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The Pastoral Mandate

24 July 2007

18 months ago a brother introduced qb to Thomas a Kempis, which turned qb loose into a season of dwelling in the more contemplative, reflective literature. It has been deeply enriching. Time will tell, or course, whether it has been equipping as well. The modern names will be familiar: Peterson, Nouwen, Foster, Andrew Murray. And there is a common, insistent, pastoral strain, often invisible but ever present, that runs under the surface of their writings.

“Never forget, O man of God, that suffering is the norm, not the exception. And the gospel that you preach, through the way you live as well as what you speak, must be congruent with that.”

* * *

What is the “remnant?” It is a broken people awaiting promises that never seem to come. It is a suffering people awaiting relief that is always around the next corner. It is an oppressed people awaiting justice that always seems to tilt the other way. It is a sinful people groaning for transformation that ever eludes our grasp. It is the Jesus way (Peterson’s phrase). It is the way of community, of “life together” (Bonhoeffer’s phrase), a life of tantalizing prospects that never materialize, a life of moving from one enslavement to another. The life of the remnant is a life of always seeking and seldom finding, a life toiling under Pharaoh and Ahab and Jeroboam and Sennacherib, Herod and Manasseh and Pilate and Domitian.

Does that ring true to you?

Is your gospel – I mean, the one you really live, the one you really believe – congruent with that? Or is your gospel the gospel of Osteen, the gospel of 21st-century American dreams, the gospel of plenty and harmony and entitlement, political freedom and unlimited blessing in the here and now?

In the midst of it all, the life of the remnant is a life of never ending, always abiding joy, in no small measure because of the fellowship – the fellowship of His sufferings, the fellowship of “two or three” in the midst of whom Jesus is pleased to dwell.

That, my friends, is our task as shepherds-in-training: to come to an understanding of life that is congruent with Jesus’ experience, and then to communicate that understanding by the way we live and the words we speak into the lives of others, the buildings we build and the songs we sing. The pastoral mandate is ruthless realism: we are fallen, profoundly broken.

And yet…


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