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Mark Galli “Why We Need More ‘Chaplains’ and Fewer Leaders : What’s a pastor for?”

Mark Galli’s recent article in Christianity Today by this title is well done and resonates with the concerns of this blog. He begins by noting a typical website which suggested “chaplain” type pastors led to church decline and instead encouraged us to look for pastors with innovative ideas which would lead to “growth.” In fact it was claimed of these high energy guys, “they’ll grow it [the church] without a doubt.” The “chaplain” mindset was criticized for being concerned with bringing “healing to hurting souls.”

Of course things can be overstated, but Galli makes an important point about how our view of church has shifted. He writes:

We find ourselves in an odd period of church history when many people have become so used to large, impersonal institutions that they want that in their church as well. Thus the attraction of megachurches, where people can blend in and not be seen if they want. Many thought leaders who ponder church life naturally end up championing massive institutions and denigrating (inadvertently, to be sure) the healing of hurting souls. And this in a community whose theology is supposedly grounded in the universal and cosmic love of God who gives attention to each of us as individuals.

One wonders where we got our other ideas about the pastorate. For centuries, the pastorate was thought to be about “the cure of souls”souls being understood not as the spiritual part of us, but as the fullness of our humanity. The pastor has traditionally been thought of as one who does ministry in the midst of a people who are sick and dying, and who administers in word and sacrament, in Scripture and in prayer, the healing balm of the Lord.

So who told us that the pastor is primarily a leader/entrepreneur/change agent and anything but a curer of souls? And why do we believe them?

Galli defends the “chaplain” picture of the pastorate stating:

To say that a pastor is first and foremost a chaplain – someone who is the Lord’s means of healing – is not to suggest that his or her role is primarily therapeutic. It includes therapy-like moments, for example, in helping parishioners deal with their ordinary fears and worries. But it is fundamentally about the healing of souls – helping men and women, boys and girls, to become right with God, and therefore, right with others.

All I can say is Amen.

Galli closes with his own experience:

I’ve been a parishioner in many churches over many years. In each church, the pastor has been tempted, as I was, to become the great leader, to shape himself in our culture’s image of success. To be sure, the modern pastor does have to “run a church”; he or she is, in fact, the head of an institution that has prosaic institutional needs. I’ve been thankful when my pastor carries out these institutional responsibilities with efficiency and joy.

But the times I remember most, the times when my troubled soul has been most deeply affected and moved – outside of preaching and receiving the sacraments – have been when my pastor acted like a chaplain. When he pulled me aside in the narthex, put his arm around me, and prayed with me about some matter. When he visited me in the hospital. When in unhurried conversation I felt less alone, because I knew in a deeper way that God was present.

Brothers, let us be faithful in all our tasks. But let us be clear that our primary task is the care of souls. Fail in this area and we fail completely. This sort of service is not typically flashy but it does please the Great Shepherd of the sheep to whom we will give account.

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