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Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work

Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work

by Eugene H. Peterson


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802806604
Publisher: Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
Publication date: 10/28/1992
Edition description: REPRINT
Pages: 241
Product dimensions: 6.05(w) x 8.97(h) x 0.71(d)

About the Author

Eugene H. Peterson was a longtime pastor and is professor emeritus of spiritual theology at Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia. His many other acclaimed books include Tell It Slant, The Jesus Way, Eat This Book, and the contemporary translation of the Bible titled The Message.,

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Introduction (from pages 1-21)

PASTORAL WORK takes Dame Religion by the hand and drags her into the everyday world, introducing her to friends, neighbors, and associates. Religion left to herself is shy, retiring, and private; or else she is decorative and proud—a prima donna. But she is not personal and she is not ordinary. The pastor insists on taking her where she must mix with the crowd.

When pastoral work is slighted, religion tends, among some, to become gaudy with ceremonial, among others to get cubbyholed as a private emotion. In either case she still does many things well: her theology can be profound, her meditations mystic, her moral counsels wise, her liturgies splendid. But until she is dragged into the common round she is not alive with Good News nor does she have a chance to put her ideas and beliefs to use, testing them out in actual life-situations.

Pastoral work is that aspect of Christian ministry which specializes in the ordinary. It is the pragmatic application of religion in the present. It has a horror of detachment, neutrality, studious isolation, or theoretic otherworldliness. It is the ministry in mufti.

Pastoral work properly originates, as does all Christian ministry, in the biblical sources. But for at least two generations the perspectives generated by recent behavioral sciences have dominated the literature directed to pastors. The rationale seems to be that since we are in a century of rapid change, that since so much of what we encounter is unprecedented, and that since there have been quantum leaps in knowledge and technology, anything that worked in an earlier age certainly won't work now. We must spend all of our time getting up-to-date. Training must be refashioned. The latest information must be acquired. New techniques must be mastered if we are to be pastors in the age of future shock.

A mood develops in which there is little respect for the past and even less knowledge of it. As the mood envelops pastoral work we are charmed into forgetting the very wisdom that we are called upon to share with others: the majestic reality of God and the immediate significance of each personal and local detail in the story of redemption. We are told that we must be au courant in the ways of looking at, studying, and working with persons, and that psychology and sociology will revolutionize our capabilities, putting us in the vanguard of those who will achieve a new human potential. But the work which has to do with the human's relation to God and God's will for the human does not come from knowing more about the times but from knowing humanity—and God. It has to do with continuities, not novelties; with what is essential in the human condition, not with what is accidental. That being the case, we are far more likely to get help from those whose experience has been tested in a variety of climates and cultures, and been demonstrated in the testing to be trustworthy.

When I look for help in developing my pastoral craft and nurturing my pastoral vocation, the one century that has the least to commend it is the twentieth. Has any century been so fascinated with gimmickry, so surfeited with fads, so addicted to nostrums, so unaware of God, so out of touch with the underground spiritual streams which water eternal life? In relation to pastoral work the present-day healing and helping disciplines are like the River Platte as described by Mark Twain, a mile wide and an inch deep. They are designed by a people without roots in an age without purpose for a people without God. The confluence of the sciences of psychology and sociology with the helping professions of the twentieth century is no mystery, for they suit one another admirable. Peter Marin voiced this complaint: "The refusal to consider moral complexities, the denial of history and a larger community, the disappearance of the Other, the exaggerations of the will, the reduction of all experience to a set of platitudes—all of that is to be found in embryonic form in almost all modern therapy." The same complaint can be made in regard to much present-day pastoral work.

It is not uncommon to find pastors who preach and teach biblically. The practice is by no means universal, but it is not rare. The emphases and achievements of the biblical theology movement have observable consequences in pulpits and church schools in most communities in North America. There is quite a different atmosphere, though, in other pastoral work. If in the past fifty years a solid biblical foundation has been rebuilt under pulpit and lectern, it has been consistently eroded in other areas where pastors regularly do their work. If there were once biblical foundations under the pastoral work that is normative between Sundays—work of counsel, guidance, comfort, prayer, administration, community-building—they are not there anymore, or at least they are not there conspicuously.

