Building the Perfect Pastor: Thoughts from Capon


Though it may come as a surprise to some who know me, the two authors that have made the greatest contribution to my identity as a pastor are not, denomination-wise, Lutherans. They are an Episcopal priest, Robert Farrar Capon, and a Presbyterian pastor, Eugene Peterson. In this new (infrequently) recurring feature, I will lay out some of the insights that I’ve learned from the two of them, as I endeavor to build the perfect pastor, or at least the perfect job description.

Robert Capon (whom I have mentioned before, see here and here) was a pastor after my own heart. He adored New Testament Greek, he appreciated French cooking, and he had a bitterly ironic sense of humor. Perhaps then, it’s no surprise that I resonate with his thoughts on pastoring. While ruminating on the parable of the faithful and wise steward, he puts forward a intriguing argument. The faithful and wise steward, he says, is Jesus’ idea of a pastor. And in following our Lord’s job line of thinking, pastors will be faithful and wise and stewards. Beginning today with faithful, I’m going to tackle his thoughts on each of those three requirements.

In some sense, the requirement to be faithful stands as the most simple requirement. But as anyone who’s taken a cursory glance at this blog knows, it’s the simple that you’ve got to watch out for. Because being faithful means being called to believe and to wait. In a world of doing, in a world of moving and shaking, in a world where 30 seconds of buffering is an eternity, you can see where the difficulty lies. The difficulty lies in not trying to take responsibility for the success of Jesus’ endeavor to save the lost and despairing. It lies in not having much to do other than talk about what Jesus has already done. As Capon writes, “Their vocation is simply to be faithful waiters on the mystery of Jesus’ coming in death and resurrection.” Well, then, you might ask, what’s a pastor to do? Just sit and read in their office all day until the Lord returns? While that’s not a half bad idea, I’d point you back to the lines I just quoted. There’s a fun play on words here: the stewards are also waiters! So, pastors set the table of the Lord’s Supper and preach the Word. And just like waiters, the most important thing is that the pastor is not in charge of the establishment. Just as the wait-staff in a fine dining establishment generally has no hand in the branding, the menu, or the aesthetic of the restaurant, the pastor’s not leading any charge forward or innovating solutions. All that a church needs to see from their pastor is “their commitment to the ministry of waiting for, and waiting on, the only Lord who has the keys of death (Rev. 1:18).”

For those interested in reading Capon’s thoughts in their original context, you can find them in: Kingdom, Grace, Judgement: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002, 243-245. Check back soon for parts 2 and 3.