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Pastor as Poet in the Time of the Pandemic: Exploring a Pastoral Image through Amy Plantinga Pauw’s Wisdom Ecclesiology

My context is Aotearoa New Zealand.

When the reality of the Covid-19 pandemic moved from our television screens and internet reports into growing case numbers and then nation-wide lockdown on the 25th March 2020, our situation felt anything but normal. It was a surreal moment that launched us into the unknown. For the past eighteen months, this strange experience continues to linger with various levels of lockdowns, vaccines, testing, debates of whose information is trustworthy, and, sadly, sickness and death. This pandemic has led to a general sense of disorientation. Like the Psalmist in Psalm 77, we have “cried out to God for help” (v. 1) and we ask searching questions of God: “Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again?” (vv. 7–9).[1]

Into this situation, pastors are called to journey with the people of God. This is not an easy task. The church is made up of humans. Like all others, we are created to live within God’s world. Therefore, we are vulnerable to disease and the natural processes of the world. Amy Plantinga Pauw suggests that many Christians read the Bible in ways that overlook our identity as God’s creatures.[2] Pauw suggests that a wisdom ecclesiology, which is an account of church that is grounded in God’s original act of gracious creation, allows us more sufficiently to reflect theologically on our status as God’s creatures and attend to God’s movement through lived experience.[3] To be a pastor in a world affected by the Covid-19 pandemic is to do the hard work of helping people in our churches become oriented to the ever-present movement of God in this new, disorienting context.

I will argue that the metaphor of pastor as poet is a helpful description of the pastoral task during the pandemic. I will begin by establishing an ecclesiological framework, drawing on Amy Plantinga Pauw’s wisdom ecclesiology. She suggests that as God’s creatures, we are vulnerable and, therefore, subject to creaturely limits. And yet, amongst the disorientation of such vulnerability, God is present with us renewing our experiences in the service and witness of Jesus Christ as we learn to live the postures of faith: making new and making do, longing, giving, suffering, rejoicing, and joining hands. Then I will argue the key pastoral task of the pastor as poet is to draw attention to God’s movement. I will then offer three characteristics of the pastor as poet ministering in the pandemic as one who re-shapes the social imaginary, speaks in a creative tone, and ministers in concrete reality.

Developing a Wisdom Ecclesiology

In her book, Church in Ordinary Time, Amy Plantinga Pauw develops the notion of a wisdom ecclesiology. According to Pauw, Professor of Doctrinal Theology at Louisville Seminary, a wisdom ecclesiology maps an account of church that is shaped by how resources of wisdom literature might contribute to being church. She suggests that much theological engagement with ecclesiology is drawn from a hermeneutic of salvation history, which emphasises that the church exists because of God’s salvific and redemptive activity in the world. [4] While this is critical to a good ecclesiology, Pauw argues that this perspective has encouraged a neglect of certain books of the Bible that speak about life in other ways. She writes, “The Wisdom books Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes were until rather recently viewed as stepchildren of the canon, awkward presences whose concerns were largely alien to the center of Israel’s faith.”[5] Pauw argues that this primary focus on salvation history has caused the Wisdom Literature to be overlooked in conversations on ecclesiology. She suggests that standing alongside our accounts of church shaped by God’s saving action in the world should also be an account of church shaped by God’s original and ongoing work of creation.[6] Pauw is exploring the range of creation theologies in the Old Testament suggesting how they might enrich our ecclesiology.[7] She states, “The horizon of Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes is creation.”[8] Thus, an account of wisdom ecclesiology is grounded in God’s original and ongoing gracious work of creation in which God “continues to relate to and sustain all that God has made.”[9]

Pauw argues that much is at stake in articulating an ecclesiology drawn from a robust doctrine of creation because creatureliness and creaturehood is taken seriously. Such an emphasis upon creaturehood allows for a grounded account of church to be established and the dignifying of ordinary, everyday human activities. Pauw writes,