When I go to my library for instruction and nurture in my preaching and teaching I readily put my hands on volumes by Karl Barth and C. H. Dodd, John Bright and Donald Miller, George Buttrick and David Read, Brevard Childs and Gerhard von Rad. The scholars, theologians, and preachers who lead, support, and encourage me in proclaiming the biblical message and who instruct me in biblically informed understandings of the Christian faith are a magnificent company. If at any point I have failed to preach and teach biblically I have no one to blame but myself. No generation in the church's history has been so blessed with as devout and biblical a scholarship. But when I get up on Monday to face a week of parish routine I am handed books by Sigmund Freud and Abraham Maslow, Marshall McLuhan and Talcott Parsons, John Kenneth Galbraith and Lewis Mumford. It is a literature of humanism and technology. The pulpit is grounded in the prophetic and kerygmatic traditions but the church office is organized around IBM machines. The act of teaching is honed on biblical insights derived from historical, grammatical, form, and redaction criticism while the hospital visit is shaped under the supervision of psychiatrists and physicians. The sociologists, psychologists, management consultants, and community organizers of the twentieth century are brilliant. Their insights are dazzling and their instruction useful. I have profited a great deal under their tutelage, but I am ill at ease still. I can demonstrate acceptable competence in the skills I have been taught, but am I a pastor? I function adequately in a variety of dovetailed roles, but is there a biblical foundation providing solid, authoritative underpinning for what I am doing so that my daily work is congruent with the ancient ministries of prophet, priest, and wise man to which I am heir? My instructors frequently lift a text from the Bible to assure me that they are on my side, but the plain fact is that I never seem to meet pastoral companions, living or dead, in the culture that they nurture. Saving history, covenantal theology, incarnational thinking are on the periphery of their concerns and unacknowledged in their expertise. They teach me to be facile in playing roles and to be nimble in changing them. The pastoral work that results is not lacking in skills or usefulness—but I have little sense that it is indigenous to the world of faith, no feeling of having my practice develop from within the biblical world. I pick and choose my way through the books and articles, the lectures and seminars, cutting and pasting, plundering and salvaging anything that I think I can use. There is, of course, a great deal to be used.

Still, I am not satisfied. Having accepted the counsel of my contemporaries and having done what they have told me to do, I find that I want more. I want more than intelligent advice and competent training. I want a biblical base for the whole of pastoral ministry, and not just its preaching and teaching.


It is the unique property of pastoral work to combine two aspects of ministry: one, to represent the eternal word and will of God; and, two, to do it among the idiosyncrasies of the local and the personal (the actual place where the pastor lives; the named people with whom he or she lives). If either aspect is slighted, good pastoral work fails to take place. At its best such pastoral work narrates and models the biblically described exchanges of grace between God who is "the same yesterday, today, and forever" and the person who inherits old Adam's sin and experiences new Adam's salvation. In these exchanges the gift of God is consistent and the need of the person constant. Between the fixed poles of God's gift and the person's need there are variables. They occur in such a way that they cannot be charted on a graph showing a line through history of either ascent or decline. There are, simply, repeated instances, "cases," of interaction between the will of God and the will of persons. There are no lines of progress in pastoral work along which later generations reach new levels, outdistancing and outmoding their predecessors. What we find instead is depth: rich layers of accumulated evidence, some of it sifted out as wisdom. Many have made it their task to labor at the pastoral nexus in the divine economy—pastoral work operates out of a long tradition in Israel and church. It is essential to stay in touch, almost literally, with the biblical material and pastoral traditions where specific God-person exchanges take place. The Greek story of Antaeus is a myth of warning. Antaeus, one of the giant offspring of Mother Earth, always slept on the bare ground in order to conserve and increase his already colossal strength. Whenever he touched the earth, his strength revived. Hercules, in a wrestling match with the giant, noticed that every time he got the best of him and threw him to the ground, the giant's muscles swelled and a healthy flush suffused his limbs as Mother Earth revived him. So Hercules threw him down no more but held him high in the air, cracking his ribs one by one until he died. If pastoral work is removed from its ground it loses, like Antaeus, the strength to grapple with the complexities inherent in the work. Separation, by ignorance or forgetfulness, from the biblical pastoral traditions is responsible for two parodies of pastoral work: one, the naive attempt to help people on our own, as best we can, out of the natural compassion and concern we have for them; and two, the insensitive harangues from the pulpit, where, safe from the unmanageable ambiguities of bedroom and kitchen, shopping mall and workshop, corporate boardroom and legislative caucus, we confidently declaim the pure word of God to our confused flock. The Bible has the power to prevent either parody, either the naive humanist absorption into the world, or the pseudospiritual aloofness from the world. The Bible's paradigmatic interchanges of divine and human reality inform and renew pastoral capabilities so that the work can be practiced among the commonplaces of sin with no loss of the extraordinariness of grace. But if that is to be done, the idea of quick achievement and instant exploitation must be abandoned in order to develop, painstakingly, lives in Christ that are coherent and many-dimensioned.

