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Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A., Editor
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The Intimate Pastorate
Reflections Of A Pastor
Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.
"For this reason a man will leave his father and mother
and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." This is a profound
mystery--but I am talking about Christ and the Church."
Ephesians 5:31-32 (NIV)
- Paul On Christian Intimacy
- Paul's Letter to the Ephesians is the classic exposition of genuine Christian intimacy.
This intimacy, based on and rooted in grace, is one which truly energizes and enables true
love to occur. Of course, the greatest evidences of this intimacy for married couples
consists in wives submitting to their own husbands in everything "as to the
Lord" and husbands loving their wives "just as Christ loved the church and gave
himself up for her" (Ephesians 5:22,25).
- A closer reading, however, gives way to the profound recognition that the intimacy to
which Paul is really referring goes beyond marital intimacy. His words "but I am
talking about Christ and the Church" (Ephesians 5:32 NIV) direct the reader to the
real core of this discussion of intimacy. It is the intimacy shared between Christ and His
- Ecclesiastical Intimacy?
- Is there "ecclesiastical intimacy"? Indeed, there is. It's an intimacy which,
though not inappropriately sexual in nature, is one which is shared at many levels. This
intimacy is shared most obviously between husband and wives as they love and sacrifice
themselves to each other.
- It is also shared between believers in the Body of Christ (and also extended to
unbelievers). Paul's exhortation, "Submit yourselves to one another in reverence to
Christ," describes how Christians are to relate--intimately--to each other.
- This intimacy is most importantly shared between Christ and His Church. This
relationship, described with appropriate, coventantal sexual overtones in Scripture (e.g.
Song of Solomon, etc.) is based on Christ's initiating intimate act of taking on our flesh
and dying in our place. By means of baptism, we are incorporated--intimately--into a
saving relationship by which we are forgiven even the most hidden sins and loved in the
most intimate and everlasting manner.
- Indeed, is a more intimate connection possible than being made one in and with the Body
- The Intimate Pastorate
- Given the multi-dimensional levels of intimacy above, perhaps it is not inappropriate to
speak of the pastoral relationship to the Church as another dimension of this intimacy of
- Though this intimacy does not include inappropriate types of intimacy (e.g. sexual or
other inappropriate relationships), out of "reverence for Christ," it exudes
love, sacrifice, and submission. Indeed, it is the essential foundational basis for the
pastor-congregation relationship. Of course, the ultimate goal of this foundation of
intimacy is as Paul stated,
"to make her [i.e. the Church] holy, cleansing her by the washing with water
through the word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant Church, without stain or
wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless." Ephesians 5:26-27 (NIV)
- Thus pastoral intimacy is based on Christ's initiating intimate grace and directed
toward the perfect intimacy of holiness with God and the people of God throughout the
- The Pastorate: It's Intimate!
- There's no two ways about it. Effective pastors and Christian leaders minister within
the context of an intimate Gospel relationship with God and the people of God.
- Many of the dynamics characteristic of intimate relationships are dynamics experienced
during the intimate pastorate. The joys and memories as well as the piercing sorrows, the
agonizing rejection, the loneliness and the pain of betrayal are just some of the
indicators of the intimate pastorate.
- Another indicator of this intimacy is the hurt given and felt in the normal course of
the intimate pastorate. The Mills Brothers once sang, "You only hurt the one you
love." Where there is love, there is pain. The only reason the pain of ministry
hurts so much is because there is so much love--intimate love--by those sharing that love.
- Other frustrations indicating the intimate pastorate are those times when frustrated
ministers bemoan a congregation's lack of growth. Like Professor Higgins in "My Fair
Lady," the intimate pastorate expresses itself. "Why can't a woman be more like
a man!" In the Church the "man" is Christ. The "woman" is
His Bride, the Church.
- Isn't that the goal of the intimate pastorate...to minister the Word of God so that by
the Spirit's action that "woman" will be more like the "man" Christ?
Isn't it when the main goal of this intimate ministry pastorate is frustrated that those
emotions associated with intimate relationships surface--loneliness, rejection,
withdrawal, fear, vulnerability, etc.? Indeed these pains and sorrows cannot betray their
true origin. They originate in failed intimacy and resonate in the deepest recesses of the
- Infinitely Deeper Intimacy
- The experience of the intimate pastorate goes far deeper. And that's what makes it such
a struggle. When asked "What's the most difficult thing about making movies?"
actor Tom Hanks replied,
"The first day on the set is the most difficult. It's like being in kindergarten
on the first day of school. Nobody knows who they are and you don't know who you are
either." (Source: NBC Today, December 14, 1998)
- Perhaps that is what makes it so difficult for pastors and churches in their first years
of ministry. They are trying to establish an intimate relationship. They are working
through the fears, the risks, the trust issues, trying to find--or remove--inappropriate
relational masks, and dealing with the additional perils of building an intimate
- As in other intimate relationships, things can--and do--go sour in the intimate
pastorate. There can be abuse--verbal, emotional, spiritual, and physical. Dysfunctional
and unhealthy forms of intimacy can result in rejecting loving, sacrificing submission
and, instead of loving each other out of reverence for Christ, the intimate pastorate can
become trapped in a quagmire of irreverent torture and ceaseless misery-making for the
partners in intimacy.