An account of church in ordinary time encourages Christians to acknowledge and reflect on the fullness of their relationship to the triune God, which includes their relationship to God as Creator. It prompts an acknowledgement of commonality with other creatures of God. It encourages Christians to think about the texture of their daily life in community, and about how spiritual transformation characteristically happens by God’s presence in the ordinary processes of the world. From the perspective of ordinary time, there is no disconnection between the reality of God’s active presence, on the one hand, and the need for human discernment struggle, and patience, on the other.[10]

In this way, a wisdom ecclesiology is willing and able to dive into the messiness of human life, the morally ambiguous situations that humans encounter, the ordinary movements and moments of human life and relationships, and acknowledges that even here, the creative presence of the Holy Spirit is making Christ known. In his book Participating in God, British Baptist theologian Paul Fiddes also notes the importance of lived experience in connection to theological reflection. He writes, “Our experience of ourselves and others must always be understood in the context of a God who is present in the world, offering a self-communication which springs from a boundless love.”[11] The aim is for an ecclesiology that avoids abstractions of what church life should be and grounds the presence of God in everyday actions of Christians.[12] As Pauw summarises, a wisdom ecclesiology is a “distillation of corporate and corporeal experience. It attempts to remain close to the flow of daily experience … It seeks practical wisdom for Christian living, a way of communal life shaped by convictions about God’s gracious character and purposes as they have been made known in Jesus Christ.”[13]

Drawing on Lauren Winner’s work, Pauw suggests that a wisdom ecclesiology is something like a middle tint. A painter will use a tint in the middle of the colour palette to cover the canvas which would then offer depth and definition to the more dramatic lights and darks. Winner, as cited in Pauw writes, “Perhaps middle tint is the palette of faithfulness. Middle tint is going to church each week, opening the prayer book each day. This is rote, unshowy behaviour, and you would not notice it if you weren’t looking for it, but it is necessary; it is most of the canvas.”[14] As Pauw acknowledges, “The primary aim of a wisdom ecclesiology is not aspirational—a blueprint of church as it should be—but rather a theological account of church that pays attention to its ordinary textures and rhythms. It is a view from church kitchens and parking lots and choir rooms.”[15] A wisdom ecclesiology takes seriously the embodied and lived experiences of Christians and opens them up as spaces where we might be met by Christ’s presence and live faithfully the kind of life that God calls us to.

In the final part of her book, following the arc of the liturgical year, Pauw suggests that there are six postures of faith that church lives from as it responds to the Gospel.[16] These postures of faith are “making new and making do” (Ordinary Time), “longing” (Advent), “giving” (Christmas), “suffering” (Lent), “rejoicing” (Easter), and “joining hands” (Pentecost).[17] Pauw suggests these postures of faith are grounded in the bodily and concrete activity of Christians.[18]

If we apply these postures of faith to the Covid-19 pandemic, they can readily be seen in church and Christian life during it. “Making new and making do” recognises that we are made to dwell within God’s world. We have no control over the pandemic or the timing of our life on earth. Therefore, we make do with what we have. And yet, through the Spirit, the currents and activity of pandemic life are made new in the service and witness of Jesus Christ. The posture of “longing” is seen in the church’s prayer that God would be with us as God’s creation groans through the pandemic “as in the pains of childbirth” (Rom 8:22). “Giving” reminds us of the overwhelming gift of grace that God has given to us in Christ.[19] As we have received this gift, Christians are also to become generous givers. In the pandemic, we have wonderful theological and biblical resources to offer that bring love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22–23) into situations we face. “Suffering” acknowledges that as God’s creatures, Christians are vulnerable to the disorienting effects of the pandemic—even sickness and death from Covid. The posture of “rejoicing” is more difficult to see in the pandemic, however, there are hints of rejoicing in the songs of native birds that have been heard more frequently—especially during lockdowns as the stillness of roads travelled less frequently and the slower pace of life allows the chorus of wild life to be more readily heard.[20] Finally, “joining hands” recognises that the Spirit was poured out upon all people at Pentecost. Therefore, through the Spirit, Christians can reach across boundaries that divide to join hands with others.[21] In the pandemic, Christians can join hands with others as an act of unity to love, care, and protect the community—especially those who are vulnerable to the debilitating effects of Covid.