Donald G. Miller writes:

The Bible is the prime requisite for our pastoral ministry. There is nothing more difficult to do than to deal intimately with people in personal relations. It is much easier to preach. Somebody once asked Gregory of Nazianzus a question. He replied, "I would rather answer that one in the pulpit!" It is easier to deal with men's needs in the mass in the sacred enclosure of the pulpit than to face them alone in the intimate relationship of a pastoral visit.

The present age, though, gives pastors little encouragement to keep in touch with this biblical heritage. America does not honor the quiet work that develops spiritual root systems and community stability. To avoid being swept along by the winds of change and conducting a ministry that is mostly improvisation, one must stubbornly dig one's heels into the ground. For it takes no skill to be "current"—to be in tune with what is going on in the world. Scattered conversations with neurotic, compulsive, depressed, and ambitious men and women through the day, supplemented with twenty minutes of newspaper reading in the morning and half an hour of television viewing in the evening keeps me in touch with what is "modern." The glib criticism that pastors in the twentieth century are out of touch with the times is, to me, not credible. The times are the very things we are in touch with.

I am in no way contemptuous of modern culture. I enjoy it and participate in it. It is the environment in which I have learned the love of Christ and the territory in which I share the work of Christ. At the same time, though, I am quite certain that it is a mistake to look for nutrients for my pastoral vocation from the stuff of the American twentieth century. Saul Bellow's Charlie Citrine is an accurate observer: "Maybe America didn't need art and inner miracles. It had so many outer ones. The USA was a big operation, very big. The more it, the less we." Which means that our culture is thinnest in the very areas in which I need the most help. I need encouragement to attend to God with steadfast faithfulness and the patience to immerse myself in the local and the personal. But our society marshals enormous resources and ingenuity to make things happen. Immense stores of knowledge can be computerized and used in scientific enterprises that boggle the mind. But the very persons who are doing these things are not in any sense "wise," that is, skilled in living. The scientists who put men on the moon cannot get along with their own wives and children. The politicians who impressively balance power struggles on an international scale are alienated from those who live closely with them. The artists who give us a "vision of reality" are full of rascality themselves.

The twentieth century may have its epiphanies but it is not a favorable time for the greater visions and wider circumspections. Its intellectuals especially are out of their depth in dealing with those dimensions of experience for which earlier epochs have found a language.

They are also out of touch with the particulars of creation and locales of redemption, having been swept away on the generalizations of mass movement and the impersonalizations of institutionalized work. This does not discredit their science, or politics, or art, or scholarship. It does, though, disqualify them as instructors in wisdom, that is, giving sound counsel in living whole and worthy lives in the context of God's creation and in response to Christ's redemption, which is the task assigned to pastoral work.