- Pastoral Intimacy: A Paradigm Of Congregational Health
- When the pastorate is described in terms of ecclesiastical intimacy, a whole new
paradigm for congregational health emerges. This "Intimate Pastorate" helps to
explain why churches, as other intimate interpersonal relationships, are plagued with
- This paradigm helps to explain why some churches, like individuals, can grow, adapt and
thrive toward endless healthy transformation. It also explains why others, like
individuals failing in their deteriorating intimate relationships, can't be changed,
altered or honestly addressed without major disruptive consequences.
- For pastors and Christian leaders, this paradigm helps to place spiritual Christian
ministry in the context of what pastors and Christian leaders (to the best of their
ability) know best: the human experience. When Christian leaders begin to evaluate their
ministry experiences in light of the warp and woof of sometimes perilous human
relationships, this paradigm provides a handle by which they can more readily--and
continuously--re-evaluate and clarify the intimacy needs of the ministry partnership.
- The "Intimate Pastorate" paradigm also helps leaders on a very intimate,
personal level. It helps leaders to relate their own developmental issues, childhood
needs, and family dysfunction to the needs of control, autonomy, recognition, acceptance,
abandonment, safety and/or risk taking.
- Finally, this paradigm clarifies which criticisms, abuses and betrayals will bother us
and which will not. It helps provide a psychological framework from which to evaluate
failure, understand loneliness, and recover from the pain.
- Breakdowns In The Intimate Pastorate
- What are some of the indicators of intimacy crises in the pastorate? Breakdowns can be
categorized in terms of physical, emotional, spiritual and personal or organizational.
Some examples of each are provided in the following table. Of course, a breakdown in one
area will affect or spill over into other areas of intimacy.
Table: Intimacy Stressors
||Illness, disability, change in mental function
||Anxiety, loneliness, depression, rejection, disappointment
||Loss of faith and vision, spiritual lethargy, doubt one's calling
||Shortage/Loss of Limited Physical Resources (manpower, land, finances,
inadequate facilities), Physically limited membership, physical isolation from
||Experiencing or giving rejection, rebelling against authority, unresolved
grief issues, fight/flight conflict styles, etc.
||Loss of faith and vision, loss of spiritual greatness, unable to inspire
spiritual growth, inability to recapture the organization's "faith heritage"
- Other items threatening intimacy may include:
- 1) Fear Of Rejection:
- When it occurs intimacy is threatened by a preoccupation with imagined shortcomings or
- 2) Uni-Dimensional Self-View:
- If one can only see oneself and not the big picture of broad interplay of intimacy being
built and destroyed between oneself and others, one will tend to be more vulnerable to
- 3) Unwillingness To Assert Trust:
- Everyone wants to be trusted. If one unjustly withholds trust, they demonstrate that
they are unable or unwilling to allow the fellowship of intimacy to take hold.
- 4) Disallowance Of Disclosure:
- Keeping secrets mitigates against intimacy. Certainly there are appropriate ways for
handing various kinds of information. However, when the primary congregational dynamic is
one which disallows and discourages disclosure, intimacy is threatened. Indeed, without
disclosure, ministry intimacy is impossible.
- 5) Domination Of Defensiveness:
- The desire to survive can manifest itself as an unhealthy, anxious presence. The fact
that individuals attack leaders and others in the Church indicates that leaders must be
eternally vigilant for intimacy-threatening dynamics. Reactive responses such as
defensiveness, retaliation, victimization, projection of blame, avoidance of
accountability, flight, fight, etc. virtually always threaten congregational intimacy.
- The more these defensive intimacy dynamics dominate, the greater the threat to the
growth of healthy intimacy. As they continue to be repeated, their effect intensifies to
levels which may resist, sabotage, and destroy those who attempt genuine pastoral intimacy
- 6) Virtual Elimination Of Empathy:
- What are the clear-cut signs of intimacy in a congregation? Are the people involved,
reaching beyond themselves, engaged, and caring of those in and beyond the ministry walls?
Or are there varying or intense levels of avoidance, withdrawal, and/or ambivalent
- If the latter is the case, the best intervention is clarifying the feelings by helping
various parts of the congregation to put into words their own feelings. As the ambiguity
gives way to a clearer vision of caring, factors helping intimacy arise to the next level
- 7) Breakdown Of Boundaries:
- Boundary breakdowns threaten intimacy by threatening trust, empathy, space, and other
essential aspects of intimacy. Antagonists frequently threaten these boundaries. Pastoral
behaviors ranging from being too rigid or too flexible to being inappropriately distant or
close to members also threaten the development of the healthy intimate pastorate.