Pastor as Poet

A wisdom ecclesiology highlights the importance of everyday life, movements, and feelings in the life of the church as spaces of Christ’s grace and presence with us, and this includes congregational life and the identity and function of pastors. Along with Fiddes, I define a pastor as anyone who engages in pastoral acts in the Christian church, whether as lay or ordained members.[22] In what follows, there will be some fluidity between pastoral activities that are directed toward an individual and those that are directed toward a Christian community. Thus, in this article, when I use the term “pastor” I have in mind anyone in the Christian church who participates in pastoral acts through such things as visitation, prayer, liturgy, preaching, small groups, giving of the sacraments, Christian education, listening, and so on. What I intend to address is not so much a new practice as another lens for understanding pastoral activities.

Lynne Baab, a Presbyterian Church (USA) minister and author of numerous books on Christian spiritual practices, suggests that pastoral care is often understood as helping people to solve their problems—whether spiritual, emotional, physical, or psychological. Within this frame, pastoral care can be giving someone a meal, meeting in an office offering care based on psychotherapeutic models, or phoning someone who is isolated. While these are all essential forms of ministry, Baab argues that this problem-centred approach does not constitute pastoral care that is distinctly Christian.[23] Rather, Christian pastoral care insists on an approach toward others that curiously wonders what God is doing and is attentive to God’s presence in that person’s life.[24] Baab talks about this as the overlap between everyday life and what the person being listened to believe and experience about God.[25] The role of the pastor is to help draw the person’s attention to the divine Triune movement amongst the movements of human life and activity. As Baab notes, “Carers help people talk through the challenging situations of their life in the light of the ways God is already at work or ways they would like to see God at work.”[26] Only by drawing attention to this spiritual dimension can pastoral care truly be called Christian. Along with Baab, I suggest that the role of the pastor is to help people to be attentive to God’s presence in the currents of human life. Amongst the plethora of other metaphors that help us understand the pastor’s role in the Covid-19 pandemic, one particular metaphor that may be of use in understanding this task is the pastor as poet.

According to Craig Barnes, President of Princeton Seminary and former senior pastor of National Presbyterian Church in Washington DC, poets are those who move beyond the veneer of face value in search of a deeper meaning.[27] They are committed to encountering truth in a deeper way. An engineer may spend all day dreaming about constructing a strong bridge that helps people move from one side of a stream to the other. A poet might walk across the bridge and begin constructing a verse that pays attention to the necessary bridges in our life that we need so that we can pass over our own disasters and abysses.[28] In this way, poets move beyond what can be seen on the surface to explore deeper ways of understanding the world around us. Through this, poets seek to speak to the soul—the innermost part of who we are as human. Barnes writes, “Poets see the despair and heartache as well as the beauty and miracle that lie just beneath the thin veneer of the ordinary, and they describe this in ways that are recognized not only in the mind, but more profoundly in the soul.”[29] Applying this notion in the context of the pandemic, the role of the pastor as poet is to look beyond the surface of human experience to explore God’s movement in the disorientation of the pandemic. In what follows, I wish to develop three characteristics of pastors as poets as they explore God’s movement and guide Christians in embodying the postures of faith throughout pandemic life: 1) The pastor as poet re-shaping the social imaginary, 2) the pastor as poet speaking in creative tones, and 3) the pastor as poet ministering in concrete reality.

The Pastor as Poet re-shapes the social imaginary

In his book, A Secular Age, Charles Taylor develops the notion of the social imaginary. A social imaginary is the often unconscious ways in which people “imagine” their social existence.[30] This imagining shapes the way people feel, what they believe about their relationships, how they function within society, their expectations of social interactions. A social imaginary is what is often simply “taken for granted.”[31] It is not so much shaped by theoretical and intellectual frameworks as it is by “images, stories, legends, etc.”[32] In noting this, Taylor is trying to account for the shift from an “enchanted” world in which belief in God and other such spiritual beings was normal to a shift in a disenchanted world where exclusive humanism became a possible option of belief. However, such a shift in the social imaginary not only created the conditions for atheism to exist but also profoundly affected religious communities and their “taken for granted” assumptions about the world.[33] While this shift to atheism is located in our contemporary age, there is, perhaps, a wider point to be made. In every age, there are social imaginaries and implicit beliefs espoused within cultures and societies that shape those in the pews. The gospel story of God’s activity in the world is always competing with the stories that shape the social imaginary of the age.[34]

