In his wonderful new book The Pastor as Minor Poet: Texts and Subtexts in the Ministerial Life (Eerdmans), M. Craig Barnes argues that the pastor’s work involves helping people peer into and underneath the biblical text in order to see truth for their own lives and congregations. He observes:

“Just because people cal themselves Christian and have a long history in the church doesn’t mean they have a biblical image of God. To the contrary, the longer they’ve hung around religion, the greater the chance that they’ve acquired some false ideas about God that have a negative impact on their self-image.

“In pastoral counseling, the minor poet (pastor) constantly is wading through these false images, which are the real blocks to their ability to make changes. We are made in the image of even a false god, and until the image of God is seen correctly in the grace and truth of Jesus Christ, we will never be able to gain a correct image of ourselves.

“When people tell me about their struggles with anger, a little digging reveals that they believe God is angry with them. Those who struggle with compulsive work patterns have been worshiping a demanding God who is never satisfied. People who have a hard time trusting their hearts to others don’t really believe in the steadfast love of God. None of them can discover real change in their lives apart from a Christological view of God. So conversations that begin with improvements they want to make in life should end with the pastor demonstrating the changes Christ has already made to their lives.

“Rather than use the few reflective listening skills we learned in our Introduction to Pastoral Care seminary classes, which is only another way of holding up the judgmental mirror, we pastors need to hold up Jesus Christ. ‘See Him?’ we say. ‘That’s who you really are. Everything else about you is just pretending.’ …The human self is never more truly itself that when it is living in Christ, the restorer of the holy image of God in humans.”

This is a book that every pastor needs to read. What else can we say?



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