigorate and transform their other fragments?