One might have supposed that a person who had learned to read Hebrew and Greek and been immersed in the sacred scriptures with the thoroughness that reading them in their original tongues requires, might be inoculated against fads. And one might suppose that one who had pondered the centuries-long story of a people's salvation, meditated the passion of Christ, and been instructed in the theology of Paul would not be easily lured from such moorings to make mythological guesses with clues provided by the story of Oedipus, or attempt to understand the children of God on models recently derived from the mentally ill, or be captivated by the murky prose of pretenders to the scientific method, but it has happened. Pastors are more likely to be conversant with the gestalt therapy of Frederick Perls than with the confessional prayers of Jeremiah of Anathoth. They are more adept at quoting Ralph Nader of Washington on consumer rip-offs than Isaiah of Jerusalem on peace. They are more enthusiastic over the reformism of Ivan Illich than over the reformer John Calvin. They are far more appreciative of and knowledgeable in the gnostic archetypes of Carl Jung than in the courageous arguments of Martin Luther. The Bible we use on Sundays is quickly replaced on Monday by the current organizational manual or counseling handbook or editorial insight. But pastoral work gathers expertise not by acquiring new knowledge but by assimilating old wisdom, not by reading the latest books but by digesting the oldest ones. "Knowledge is not intelligence." Since the work deals with what is local and essential in humankind—our relationships with God in a daily existence defined sub specie aeternitatis—the accumulated experience of those who have paid attention to and worked with these relationships most diligently holds the best promise for nurture. And since our age, cyclonic with change, does not encourage such an approach, deliberate effort must be directed to the old continuities in pastoral work. Otherwise we float on fads; or we develop pastoral strategies in response to the fake little cycles of death and rebirth which are monitored by the seasonal rise and fall of the hemline. Too much pastoral work in our time is a consequence of that kind of procedure—a gerry-built structure, hastily and desperately put together out of whatever is at hand from the graduate schools, the bestseller lists, and the latest opinion poll listings of what people want. "We deplore most of all," write Clebsch and Jaekle as they attempt to give historical depth to pastoral work, "the growing sense of discontinuity." Meanwhile scripture is at hand for those who will use it, foundation stones upon which a better pastoral work can be constructed.


In approaching scripture thus it is important to maintain a distinction between biblical foundation and pastoral superstructure. For there is not much pastoral work in scripture that can be taken over, as is, into a pastor's routines. Pastoral work is complex, a vast mixture of things in which the revelation of God in Christ and creation is put to work in what William Golding has called the "`ordinary universe.'" Since each culture, each generation, and each congregation has aspects of individuality, each generation of pastors, and to a certain extent each pastor, has to build his or her own superstructure of pastoral work. But we don't, and we must not, lay out our own foundations.

Pastors coming to scripture in search of foundation stones for their work are somewhat like those ancient peoples, whose histories are reconstructed for us by archeologists, who returned to a village after it had been destroyed. The sites for villages and cities were usually chosen for agricultural or strategic reasons. The place had access to water, or was easily defended against marauders, or, preferably, both. The homes and sanctuaries and city walls that were constructed on such sites were, with fair regularity, destroyed. Sometimes the destruction was the result of natural disaster— fire or earthquake. Sometimes it was by military invasion. The city would be left in rubble. But not for long. Because it was a good place for living the people would come back and rebuild. The new city would look different from the old. Sometimes the returning people would have learned a new design for building from the Philistines, or Cypriotes, or Egyptians and would build in a different style. Sometimes they would have learned something about improving fortifications and would build the new wall thicker and stronger. In the rebuilding they would use the materials that were already there—the old foundation stones—and they would build on the same site. As archeologists probe these layers of habitation they find the same foundation patterns and the same foundation stones used over and over and over again by successive generations of inhabitants.

