Shepherd’s Care: Experience Apart from Role

Every profession has a built-in danger—the danger of becoming so role-defined that we lose the personal dimension of our vocation.  As we consider ways to recover the wonder of ministry, we must return to the cultivation of Christian experience apart from role.

This is nothing new.  George MacDonald saw it in his day and wrote, “Nothing is so deadening to the divine as an habitual dealing with the outside of holy things.”

Those of us who are clergy are around holy things all day long—and many evenings as well.  As Dr. Timothy George put it, “We regularly traffic in matters of the eternal,” and it becomes easy (he also said) to “cultivate a professional persona without being grasped by the awesome realities we are called to mediate.”

If the wonder of ministry is to return when it is lost, it must do so through the doorway of humanity, not professionalism.  We must find our way back into singing, “You ask me how I know he lives; he lives within my heart.”

I tell my students not to call me “Doctor” Harper.  At the core of my being I am not doctor Harper, professor Harper, reverend Harper, or brother Harper.  I am Steve Harper.  I want to be known by others as I am.

Wonder arises in relation to the “I am” parts of life, not the “I do” parts.  I do not mean to diminish any of the holiness of our ministries, but only to emphasize that in the long run this holiness rests on the foundation of a deep Spirit to spirit relationship.

Jesus said, “I call my sheep by name.”  He calls his shepherds by name too.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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1 Response to Shepherd’s Care: Experience Apart from Role

  1. Pastor Kim says:

    I think this attitude is what makes you so endearing and enduring as a professor and leader. We get to know you as the person who relates to God just as we do, not as the professional who places himself above those he leads. As always, thanks for the reminder – no matter how much we know and understand, we always need a Nathan to remind us of the most important – knowing God as the way to know ourselves.

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