Every pastor needs support and help. Maybe most of all we need wisdom and a companion. We regional pastors can provide some of that wisdom and companionship, but there are other resources and people we can point them to as well.
M. Craig Barnes’ 2020 book, Diary of a Pastor’s Soul: The Holy Moments in a Life of Ministry, is one such resource – and, interestingly, one such person, too. Barnes’ book brings to life a fictional pastor who can be thought of as a human companion in a pastor’s journey.
Barnes prefaces his fictional pastor’s diary with talking about “gravitas” – a soul that has “gained enough weightiness to be attractive, like all things with a gravitational pull.” Barnes asks, “How does the soul of a pastor become well formed in a calling that can just as easily suck it dry as fill it with gravitas?” (11).
Then comes the fictional pastor’s diary – one entry per week, covering the last year of his ministry before retirement. This pastor has some wisdom and also has plenty of foibles and wonderings. Sounds to me like most pastors.
One of the things this pastor’s diary comes back to repeatedly is the “holy” in the book’s subtitle and its relationship to the “ordinary.” Over and over again, the diary advocates plugging away at “ordinary” pastoral work – at finding the holy in the ordinary. “The challenge is not to rise above the ordinary routines but to find the holiness in them. This has always been one of the reasons people need pastors” (31). Later, “As in any mature relationship, the way you express love often is by doing the dishes, paying the bills, doing the laundry. …[I]f I didn’t do all of that ordinary stuff with authentic love, they weren’t going to call me when the baby was born or the husband died” (139).
This Diary offers many areas of exploration that an individual pastor, or a Regional Pastor, might feel invited into. Such as what it means to develop and hold gravitas; the holiness inherent in some of the more mundane aspects of ministry; and the characteristics of pastoral wisdom that include expectancy, awe, and “both the comfort of the tradition and the struggle against it” (114). In fact, a pastor-reader – whether the regional pastor or the pastored pastor – could benefit from this book by looking for the characteristic of or path to wisdom/gravitas in each chapter. Be forewarned that the actual word might not be in each chapter!
Another way we regional pastors could extend the blessings of this book would be to use it in community. For example, at pastor lunches or retreats, a single chapter could be shared for reflection. Though this Diary might be of special interest to pastors near their own retirement – I’d love to re-read it when that time comes for me – nevertheless the book would be a great discussion book for a group of pastors of mixed experience and ages.
Another way to keep using this book in your regional pastor work would be to tag each chapter with keywords – “workaholic,” “love,” “pastor’s house,” “generosity” – and tuck these references away into your notes or filing system (Tag-words will work especially well if you purchase the electronic version of this book). Then prayerfully consider with which of your pastors you might bring up various topics, whether or not you reference Barnes’ book.
Finally, if you have the financial resources for it, I can imagine this book as a meaningful gift for the pastors under your care.
One of the book’s many blessed sentences is pastors “bring thousands of years of theological hope to bear on a community” (25). That’s true. It’s also often daunting for pastors. Barnes’ book gives pastors some encouragement as well as a few gentle challenges. And, for regional pastors, the book provides a resource to draw on as we look for fresh ways to support pastors in changing times.
This review was provided by Rev. Dave Vroege.