Persons who are called to do pastoral work at this time in history are very much, it seems to me, in the position of those ancient peoples who, after a time of destruction, straggle back to the ruins and wonder how they are going to put it back together again. Pastoral traditions and pastoral craft have been smashed beyond recognition. We are in the country of Psalm 74:

the enemy has destroyed everything in the sanctuary!
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
At the upper entrance they hacked
the wooden trellis with axes.
And then all its carved wood
they broke down with hatchets and hammers.
They set thy sanctuary on fire;
to the ground they desecrated the dwelling place of thy name.
they burned all the meeting places of God in the land.
We do not see our signs.
(Ps. 74:3-9)

The well-wrought craftsmanship of pastoral visitation in Richard Baxter, for instance, where is that? The practiced skill in spiritual letter writing that is in Samuel Rutherford, where is that? The "passion of patience," surely one of the requisite skills for pastoral work, that is in Newman in the oratory at Birmingham, where is that? Instead of subtly nuanced abilities in pastoral visitation we get training in mass visitation movements, misnamed evangelism, that promise to fill the pews on Sundays. Instead of letters of spiritual counsel we get slogans designed for the mass media. Instead of models for patience we get pep talks and cheerleader yells to work up church spirit. And if our lumpish congregations refuse to wave their pom-poms on signal, we stalk off to another congregation, and another, until we find some people dumb enough to put up with such inanities.

We do not see our signs;
there is no longer any prophet,
and there is none among us who knows how long.
How long, O God, is the foe to scoff?
Is the enemy to revile thy name for ever?
(Ps. 74:9-10)

But we are not the first people to stand over the rubble and wonder which stone to put where in the rebuilding work. The "tell" of pastoral work is a considerable mound on the plain of ministry. And the strata of occupation are clear: there is an Augustinian layer, a Benedictine layer, a Franciscan layer, a Lutheran layer, a Calvinist layer, a Wesleyan layer, a Kierkegaardian layer—all using biblical stones. The one thing we must not do is wander off and try to find a new building site. The rebuilding must be done on the biblical site, using the biblical foundation stones.

There are any number of biblical documents at hand for doing this work. Deuteronomy, for instance, shows the marks of being used in this way more than once. Deuteronomy is a document which takes the old patriarchal and exodus traditions, reworks them in a new setting, and puts them to pastoral use in the age of Josiah. Matthew is an instance of the way in which the early kerygmatic and didactic materials of the apostolic age are shaped to pastoral use by the messianic community, the church. And there are others.

Among these other, more modest materials, are the Megilloth, the five scrolls in the Hebrew Bible that we recognize under the names of Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther. They are, perhaps, the least pretentious of all the books in the Bible. None has any particular claim to greatness. They are not in the same class as the Law or the Prophets. Some of them barely achieved canonical status at all. All the same, they are in the Bible. Lloyd Bailey reminds us that

...every story in the Bible presupposes a believing community whose identity was (in some measure) affirmed and sustained by it. Thus the story was repeated, handed down, treasured (i.e., canonized) by the communal wisdom of the generations: It has been "tried" by our history and found worthy.

The appropriateness of the Megilloth as documents for pastoral work is suggested by their use in Judaism, where we find that they are assigned readings at five of Israel's annual acts of worship. At these festivals God's people gathered from all the villages of Palestine and from across the roads of the diaspora to remember who they were, to find the motivation and direction for continuing their lives of praise and obedience and faith, to orient their lives in the words and acts of God. Which is to say, they came to worship. The Megilloth did not define these occasions; they did not even interpret them. But during the festival it became customary for someone to get up and read the assigned scroll. Each reading had the effect of nourishing one aspect of the life of the people who were committed to live in covenant with their God. The scrolls were the applied wisdom of the pastoral office to a people who had come together to pay attention to their life together with God. Song of Songs was read at Passover, Ruth at Pentecost, Lamentations on the Ninth of Ab, Ecclesiastes at Tabernacles, and Esther at Purim.

The assignment of these five scrolls to the five annual acts of worship (four festivals and a fast) has seemed to me to be a singular stroke of pastoral imagination. No one knows who did it, or even when it was done. The first documentary evidence of the practice comes from the eighth and ninth centuries A.D., although some scholars conjecture that the practice began as early as the period of the Second Temple. By setting the scrolls, in turn, in the specific kerygmatic settings of worship, remarkable and somewhat unexpected insights for pastoral work were released. And what was done once can be done again.