Within this milieu, there are two dynamics at work through which pastors as poets re-shape the social imaginary of their parishioners. First, they highlight how the prevailing social imaginary is shaping the church’s collective beliefs about the world.[35] To do this, pastors must be sensitive to the broader cultural influences that shape their churches. They name those influences and show how they affect church’s and Christian’s beliefs and practices. Secondly, pastors can offer pictures and words that continue to construct a Gospel-shaped imaginary. Through Scripture and theological reflection, pastors draw the flock’s attention to the voice of the Good Shepherd. (John 10:27). [36] Paul demonstrates this dual activity of the pastor in Acts 17:16–34. He moves through the Greek marketplace observing the cultural stories at play. In his speech at the Areopagus, he quotes Greek philosophers and poets. But then Paul presents an alternative story that is shaped by deep theological reflection. The pastor as poet’s role is to journey with Christians in exploring and naming these cultural influences while also naming and exploring how the gospel may re-shape our social imaginary.[37]

Written during New Zealand’s first nationwide Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, Anderson Rocio’s moody and reflective song “Paradise” has been called a “pandemic anthem” by The Guardian.[38] The song acknowledges present fears, “afraid of sirens all looking for faces we might know,” but looks forward to the future with hope, “fireworks in the darkness, we’re trusting the light show to take us home.” A pastor may utilise songs like this one to capture the feeling of life in the pandemic. But for Christians, perhaps fireworks and the haphazard imagery it represents is not the right metaphor. Perhaps this could be re-interpreted as a pillar of fire—a guide and reminder of the presence of God—leading the Israelites through the unknown terrain of the desert to a place of safety, a place to call home (Exod 13:21). Using music, metaphors, poetry, stories, and a wide variety of art, pastors may draw attention to the disorientating effect of the pandemic but offer a picture of the ever-present God guiding us through this new terrain teaching the church to live in the postures of suffering and longing.

The pastor as poet speaks in creative tones

Taylor argues that, in our current age, “desiccated reason” struggles to move people and their perceptions.[39] In other words, a shift in social imaginary cannot be achieved through reasoned arguments alone. Taylor suggests that a subtler language is needed that resonates with the listener: “Getting assent to some external formula is not the main thing, but being able to generate the moving insight into higher reality is what is important.”[40] Taylor calls this the age of authenticity.[41] Now, this can lead, as Taylor points out, to an overly subjective and individualistic position where one should follow their own “path of spiritual inspiration” even if that leads away from orthodox formulations.[42] It is important to note that Taylor is arguing for a theoretical framework that tries to capture the “feeling” of our modern age. The point being that in our contemporary age, reason is necessary but is “effective” only to the extent that it resonates with us. Very rarely do strictly reasoned arguments move the human soul. Instead, a subtler language is necessary.[43]

One way to understand this subtler language is through Walter Brueggemann’s use of the poetic. By poetic he is not talking about rhyme or verse or meter. Rather he means that it “moves like Bob Gibson’s fast ball, that jumps at the right moment, that breaks open old worlds with surprise, abrasion, and pace.”[44] He goes on to say that it is “the ready, steady, surprising proposal that the real world in which God invites us to live is not the one made available by the rulers of this age.”[45] Or, to use Charles Taylor’s language, the social imaginary that we inhabit today.

While one of the pastors most important tasks is to listen deeply—to culture, to Scripture, to the person or community in front of them, and to God’s movement during a conversation—there is also a time when a pastor must speak.[46] The tone of the pastor as poet is creative and moves the imagination.[47] James K. A. Smith suggests that poetic art and literature shapes the imagination not by trying to change our mind, nor by trying to convince us, “but rather effects a subtle conversion of the imagination. I need to see differently before I’ll ever think differently.”[48] This is a difficult task,[49] but it occurs through the slow and faithful speaking of God’s activity in the world through a pastor’s Gospel-fuelled imagination.[50] Thus, pastors as poets must take care with their words, allowing the imagery, stories, metaphors of Scripture, and theology to permeate what they write and say, so that their words may shape those they are called to minister to in ways that are faithful to God and attentive to God’s movement today.[51] This poetic skill helps the Christian community to be curiously attentive to God’s activity in the particularity of the ambiguous and disorienting new rhythms of life that have come with living in the pandemic. It also articulates new and innovative ways that the church might express faithfully the postures of church life as it learns to inhabit new ways of gathering, expressing pastoral care, and engaging in missional acts.

