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How do you pastor a pastor?

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(Photo: Unsplash/Ben White)

How do you pastor a pastor? I have tried many ways to answer this question in my short time in ministry. Supervision and counselling, networking with fellow pastors and leaders, as well as sabbath-taking.

Pastoring is hard enough without taking into account the fact that you need to be pastored yourself. Theologically (and actually), the Lord himself is my Pastor, the great High Priest who ministers to me by His Holy Spirit and mediates to the Father on my behalf. What a delight it is to be able to articulate and live in this reality.

As a person whose vocation intersects with the sacredness of spiritually guiding others, however, it is important for me to have others care for me as well. As a pastor, your soul needs to be fought for and curated too. You need to be seen and heard as you are. So where does a pastor go to find this?

I go to the barbershop.

My barber the pastor

Eugene Peterson, pastor-theologian, grew up with a father who was a butcher. He described in his memoir that his father was in fact more than just a butcher who provided meat for the community.

In his eyes his father was a priest, like those from the Levitical order, preparing and offering meat to people as a priest would. He could see a holy vocational call in the seemingly ordinary job.

If Peterson could see a priest in his father’s vocation as butcher, then I can see (with careful consideration), the role of a pastor in my barber.

Sacred presence

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The barber shop itself is unassuming, ironically situated directly next to a small church building. Every time I park up to go in, having booked my haircut earlier in the week, I am excited to see my mate.

The walk into the building has a kind of holy routine to it—I step through the door and head to the seats (ironically, old pews from a church) and wait for my turn. My barber greets me personally and with gusto. Often when I come in he is doing the finishing touches on another client and if he is, I get a glimpse of a pastor-at-work.

(Photo: Unsplash/Allef Vinicius)

As he cuts, he listens, counselling the person sitting in his chair with as much care for their soul as for the haircut itself. Broken relationships, problems with raising children, social issues like racism, politics, local and global news and spiritual conversations about God … I have heard him counsel people about all these things.

When I am in the chair, he provides the listening ear to whatever it is I am thinking about that week, from how I am doing as a parent and husband, to the latest news about the NZ Warriors, to the deeper stuff happening in the community and the world. We rejoice together and grieve together. He is the pastor St. Paul would be proud of.

Missional connection

One of the most profound experiences I have had sharing in this space with my barber is the amazing way he is a missionary to those around him.

All sorts of people grace the shop. At my last haircut, he stopped midway to greet a passerby—a guy whose story he knows in full detail: struggling with job loss and a battle with depression. My barber told me with much joy (and a pastoral heart) that the man was now back on his feet.

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In amongst our haircuts he lets me know (in purposefully vague terms to honour confidentiality), about the lives of his clients (or more appropriately, parishioners).

One group in particular is those who have finished serving their prison sentences. The first thing they do—recommended by people on the inside who are ex-clients—is go for a haircut. I can see how this simple act provides a sacred entry into their newfound freedom.

Another group that he cuts for are those from the disability community. Just the other day he had folks on the autism spectrum. They were able to freely move around, with music blaring loudly for them, engaging in the room with joyous wonder.

To both these groups of people, my barber is a missionary who shows care and connects with them on a human level.

To me, my barber connects through a shared faith in Jesus Christ. To others, he speaks their language and in their dialect. Like Pastor St. Paul, he too lives out the principles of “becoming like a Jew to the Jews” so as to win them over.

When me and my barber meet in that sacred place in that chair of confession and connection, for a moment our vocations become one and the same. In the midst of the ordinary, I meet a pastor disguised as a barber.

Courtesy of Press Service International

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