In reusing the Megilloth for present-day pastoral work we are using scripture in the same way that Israel did, over and over again—taking seriously what is handed down as the word and act of God, treating it with respect, meditating its meaning, and then using it in the contemporary situation, believing and living it in the present. We are not trying to stuff modern pastoral life into an ancient mold in order to "shape it up" biblically; we are simply trying to stay in touch with the vitalities of good pastoral work that are evident in the biblical materials and then put them to use in our own present.

The recycling of scripture is itself a biblical process. Israel did it all the time. She never simply repeated her history, cyclically. Each generation carried some things over, ignored some aspects, and introduced, occasionally, innovations. There is both dependence upon tradition and freedom within it. Every page of scripture shows that it happened and in some instances how it happened. For instance, the "god of the fathers" was taken and reshaped by Yahwism. The traditions of Zion and David were preached and developed in fresh ways by Isaiah. The experience of Exodus and the leadership of Moses were put to new and original uses by Deuteronomy. The elements of the old were creatively used in realizing the divine promise and the people's vocation in the present. Ezekiel (in chapter 20) gives a completely original interpretation of the venerable traditions of the Exodus and the events of the wilderness period, so that they are workable in the exile realities of the sixth century. Nearly every page of both Old and New Testaments shows the results of this creative handling of old traditions, every generation making a fresh, interpretive start, and yet in such a way that nothing is lost. The making of scripture and the formation of the canon are in some ways a demonstration of what C.S. Lewis announced on the first page of his Allegory of Love: "Humanity does not pass through phases as a train passes through stations: being alive, it has the privilege of always moving yet never leaving anything behind. Whatever we have been, in some sort we are still." Gerhard von Rad has shown in detail how "this process of adapting older traditions to suit the new situation was the most legitimate way by which Israel was able to preserve the continuity of her history with God and prevent it from disintegrating into a series of unrelated acts."

There is a sense, then, in which all pastoral work is redactional, a reworking of scriptural preaching and teaching for the sake of the present community, combining kerygmatic faithfulness with pastoral sensitivity.

Each of the Megilloth, set by Judaism in an act of worship, deals with an aspect of pastoral work: learning how to love and pray in the context of salvation (Song of Songs); developing an identity as a person of faith in the context of God's covenant (Ruth); dealing with suffering in the context of redemptive judgment (Lamentations); unmasking religious illusion and pious fraud in the context of providential blessing (Ecclesiastes); and becoming a celebrative community of faith in the environment of the world's hostility (Esther). Not everything a pastor does fits into the five areas, but a remarkable amount of it does, giving promise that the Megilloth may be highly serviceable for pastoral use. The Megilloth are not, it must be said, cornerstones for such construction—that would be too much to claim for them. But neither are they inconsequential pebbles. They are both substantial and useful as foundation stones under pastoral work.


Worship is the setting in which the Megilloth are discovered to be useful for pastoral work. Read and studied in their historical settings, the Megilloth develop one set of interpretations. Listened to in the midst of an act of worship (Passover, Pentecost, Ninth of Ab, Tabernacles, Purim) they develop meanings that are quite different. A precious stone embedded in a stratum of rock has one appearance. After it is mined, cut, polished, and set in a ring that is then worn on a hand, it is quite different in both function and appearance, although not different in substance. By setting the Megilloth in prescribed acts of worship, Judaism brought out effects that were not apparent in the historical settings, giving pastoral direction and insight and demonstrating pastoral function. Nothing new is added, but what is there is perceived in a pastoral way.

By using the Megilloth in the context of community worship Judaism demonstrated what continues to be true in both Israel and church: pastoral work has its origin in the act of worship. Community ("common") worship is the biblical setting for pastoral work. Nor is it possible to do pastoral work apart from common worship. Pastoral work has no identity in and of itself. It is a derivative work, and worship is that from which it is derived.

