Academics & VocationblogThe Campus Minister

Is There a Place for “Pastor” in our 21st Century North American Culture?



What was once a highly esteemed position, given great respect and authority, has devolved into something that most people in our North American culture now struggle to trust.

For the past 17 years I have spent all but six months on different college campuses — each with differing titles, but all with a sense of “pastor” at their core.

And maybe I’d feel different if I were serving in a local church, but from what I glean from my pastor friends in those contexts, their experiences don’t differ too far from my own.

This passage from Eugene Peterson’s autobiography helps to inform the question I asked at the onset of this post: Is there a place for “pastor” in our 21st Century North American culture?

[quote author=”The Pastor, pp. 4-5″]North American culture does not offer congenial conditions in which to live vocationally as a pastor. Men and women who are pastors in America today find that they have entered into a way of life that is in ruins. The vocation of pastor has been replaced by the strategies of religious entrepreneurs with business plans. Any kind of continuity with pastors in times past is virtually nonexistent. We are a generation that feels as if it is having to start out from scratch to figure out a way to represent and nurture this richly nuanced and all-involving life of Christ in a country that “knew not Joseph.”

I love being an American. I love this place in which I have been placed — its language, its history, its energy. But I don’t love “the American way,” its culture and values. I don’t love the rampant consumerism that treats God as a product to be marketed. I don’t love the dehumanizing ways that turn men, women, and children into impersonal roles and causes and statistics. I don’t love the competitive spirit that treats others as rivals and even as enemies. The cultural conditions in which I am immersed require, at least for me, a kind of fierce vigilance to guard my vocation from these cultural pollutants so dangerously toxic to persons who want to follow Jesus in the way that he is Jesus. I wanted my life, both my personal and working life, to be shaped by God and the scriptures and prayer.[/quote]

I feel called and compelled, now more than ever, to hold on to this unique role in our evolving North American culture.

I believe that students on our college and university campuses, many of whom don’t ever choose to go to church during this incredibly formative season, need to see people like you and me who embody a different way of thinking about, and living into, a world that “knew not Joseph.”

What do you think?

Do you see the same things?

Do you feel the same growing tension?

Are you being asked to change, or transition, or compromise on your sense of calling.

What would be sacrificed if we simply became Christians who provide spiritually nurturing programs and opportunities? Is that the same thing?

I don’t think so.

Let pull one more quote from Peterson:

[quote author=”The Pastor, pp. 5″]… the pervasive element in our two-thousand-year pastoral tradition is not someone who “gets things done” but rather the person placed in the community to pay attention and call attention to “what is going on right now” between men and women, with one another and with God — this kingdom of God that is primarily local, relentlessly personal, and prayerful “without ceasing.”[/quote]

What do you think?