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jesus the radical pastor
Jesus: The Discernment Artist
Jesus was asked, according to the Gospels, 183 questions and Jesus answered only 3 of them. Usually Jesus responded to questions with his own questions. Also, Jesus is notoriously known for telling down-to-earth stories that did not answer questions as much as provoke thought.
Jesus was not a direction-giver. He was a discernment artist. Jesus trusted people’s ability to hear his stories and reach some startling conclusions about the kingdom of God. Some individuals wanted Jesus’ ready-made answers to their dilemmas. Jesus most often refused. (“John, why don’t you tell us where these texts are?” Uh, no. Discern, my friend.)
Jesus believed that farmers and housewives and tax-collectors and lepers could imagine, think, and reach conclusions. He believed in the human ability to discern. Jesus knew that developing discernment in others was far superior than giving them point-blank directions. I am bothered that so many pastors and teachers don’t follow Jesus in this regard. Do leaders mistrust people? Do current leaders foster an informed, elite attitude over “the people of the land” as the religious leaders did in Jesus’ day? For all our teaching about the accessibility of the Bible to the “common person” and the compassionate illuminating ministry of the Spirit to light Scripture up for ordinary folk, leaders still seem bent on spelling it all out, making it clear, answering the burning questions, fostering a codependency in biblical/theological/spiritual issues. To be proficient at giving biblical directions is no gift to people. Directions require no thinking, just compliance.
Now I know that this codependency relationship between leaders and people is fed also by people who cry, “Feed me. Feed me, pastor. Think for me. Tell me what to do. Feed me.” This lamentable mutation of so-called ‘pastoral ministry’ stunts thinking and erodes all possibility of the emergence of discernment.
I think leaders and people prefer direction-giving because it eliminates fear and offers the illusion of control. Discernment, according to my friend, Scot McKnight, requires both courage and careful thought. Why courage? Because discernment allows us to explore unknown territories of the soul and life, i.e., all those sometimes frightening areas not ‘mapped out’ by the professional direction-givers. Direction-giving tempts to a dangerous spiritual condition: pride. We know exactly what to do and we go do it. Developing discernment is a companion of humility because we feel awkwardly suspended in mid-air and our only hope is the Spirit and other discernment-oriented friends. Discernment is a community quest while I can follow directions all day long all by myself. Discernment is genuinely creative while following directions tends toward boredom.
Jesus was a superb discernment artist. He provoked thought and he elicited unparalleled commitment in others.
We think we are so smart. The disciples are at their wits’ end in the boat on the hurricane-angered Sea of Galilee. Having awakened a sleeping Jesus, Jesus speaks, things change and Jesus asks, “Why are you so afraid?” We think, “Well, duh? Jesus. They thought they were going to die!” Aren’t we smart?