“Who will pastor you? Will you please come back from Israel a little nicer!” These were Karla’s last words to me as I left at around 7 AM for the airport. Half joking, half serious, she was referring to the fact that most of the group I was helping to lead around Israel were pastors. The tour was part of the DMin program I have helped to teach with Scot McKnight at Northern Seminary over the last few years. Seventeen pastors from all over North America have been working on a DMin in the “Context of the New Testament.” The study tour to Israel was part of the program. So, her comment, “Get pastored. It’s not like you won’t have plenty of opportunity!”
But opportunity has never been the issue for me when it comes to opening myself up to pastoral care.
Initially I didn’t take Karla’s statement seriously; I dismissed it largely, though not completely: “Whatever! Yeah sure, I’ll get pastored.”
I headed to the airport with thoughts of history, geography and archaeology and the excitement of travel. But not a determination to receive pastoral care.
As a rule, I don’t seek pastoral care. I don’t look to pastors for comfort or soul care or to seek healing from wounds both spiritual and physical. I’ve rarely, if ever, gone to a prayer counselor or a pastor during a church service seeking care for a need. I can’t remember a time.
This isn’t an official rule of course. It’s not something I’ve written down, or memorized or constantly remind myself of. Honestly this is the first time I’ve ever directly thought it. But the truth is I don’t pursue being pastored by clergy.
Maybe this is because I am a pastor, reluctant as I am be. Maybe it’s because many of my closest friends are pastors and I know too much. Maybe it’s because I’ve grown up in the church all my life. Maybe it’s because I think pastors are like mechanics. They assess issues in people like cars, they have toolboxes with instruments to fix the broken parts. I think pastors try to fix people, instead of seeking to know them. Maybe it’s because, rightly or wrongly, I think pastors have agendas which go largely unnamed and unreflected upon. And they have well-formed opinions about how the spiritual life works based on their own interpretation of the Bible derived primarily from their own life experience. Their own spirituality becomes the framework for others. And maybe it’s because I think pastors are self-unaware. Maybe because I feel pastors are dangerous.
Of course, this is more about me than pastors; I will be the first to acknowledge.
Here’s the issue: I’m afraid to open myself up to someone else’s agenda for my heart and life. I’m terrified in fact. I don't entrust myself to people, to anyone really, and this includes pastors. When I put it that bluntly I know it sounds so prideful “Joel you are full of pride! You need to humble yourself.” the accusations will come.
Yes, I am full of pride. But I’m also terrified to be known. My pride is simply my body’s defense mechanism to protect my heart. Over the last couple of years, I have come to realize how privately I live in my heart; how independent I am and isolated.
But on this trip to Israel, Karla’s words, which was really an invitation, I carried along in mind. My heart was cautiously open, but I was not hopeful.
Enter pastor Derwin L. Gray. Derwin is part of the DMin cohort. He pastors Transformation Church in Charlotte, NC. I found myself in conversations with Derwin over a shawarma sandwich on several occasions. The topics however weren’t theological or historical – well some of them were. Mostly, we were engaging on the level of our stories of suffering, abuse and progressive healing. Derwin and I have very different stories to be sure, but he’s willing to go after the truth in its unvarnished form. As we were having our second conversation, I thought again about Karla’s words, “Who will pastor you?!”
Derwin did pastor me. What opened my heart up was the attention he paid. At one point near the end of our week’s tour we had just visited the Shepherd’s field in Bethlehem – not really much to see actually – we were standing outside the gate waiting for others to gather. He said “I’ve been watching you man. I’m not stalking you or anything. I’ve just been watching how you never stay still. You are always looking up something or moving or pre-occupied.” As he said this he acted out a charade of me motioning with my finger on my phone and intensely looking up and down the screen. He had pretty much nailed it. He asked, “Have you ever read about ADHD or ever taken a test online to see if you have it. I know a little bit about it and I’ve pastored many who have it. I think you may have it. You may need to address and care well for your body before you find you can rest in ABBA’s love for you.” His simple and kind invitation to consider my body – an invitation born of attention – resonated with something I already begun to consider. Walking alongside my son Zion in his struggles with Aspergers and ADHD have made me reflect on my own life.
Derwin’s words both surprised and blessed me. I don’t have many people paying that kind of attention to me – actually very few. Derwin invited me into kindness for my body as a path to healing for my soul. I was really moved by his attention. Derwin’s a man’s man and super cool. Only to help you imagine, I will tell you Derwin is a former NFL player-turned pastor. He’s gifted physically and intellectually. He’d have been as formidable to a receiver in the defensive backfield as he now is in the classroom.
But I have come to know Derwin as possessed with strength and tenderness. I sent him at text shortly after I returned home. I wrote to him, “Building a big church is hard [he has built a large church], but not nearly as hard as building a big church that shepherds the wounded hearts of people toward healing and restoration.”
With strong and tender attention Derwin pastored me in spite of me; he outflanked the sentinels posted at the gate of my heart. He did it not with a Bible verse – though we spoke of many, but with a suggestion that go to a psychiatrist.