A pastor – at best - is a spiritual friend. He (or she) has many more roles, of course. A pastor is a general practitioner of all things ecclesiastical, the religious equivalent of a primary care physician. (Although sometimes it feels more like an emergency room physician.) The pastor’s most important role is to accompany people along their spiritual journey and give guidance when needed.
Some call it spiritual direction or being a spiritual advisor. To that end in the 1990’s I received training as a spiritual director by the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation in Washington, DC. But every pastor does this job, for better or worse. A pastor is supposed to help people connect with God.
As I see it, the first step in helping people walk with God is to get people to stop running away from God. This idea is opposed to the conventional wisdom of American spirituality, which says that people are spiritual seekers. The “seeker-friendly” megachurch movement is based on the premise that people are on a spiritual quest.
The assumption is that people are spiritually searching. They are inwardly driven to look for purpose, truth, and meaning. They search inwardly and outwardly, in religion and spirituality, in Eastern Religion, Western Religion and no religion. They search in material things and in relationships for the wholeness that comes only from God.
That is not my experience. I think that people are running from God. As Francis Thompson’s described his own life in The Hound of Heaven:
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him….
People run from God, and they run from themselves. They are afraid to see who they really are and who God really is. That is why we construct religions and philosophies – to protect us from God and ourselves.
People intuitively know that if they discovered their own true nature, they would come face to face with the image of God. It is a short step from there to God. So like Adam and Eve in Eden, we hide from God, from one another, and from ourselves. So I encourage people to stop playing hide-and-seek.
Have the courage to be present with the omnipresent God. Forsake all pretenses, take off all masks, and let down all psychological defenses. Take off the disguise. We aren’t really fooling anyone anyway, least of all ourselves. Certainly not God.
Stop and be silent. Let us ignore the inner chatter which tries to distract us from our goal, and simply wait upon God. That is all it takes. All it takes is a sincere heart and an open mind. If one is honest enough, open enough, and persistent enough, the self-delusions fall away, and God appears … as Friend.