- Goals For The Intimate Pastorate
- What can pastors and other Christian leaders expect in their intimate ministry to the
Body of Christ? Geraldine K. Piorkowski in her book, Too Close For Comfort: Exploring
The Risks of Intimacy (New York: Insight Books, 1994), identifies and explores the
various challenges of intimacy. Many, if not most, of these issues also challenge the
- 1) Establishing Loving Christian Fellowship
- Robert Sternberg, Yale psychologist and researcher, described three components of love:
intimacy, passion and commitment. Intimacy, he wrote, is "those feelings in a
relationship that provide closeness, bonded-ness, and connectedness" (Sternberg, The
Triangle of Love, New York: Basic Books, p. 99).
- 2) Providing An Atmosphere Of Personal Growth
- Intimacy, according to Piorkowski, includes, among other things, a desire to promote the
welfare of, high regard for, sharing of one's self with, and mutual understanding of the
loved one. It is interesting how, of the three kinds of intimacy--physical intimacy
(sex, hugging, and touching), affective intimacy (feeling close), and verbal intimacy
(self-disclosure)--that the physical aspect is the least important in marital
relationships (Toldstedt/Stokes, "Relation of Verbal, Affective, and Physical
Intimacy to Marital Satisfaction," Journal of Counseling Psychology 30
(1983), pp. 573-580).
- 3) Enhancing The Freedom Of Healing
- Psychoanalyst Douglas Ingram defined intimacy as the "experience where one most
feels like oneself." The self-disclosure required for this experience is potentially
perilous. The breadth and depth of this self-disclosure is directly related to intimacy.
According to Social-penetration theory, this self-disclosure is the most important part of
- Christian spirituality has this freedom "built-in" via confession and
absolution. When individuals are free to confess their faults, their fears and their
failings, they are open to the freedom of healing and intimacy. Properly understood and
practiced, public and private confession followed by the unconditional absolution of
grace, is perhaps the most essential practice for sustaining the intimate pastorate.
- 4) Ministering To The Intimate Self
- Much anxiety is harbored in the intimate, private recesses of the self. Emotionally
laden issues and vulnerabilities often fail to be exposed to the light of healing. In
congregations and ministries dominated with the fear of being attacked, betrayed, rejected
or made to feel guilty, various social masks often suffocate fellowship. These masks of
power, pride, arrogance, competency, etc. often result in intimacy-damaging dynamics:
tensions, skirmishes, divisions, conflicts, and outright schism.
- When effective ministry to the intimate self is accomplished, individuals can, in the
safety of confidentiality, deal with those "ghosts" which prevent the more
joyful, spontaneous, creative and playful child from emerging. And, on further reflection,
is it not those ghosts which so often plague the Church?
- 5) Recognizing Needs For Closeness And Separateness
- Congregational associations and resignations are not simply "coming on board"
and "jumping ship." They are actions of intimacy. Every individual has needs for
closeness and separateness, for community and autonomy. Healthy intimacy thrives on it.
Healthy spirituality has practiced it for centuries.
- Not surprisingly, unmet emotional needs from childhood can be the energizing motivator
behind the relative proximity or distance individuals demonstrate in Christian fellowship.
Thus individuals may shift their associations, alliances and groupings based on the degree
to which they are willing to deal with their intimate fears of vulnerability. The
recognition, expectation and acceptance of this critical human need can be a helpful
building block in the development of the intimate pastorate.
- 6) Providing Safety For Development
- Perhaps the greatest fear of intimacy is the fear of fragmentation. They don't want to
fall apart. They may want to grow...but don't want to fail. Since the fear is so great,
many fail to take the risks of growth, of clarifying relationships through
self-disclosure, criticism, analysis, sharing, forgiveness and trust.
- If any organization should be safe for the development of the entire self--emotional,
spiritual, etc.--shouldn't it be the Church? Since each one of us is in the Body of
Christ, our attachment to Christ is the best "safety net" we can have for
- Scripture lists virtually countless affirmations of the safety that Christians
experience in their walk of faith. These affirmations are intended, among other things, to
nurture an intimate spirituality with God. The intimate pastorate will recognize, affirm,
and ensure safe passage of those desiring that special closeness with God and others.
- The Greatest Goal
- All of the above, however, will be fruitless unless it occurs in the context of grace.
Biblical grace, founded on the Gospel, is rooted in the sense of intimate bonded-ness to
an unconditionally loving God. The fact that He knew us and loved us first means that
risking intimacy and full disclosure to God is not destructive. Indeed, it is the critical
stage to spiritual growth and essential intimacy with God and ourselves.
- For this reason, the absolutely essential first step toward an intimate pastorate is to
let the Gospel predominate. Legalism and its destructive spirit kills churches,
organizations, and individuals by killing intimacy.
- If Christian leaders desire to recover the intimate pastorate, there must be an
essential change in the intimate relationship between pastor and congregation. More
importantly, there must be a change in the intimate relationship between Christ and His
Church. This change must showcase the Gospel at every level of fellowship, in every
individual...including the pastor.
- There's promise in the intimate pastorate. It's where the health is. It's where the
Gospel is. It's where God is.
- Is it where you are?
- Thomas F. Fischer
Index Articles 1-49
Articles 50-99 Articles
100-149 Articles 150-199
200-249 Articles 250-299
Articles 300-349 Articles
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was revised on:
Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:04:11 PM