I will start my Clinical Pastoral Education (C.P.E.) requirement on June 1st. It is a full time chaplaincy program at Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, IL. Prior to the start date, we are required to do some general hospital tests to ensure that we are in good health and will not do more harm to the patients than good. I went this last Wednesday to have these tests done, and had a wonderful nurse named Debbie.
Debbie was shocked when she first saw me. I think she had been anticipating an elderly man with a great grey beard, robed and adorned with the Bible and priestly garments. After numerous comments of how "young I looked," she inquired into my education. I informed her that I had one year left of studies, and then my wife and I would be pursuing full-time pastoral ministry in a local congregation. To this she answered, "Yeah, out there saving souls huh?!" The comment took me off balance because I have never viewed this as my drive for pastoral ministry.
I realized that there is a great stigma in people, that pastors and churches are only concerned about the "other worldly" saving of souls. While I believe that our soteriology does affect the pastoral ministry, our primary focus is not "getting people off of this planet and into heaven." The divine-human relationship that God created in sovereignty is dynamic and alive. God's passion for His creation is so great that he became one with it, that he may pay the debt for sin and defeat evil, restoring creation to its intended purpose of glory and intended relationship with Himself. The church was formed as the bride of Christ, the actual presence of the kingdom already at hand, yet incomplete until the time when Christ comes again to restore and renew all things. And we as pastors, along with the priesthood of all believers, are called to participate in this new reality, inviting others into the good news of the kingdom of God and allowing our hope and joy to be based in God's work throughout history and promises for the future.
But unfortunately the church has failed to act out of its true identity time and time again. We have neglected the historical presence and placement of the church here and now and focused solely on an eschatology that preaches, "Leave and consume this world, for only the future, heavenly, soul abiding kingdom matters." Therefore, the priestly/pastoral duties have become, at times, merely about "saving souls." I don't know Debbie's religious affiliation or if this was an off-handed comment, but something within her perceives spiritual guidance to be solely otherworldly.
This is both exciting and terrifying as I enter into these next months of pastoral care. How do I balance caring for people in the here and now, in all their pain and questioning, and also live as a beacon of hope and light because of the good news of Jesus Christ? Can I be a healing presence to people if I am solely focused on "another life?" I pray for wisdom and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as someone given the opportunity to be with people in great times of need. I pray that, God through me, can be more to people than, "someone trying to save souls."