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  • Writer's pictureScott Carr, Jr.

Poet-Pastor


The first time I read M. Craig Barnes’s The Pastor as Minor Poet, I was enthralled by the image of pastor as poet: “What the congregation needs is not a strategist to help them form another plan for achieving a desired image of life, but a poet who looks beneath even the desperation to recover the mystery of what it means to be made in God’s image” [1]. After that first reading, I wrote: “The pastor no longer has to 'play the game’ or learn how to politically navigate a complex landscape. Instead, even in such [difficult] situations, the focus can be on helping others more deeply experience the love of Christ, which is what first drew us to the pastorate”. Several years after that, while rereading Barnes, I still feel the same. As I read him, my thought is still, “I want to be that kind of pastor.”

Since first reading Barnes, I have studied preaching at seminary. Reviewing Barnes’s image of a pastor, I am struck by how well suited the Four-Page Method taught at Calvin Seminary is for the poetic task. The job of the sermon’s “page four” is to reveal the grace of God in the contemporary world in the life of our church and community. “We want congregations to be able to identify God’s activity anywhere in the world, and amongst all people, in the mundane as well as the spectacular” [2]. The poetic task of pastoral care begins in the pulpit, declaring how God is working in our mundane lives just as He did in the biblical Word proclaimed that Sunday.

Yet to show the work of God in the sermon, the pastor has to be attentive to the work of God in his or her own ordinary life and in interactions with congregants throughout the week. We can only preach what God is doing if we are involved in the details of our parishioners’ lives and have witnessed God working in them. Barnes says the pastor must gain the skill of chatting in order to do this [3]. Eugene Peterson calls this the “ministry of small talk” [4]. I identify with Barnes when he says that, as an introvert, this does not come easily [5]. I regularly find myself uncomfortable with small talk. Yet as I reflect on my ministry experiences over the past few years of seminary, I can see growth. Working with persons experiencing homelessness while interning at Liberti Center City and Main Line, interacting with my colleagues in the teachers’ break room, and sitting with my students have all provided a training ground to become more comfortable with chatting. While I remain uncomfortable with small talk, I do not shy away from it the way I used to.

Another element of Barnes’s thought I find just as inspiring a second time is his description of gravitas: "It refers to a soul that has developed enough spiritual mass to be attractive, like gravity. It makes the soul appear old, but gravitas has nothing to do with age. It has everything to do with wounds that have healed well, failures that have been redeemed, sins that have been forgiven, and thorns that have settled into the flesh. These severe experiences with life expand the soul until it appears larger than the body that contains it. Then it is large enough to proclaim a holy joy, which is what makes the pastor’s soul so attractive" [6].

Since my first reading of Barnes, I am less presumptuous about where I am on the formative journey to gravitas. Yet as someone early in the process of discerning a call to ministry, I have morned changes in my life and ministry itself has proven demanding. I have had to reduce the amount of time I work on music. During my current first year of teaching, I have rarely had time to compose, a situation I still wish to remedy. Any time I have attended a concert, my typical thought is, “I miss doing this.” While we sing hymns at church, I conduct to myself while morning the opportunities I had to conduct in college. Though music is an important part of who I am, I have had to recognize I am called by God first and a musician second. Making such sacrifices while learning the skills required for ministry, such as chatting, has brought about growth in me and, I trust, God is using those experiences to shape a gravitas that serves me well as a pastor.

[1] Barnes, M. Craig. The Pastor As Minor Poet: Texts and Subtexts in the Ministerial Life. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2009, p. 18.

[2] Wilson, Paul Scott. The Four Pages of the Sermon: A Guide to Biblical Preaching. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2018. p. 202

[3] Barnes, p. 30.

[4] Peterson, Eugene H. The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction. William B. Eerdmans, 1989. p. 111.

[5] Barnes, p. 30.

[6] Ibid. p. 49.


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