Prophet in the Pulpit
The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral
Ministry (IVP, 2012) by David Rohrer
Metaphors matter. Consider, for example, if you see your role as pastor as that of a CEO. You'll view your duties in terms of casting vision and seeing it to fruition, hiring and managing auxiliary staff, and keeping watch of the bottom line. "Shepherd of the flock of God" carries different connotations—presence and guidance rather than vision and execution.
David Rohrer knows the power of metaphors. In The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry he tries several of them on, including midwife, town cryer, and "crewman on a vessel sailing in turbulent waters." But the one he likes best, the one he holds out as biblical and culturally relevant for today's pastoral ministry is "prophet."
Rohrer holds up John the Baptist as a model for prophetic pastoral ministry because, Rohrer suggests, John addressed two concerns
pastors share today: "personal renewal" and "institutional reform." More important, John "understood that he was about something that was bigger than himself and bigger than the institution he was seeking to reform." He was always pointing away from himself. Though he drew a crowd in the wilderness, his goal was not to develop a platform, launch a movement, or build a following.
He pointed to Jesus and stepped out of the way. In this way, Rohrer explains, John helps pastors recognize that, above all, "we are in the business of giving witness to God."
Because the pastor's primary purpose is giving witness to God, the ministry is not ultimately about the pastor's vision or aptitude or adequacies. It is about the work God is doing in and among his people. This, of course, has implications for the minister's duties, which Rohrer teases out in each chapter. As testifier to God's work, the pastor should make ready a people for the presence of the Lord. The pastor should recognize that he or she is the steward of God's mission, not their own. And so on.
Rohrer frees pastors from the demands of success as it is often understood today—in terms of numbers of conversions or new members or programs—by reminding us that we are not responsible for success in ministry. Our ministry is not about what we are up to as much as it is about our testimony of what God is up to; not what God is doing through us but what God is doing in and around us. Our work, though of central importance to us, is ultimately but a part of something far bigger: the history of the church we serve and the grand narrative of God's work in the world.
For Rohrer, John is a means of communicating something more important than John's ministry. It's appropriate, considering the point of John's ministry was constantly pointing people away from himself to Jesus: "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30).
The real value of the book is that Rohrer manages to affirm traditional local church ministry while calling readers to recognize their service in proper perspective. He doesn't denounce institutional religion as unfaithful to Jesus. He doesn't make shallow, consumeristic church members the minister's villains. He simply reminds us of the all-too-human tendencies to hide from God's searching light on the one hand or to take the credit for the fruit that the light produces.