Building the Perfect Pastor: Thoughts from Capon III

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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. You can find the first two installments here and here.

When last we visited the topic of the role of the pastor, we heard about Capon’s first two criteria: pastors are to be faithful and wise. Last, and certainly not least, said pastors must also be stewards. And what does it mean to be a steward? It means that the pastor is in charge of making sure that everybody gets fed their square meal of the gospel.

Instead of calling for celebrity chefs, Jesus sets his stewards up to be “faithful household cooks,” to “provide [the rest of the servants] with food at the proper time.” Pastors are called to serve their congregations the meat, potatoes, and green leafy vegetables of the Law and the Gospel. The world will provide your congregation with all of the sugary indulgences of ego and the cheap liquor of idolatry that they can stomach. As a preacher, you need to make sure that they eat healthy at least once a week.

And so, when you prepare your sermons, throw away the piping bag full of icing. Stash the hip chili sauce of moral exhortation (Sriracha, I’m looking at you). Don’t worry about prepping an appetizer plate full of light and airy jokes. It’s like being an army cook. Get them fed. Fed on the hearty food of the Law and the Gospel. Fed on the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Fed so that they can go out into the world and not faint for lack of nutritional value.

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.

Next time: Thoughts from Eugene Peterson that have nothing to do with the Message.

Building the Perfect Pastor: Thoughts from Capon II

dog-capon-obit-blog427Though 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 (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. You can find the first installment here.

While not as punny as his first pastoral criteria, Capon’s second musing on the requirements for pastoral ministry is no less topsy-turvy. He writes that, in addition to being faithful, the pastor must be wise. But, despite Capon’s credentials as a professor of New Testament Greek, he binds no intellectual or experiential requirements to the wisdom of pastorhood. Instead, like Paul, he points out that true pastoral wisdom is realizing the paradox that your hands are empty and full at the same time. The wise pastor is the pastor who realizes that “the world is already drowning in its efforts at life; it does not need lifeguards who swim to it carrying the barbells of their own moral and spiritual efforts.” The wise pastor’s hands lie empty because the wise pastor refuses to carry any of the self-help and character improvement that burdens the wisdom of the world. And yet, though empty of wordly wisdom, God has filled the wise pastor’s hands with foolishness, the folly of the cross that is wiser than human wisdom (1 Cor 1.25). “Preachers are to come honestly emptyhanded to the world, because anyone who comes bearing more than the folly of the kerygma -of the preaching of the word of the cross” has completely missed the boat. The paradox of pastoral ministry is that it relies not on worldy wisdom, power, or social adeptness, but on the stumbling-block foolishness of a crucified, carpenter King.

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 part 3.

Building the Perfect Pastor: Thoughts from Capon

dog-capon-obit-blog427

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.

Beware the Third Peacock on the Left

In his book, Irrational Man, William Barrett referred to theodicy as the great tragicomedy of philosophy. In The Third Peacock, Robert Farrar Capon tackles the subject, with a special emphasis on the comedy.

I am a big fan of Capon’s work (a line from his book Bed and Board gave this blog its name). His wit and his ability to toe the line of absurdity make him a dangerous theologian to tangle with. In The Third Peacock, he takes on the usual attempts to explain evil in the world, and finds each one lacking. In their places, he takes his readers on a theological journey where necessity is replaced by adventure and logic is replaced by love. For those involved in the day to day work of pastoral care, The Third Peacock is worth reading for the way in which Capon’s writing knocks down the tired cliches that tragedy continually drags forth. That’s not to say that Capon provides his readers with an easy one-liner to replace the cliches. Instead, he guides his readers into really thinking about God, His creation, and suffering.

The Third Peacock isn’t only useful to spur thinking on the problem of evil. In fact, the seventh chapter, entitled “The Hat on the Invisible Man,” is pure ecclesiological gold. As a capstone to his argument, Capon lays out one of the best short definitions of the church that I’ve ever read. He slyly rebukes proponents of the church as principally a well-spring of social service and calls for a return to a ministry of Word and Sacrament that takes seriously the reality of Christ’s presence. It’s masterful stuff, and at only 119 pages, it can be read in two or three days. If you’re a pastor, The Third Peacock is ignored at your own peril. If you’re not, it’s enjoyable enough to be read anyways.