In worship the community of God's people assemble to hear God's word spoken in scripture, sermon, and sacrament. The faith that is created by that proclaimed word develops responses of praise, obedience, and commitment. At no time has there ever been a biblical faith, or any kind of continuing life in relation to God, apart from such common worship. By persisting in the frequent, corporate worship in which God's word is central, God's people are prevented from making up a religion out of their own private ideas of God. They are also prevented from making a private, individualized salvation out of what they experience, separating themselves from brothers and sisters with whom God has made it clear his saving love is to be shared, both in receiving and giving.

All pastoral work originates in this act of worship. Each Lord's Day the pastor speaks the invitational command, "Let us worship God." But the work does not terminate an hour later with the pronouncing of the benediction, for pastoral work also accompanies the people as they live out what they have heard and sung and said and believed in worship. Pastoral work takes place between Sundays, between the first and the eighth day, between the boundaries of creation and resurrection, between Genesis 1 and Revelation 21. Sunday worship establishes the life of the community of faith in and on the word of God; weekday pastoral work unfolds the implications in the ordinary lives of people as they work, love, suffer, grieve, play, learn, and grow in times of crisis and times of routine. Worship calls a congregation to attention before God's words, coordinates responses of praise and obedience, and then sends the people out into the community to live out the meaning of that praise and obedience. But they are not only sent, they are accompanied, and pastoral work is the ministry of that accompaniment. Pastoral work begins at the Pulpit, the Font, the Table; it continues in the hospital room, the family room, the counseling room, the committee room. The pastor who leads people in worship is companion to those same people between acts of worship.

Any pastoral act that is severed from the common worship slowly but certainly loses its biblical character. It becomes an isolated act of healing, of comforting, of guiding, of ordering—a cut-flower ministry, lovely but limp. It is, of course, still useful insofar as it is done well, but separated from its biblical origins it fails to participate in the unfolding of the kerygmatic realities which builds the wholeness that God intends for his creation.

The five Megilloth, set in five acts of Israelite worship, demonstrate ways in which the kerygmatic traditions that are announced and embraced in worship are continued and nurtured in the daily round. These scrolls pick up areas in which sin typically distorts, obscures, or avoids the gospel realities proclaimed in the act of worship and provides the correctives, disciplines, and insights that keep them personal and real. Used in such settings they become pastoral documents.


High on the agenda for the rebuilding of a biblical pastoral work is the acquisition of facility in the idiom of the local, the specific, and the personal. T.S. Eliot, writing in regard to other matters, once said:

"A local speech on a local issue is likely to be more intelligible than one addressed to a whole nation, and we observe that the greatest muster of ambiguities and obscure generalities is usually to be found in speeches which are addressed to the whole world."

Each of the Megilloth is "a local speech on a local issue," and for that reason is a working model for the pastoral work that is called to encourage the clarities of specific obedience and nurture the particularities of weekday faith.

The pastor, walking through the high country of the great gospel proclamations and assemblies, comes on the Megilloth as a hiker comes on trail snacks and campfires—localized instances of refreshment and recovery in an environment of grandeur. However magnificent the alpine vistas one can't always be exclaiming over them. There is fatigue to deal with and basic needs to be met. It is the pastor's task to work along such trails using a style of speech and a mode of action that is local, specific, and personal so that each person met is addressed as an object of the love of God which is not merely universal but particular in its universality, for, as Barth reminds us, the Holy Spirit of ministry "is not an anonymous magnitude and force" but wholly specific and always personal. The Megilloth are five instances of what it means to attend to these details of pastoral work in the modest, limited, transitory, and ordinary places where pastors are called to work between Sundays.

Table of Contents

  1. The Pastoral Work of Prayer-Directing: Song of Songs
  2. The Pastoral Work of Story-Making: Ruth
  3. The Pastoral Work of Pain-Sharing: Lamentations
  4. The Pastoral Work of Nay-Saying: Ecclesiastes
  5. The Pastoral Work of Community-Building: Esther

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