For pastors, all forms of communication become spaces in which we might speak poetically offering metaphors, symbols, creative ideas, and using the imagination. These forms of communication can include newsletters, pastoral visits, sermons, and the shape of the liturgical seasons. Even something as simple as art on the walls of a church can offer a poetic take on life in the pandemic and God’s movement. A painting by a fifteen-year-old at the church where I minister was hung on the wall at our church. It is a painting of a stream coursing through lush green land. When viewing this painting, it called various Psalms to the minds of my parishioners. Through her art, this fifteen-year-old pastored us in a poetic way as we remembered the songs of old promising us that God is our shepherd (Psalm 23) and our hiding place (Psalm 32). It reminded us of the posture of rejoicing in God’s being present with us as we contemplated new ways of gathering during Aotearoa’s second major country-wide lockdown in August 2021.

Pastor as poet ministers in concrete reality

As we have seen, a wisdom ecclesiology does not allow for the pastoral task to become abstracted from real people in real places and in real situations. Following God’s lead, the pastor as poet must minister in concrete reality. According to Karl Barth, God’s Word is not one that is abstractly spoken but addresses people:

Knowledge of revelation does not mean an abstract knowledge of God confronting an abstract man. Rather, it is concrete knowledge of the God who has sought man and meets him in his concrete situation and finds him there. Revelation is a concrete knowledge of God and man in the event brought about by the initiative of a sovereign God.[52]

As God’s Word meets with us in our time and place, the pastor’s speech must also encounter people in their time and place. The pastor’s ministry involves names, stories, encounters, specific prayers, and listening. Each of these require a certain groundedness—a curious desire to see the movement of the Spirit in that person’s life. The pastor steps into the role of working alongside people as they discern, struggle, and live patiently in the ambiguity and disorientation of pandemic life. The pastor is present in the ordinary currents of the world drawing that person’s attention to the creative working of God. The pastor as poet can gently speak and reframe that person’s social imaginary so they can see the flame or hear the word or feel the wind of the Spirit. This is not abstract work directed toward theoretical people. It is done in a community of people who are known and loved. Barnes writes, that the pastor as poet

knows these people. He or she knows the unique struggles, confusions, and yearnings they carry around in their hearts because they are perceived not as people in general but as the collection of individuals who have made their way into the heart of the pastor. Over the years they have invited the pastor into enough of the mystery of their lives that it is now possible for him or her to see beyond the constructed identities of smiling faces and freshly pressed dresses that fill the church’s photo directory. Their pastor is theirs.[53]

As God’s speech is directed to concrete people and concrete communities, the pastor as poet’s speech is directed to a particular person and community. Without entering into the lived story of another, the pastor cannot be attentive to God’s mysterious movement in the ordinary spaces of that person’s life.

In his teaching, Jesus draws to our attention the ordinary and every day. He asks us to look at the birds (Matthew 6:26) and notice the flowers in the field (Matthew 6:28).[54] Jesus’ ministry is a place where people are named and known—”tax collectors” become Matthew (Matthew 9:9) and Zacchaeus (Luke 19:2). Jesus calls the particular to our attention. In the disorienting wake of the pandemic, much of life has been uprooted and changed: online meetings interrupted by children bursting into the room shouting loudly, loneliness and disconnection exacerbated by lockdowns, fear about vaccines, and the renewed sound of native birds playing in trees nearby. These are part of the particularities of disorientation and reorientation of life in the midst of the pandemic.[55] Pastors as poets hear these stories, pray alongside these people, bear in their minds these ones who are named. Together, they discern the orientating movement of God’s Spirit in the song of the birds, as they explore their fear around the vaccine, as they provide friendship to the lonely, and show the humour of God as excitable children continue to be children.

