What a Pastoral Church Looks Like
by James Kalb
Now more than ever, there are calls for a more pastoral Church. That’s a good thing. It’s the clergy’s job to be our pastors, and who could object to priests, bishops, and popes doing their job?
“Pastor“ means shepherd, so we find what pastors should do by looking at what shepherds do, especially in the Bible. A pastoral Church, then, would be one that looks out for her members, protects, feeds, and fosters them, maintains a sheepfold, brings back those who stray, drives away wolves and bears, and is ready to sacrifice the personal interests of her pastors—for example, their worldly standing and reputation—to their flock’s well-being.
With that in mind, it’s hard to see why a pastoral church would primarily be one that rejects boundaries, is always going outside of herself, emphasizes openness to the world and dialogue with those who reject her, and wants above all to accompany people on their walk, wherever that may take them.
Some of those things have a function in some ways—the Church should offer what she has to those outside her, and speak respectfully, honestly, and substantively to them, and pastors should retain their concern for strayed sheep who show no interest in returning to the fold—but they cannot be central. What is central for pastors is the good of the flock, and in particular the specific goods entrusted to the Church for their benefit.
Jesus said he came so that his people might have life more abundantly. More specifically, he said he came to give eternal life, which he identified with knowing God. So it seems our pastors’ job is to help those willing to accept the Christian way attain a better life in this world, and then eternal beatitude, by growing closer to God.
That seems basically a matter of developing the right orientation toward God and the world in which he has placed us. In other words, our pastors are to help us love God with our heart, soul, and mind, and our neighbor as ourselves. The success of that project evidently requires certain conditions: concern for the nature of God and man, so man’s good and God himself can be known better, concern for the network of human connections of which we are part, so that unity in truth and mutual love can grow, and evil communications kept from corrupting good manners, and some concern for our physical well-being, since poverty and illness disrupt human life.
So it seems our pastors, to be pastoral, should
- cultivate the theology of God, man, and society, more or less in that order, since that is the order of their importance and of the competence of the Church,
- pass them on to the people, and
- help them understand and live by them.
By doing so they will lead them into the truths that make them free and help them become what God meant them to be and they most truly are.