The Novel Reading Pastor

I’ve been meeting with a group of pastors and discussing the book, The Pastor as Minor Poet by M. Craig Barnes. In it, Barnes adds another image or metaphor to the role of a pastor and it is that of being a poet. Barnes explains that the pastor is always wrestling with the Word of God and also the words of the parishioners. The pastor finds himself in between these two worlds. And thus, he/she is trying to find points of intersection between the two. This is where novels come in. The pastor who dwells between the Word of God and the words of humans has to find a point of convergence and often, these points are communicated beautifully in novels. A good novel is one in which you feel what the characters feel; you are able to enter into the milieu of the book. It becomes a part of you and when you finish, you almost feel a sense of sadness because you have become friends with the characters . . . you wish to continue to share your life with them. These novels grip us I think because they search beneath the words we say and articulate the feelings that we think are most personal to us, and yet come to realize they might be the most universal. And it’s these deep yearnings and fears, apprehensions and stirrings that a pastor needs to be in touch with to communicate to people in a way that touches the whole being.

Eugene Peterson used to schedule an appointment a few days a week with FD. Nobody knew who FD was and nobody needed to . . . at least according to Peterson. Turns out, FD was Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Peterson would set aside time almost daily to read novels. For him, it was a way to enter into the souls of people and made him a much better communicator in the pulpit on Sundays.

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