The pastor as poet is called to shape the social imaginary of a person or a community through curious attentiveness to the movement of the Spirit and to creatively name those sacred spaces in the midst of the current pandemic. This requires that the pastor as poet be sensitive to the cultural context—the social imaginary—that a person or community inhabits, to be theologically reflective, to be creative in a way that speaks to the soul, and to do all this within the context of a life or a community that is named and loved. When pastors move beyond the surface and use poetic language and images to address the souls of those in their care, they draw attention to the presence and movement of God in the middle of the disorienting effects of the pandemic and enable a new orientation to emerge. This new orientation is centred on the Gospel story allowing even daily life in the Covid-19 pandemic to be renewed in the service and witness of Jesus Christ as Christians learn to live the postures of faith in this disorienting context. The pastor as poet draws to attention and articulates how God is at work making new the rhythms of church life in the service and witness of Jesus Christ as it longs for healing and the promise of new creation, gives generously to others, suffers as a vulnerable creature alongside the rest of God’s creation, rejoices in God’s presence and the birdsong, and joins hands with others to love, care, and protect the community from the debilitating effects of Covid.


The Covid-19 pandemic has had a disorienting effect on our society and in our churches. A wisdom ecclesiology helps us to honestly affirm that as creatures, we are subject to creaturely limits. We were created in God’s grace and continue to be sustained by that same grace. And yet, the wonderful assurance of a wisdom ecclesiology is that God continues to be with us through the extraordinary moments of pandemic life. The role of the pastor as poet is to be attentive to this flow of life as it is experienced, curiously listening as to how God is using these moments for the service and witness of Jesus Christ. Pastors as poets minister to the concrete community—the brothers and sisters in Christ—that they know and love, naming the realities of pandemic life and seeking to draw attention to God’s being present through a theologically reflective mode. Moreover, when called to speak, the pastor as poet’s speech is creative, utilising the language, stories, metaphors of Scripture, and theological reflection to break through the immanent social imaginary to draw attention to God’s ongoing and creative presence amid the disorienting effect of the pandemic.

But lest a pastor drown in the weight of expectation, a wisdom ecclesiology reminds us that this ministry of learning to live the postures of faith in the pandemic takes place day-after-day, conversation-after-conversation, Sunday-by-Sunday, prayer-by-prayer. It is slow, intentional work, always attending to the everyday while believing in the faithful presence of God’s Spirit. The pastor as poet believes that even when the pandemic remains, Jesus also remains—that throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, Jesus “walks with us, Jesus hears us, Jesus prays with us.”[56] Pastors as poets minister in this reality, name it, and creatively draw it to the attention of those they know and love and pastor.

Sebastian Murrihy has a Masters of Theology from Laidlaw College. He is currently the minister at Knox Presbyterian Church, Waitara.

[1] All biblical references are from the NIV (1984) unless indicated.

[2] Amy Plantinga Pauw, Church in Ordinary Time: A Wisdom Ecclesiology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2017), 11.

[3] Pauw, Church in Ordinary Time, 136.

[4] Pauw, Church in Ordinary Time, 11.

[5] Pauw, Church in Ordinary Time, 11–12.

[6] It is important to note that Pauw is in no sense trying to play off the historical-salvific accounts of church over and against one’s that originate from God’s original and ongoing creative work. Rather, she insists that a fuller theological engagement with church on both of these grounds enlarges our understanding of God and also of God’s engagement with the church and the world. The two have different logics but both belong to God’s gracious work. See especially Pauw, Church in Ordinary Time, 53.

[7] Pauw, Church in Ordinary Time, 11–13.

[8] Pauw, Church in Ordinary Time, 12.

[9] Pauw, Church in Ordinary Time, 12. While not necessarily agreeing with all that Pauw develops, John Webster also argues that a doctrine of God and God’s creative work is a crucial starting point for developing an ecclesiology. See John Webster, Confessing God: Essays in Christian Dogmatics II (London: T&T Clark, 2016), 156–57.

[10] Pauw, Church in Ordinary Time, 3.

