The Pastor as Minor Poet

This is a rare book.

Rarely do I read a book in its entirety on my weekly Sabbath. Rarely do I identify so strongly with an author or book. Rarely does a book make me feel less alone, even hopeful, as a pastor. Rarely do I finish a book with the intention of reading it again.

But The Pastor as Minor Poet, by M. Craig Barnes, is that book.

Subtitled "Texts and Subtexts in the Ministerial Life," the book is divided into two sections: The Call of the Minor Poet and The Craft of the Minor Poet. Although I was disappointed when the first section ended, because I had gotten so much out of it and wasn't ready for it to end, the second section quickly dispelled my disappointment, finishing the book just as strongly as it had begun--which is something else that makes this book relatively rare.

If this is the first M. Craig Barnes book you read, it will be quickly obvious that he knows the joys and frustrations of the pastor's life (he is currently senior pastor of Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, PA). It will be equally clear that he knows preaching. And people. And pain.

Some of the portions I underlined and hope to remember:
To be of service to the Holy Spirit, who is at work in human lives, the pastor can never reduce ministry to servicing parishioners' complaints about the church (p. 16).

The pastor-poet does his or her best work not with presenting issues, which are seldom the real issue. This is the fallacy of those who try to define the pastor as a manager, an entrepreneur, or a service provider who is only in need of more skills to be a success in handling the many issues that have presented themselves. Most presenting issues are merely symptomatic of underlying theological issues (p. 23).

The congregation will never ask their pastor to remain loyal to the identity of a minor poet. They need one too much to even know that they need one (p. 28).

The Reformers claimed that the church would always be a hospital for sinners. This means that we cannot expect its members to be spiritually healthy (p. 38).

Victimization is a waste of our suffering (p. 39).

It's the scars on the pastor's soul that makes it attractive (p. 49).

I doubt that there is such a thing as a measure of spirituality, but if there is, gratitude would be it. Only the grateful are paying attention (p. 64).

Churches are filled with symbols: crosses, liturgies, music, clergy, and even the building itself can appropriately symbolize our true worship of Yahweh. But the moment we "need" any one of them, they have lost their symbolic value and have become idols (p. 68).

Those in the pews will not be startled by the power of God's Word unless the preacher is (p. 80).

As an irritated woman once said to me at the door following worship, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. Is that all you know?" Had I been thinking clearly at the time, I would have said, "It's all I know that can be of help to you" (p. 93).

All of the stories of conversion in the Bible are also stories of calling (p. 101).

God is not easy on those who are called (p. 103).

Nothing is more important to the congregation than the pastor's doing whatever it takes to maintain a vibrant spirituality, or the poetry will die for the congregation (p. 119).

Pastors are never fully trained (p. 120).

The question of the Gospel is this: Can we move as slowly as Jesus to see what God is doing? (p. 135).
There is much more in this book. As one reviewer has written, it "offers a hope and a vision for ministry that is at once vocationally satisfying and Scripturally faithful." It is honest, entertaining, captivating, timely, and deep. And rare.

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