[11] Paul S. Fiddes, Participating in God: A Pastoral Doctrine of the Trinity (Louisville, KY: Westminster Press, 2000), 8. I am grateful to Steve Taylor through a personal engagement for the connection between Fiddes’ work and that of Pauw.

[12] Elsewhere, Fiddes writes, “Faith is not a mere matter of words but is embodied (his italics); it takes bodily form in the life of a community as people live together, and communities cannot operate without some kinds of institutions and structures.” See Paul S. Fiddes, “Ecclesiology and Ethnography: Two Disciplines, Two Worlds?” in Perspectives on Ecclesiology and Ethnography, ed. Pete Ward (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012), 19.

[13] Pauw, Church in Ordinary Time, 17.

[14] Lauren F. Winner, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis (New York: HarperOne, 2013), 190 as cited in Pauw, Church in Ordinary Time, 17.

[15] Pauw, Church in Ordinary Time, 17–18.

[16] Pauw, Church in Ordinary Time, 106–107.

[17] Pauw, Church in Ordinary Time, 107.

[18] Pauw, Church in Ordinary Time, 106.

[19] Of this gift, Pauw says, “This gift is too great for us to make sense of. It overwhelms our categories, breaking open the earthly boundaries of what we imagine to be possible.” See Pauw, Church in Ordinary Time, 126.

[20] For example, see this new article from Radio New Zealand.

[21] Pauw, Church in Ordinary Time, 150.

[22] Fiddes, Participating in God, 7–8.

[23] Lynne M. Baab, Nurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First Century (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2018), 11.

[24] Baab, Nurturing Hope, 11–12.

[25] Baab, Nurturing Hope, 8.

[26] Baab, Nurturing Hope, 8.

[27] M. Craig Barnes, The Pastor as Minor Prophet: Texts and Subtexts in the Ministerial Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009), 19.

[28] Barnes, Pastor as Minor Prophet, 19.

[29] Barnes, Pastor as Minor Prophet, 17.

[30] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018), 171.

[31] James K. A. Smith, How (Not) to be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014), 28.

[32] Taylor, A Secular Age, 172.

[33] Smith, How (Not) to be Secular, 28.

[34] John Swinton, Raging with Compassion: Pastoral Responses to the Problem of Evil (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 180.

[35] Smith, How (Not) to be Secular, xi. See also, Kevin Vanhoozer, Hearers and Doers: A Pastor’s Guide to Making Disciples through Scripture and Doctrine (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 9-10. It is also worth noting that, according to Pauw, church is neither wholly against the world, nor wholly aligned with it. She writes that church “aims to be neither an island of heaven in the sea of earthly reality, nor the sacred legitimation of any existing worldly order. It sits at an angle to earthly arrangements, neither wholly transcending them nor wholly aligned with them.” See Pauw, Church in Ordinary Time, 82.

[36] Barnes, Pastor as Minor Poet, 24–25.

[37] This work is similar to the work of the Old Testament prophets. Because of this, Walter Brueggemann argues that the poetic function of the pastor is similar to that of the prophetic. See Walter Brueggemann, Finally Comes the Poet: Daring Speech for Proclamation (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1989), 4.

[38] See

[39] Taylor, A Secular Age, 489.

[40] Taylor, A Secular Age, 489.

[41] Andrew Root defines authenticity as seeing “ourselves on a journey to make meaning, seeking to be loyal (often only) to what speaks to us, to what engages us, to what moves us.” See Andrew Root, Faith Formation in a Secular Age: Responding to the Church’s Obsession with Youthfulness (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017), xx.

[42] Taylor, A Secular Age, 489. Not one to rest on simplistic conclusions, Taylor suggests that retreating to an individualist position rarely is the case. He writes, “The new framework has a strongly individualist component, but this will not necessarily mean that the content will be individuating. Many people will find themselves joining extremely powerful religious communities. Because that’s where many people’s sense of the spiritual will lead them.” See Taylor, A Secular Age, 516.

[43] Charles Taylor is somewhat ambivalent as to whether the age of authenticity is a good thing. He suggests that it is probably better than most of the alternatives, especially if, in the words of Steve Taylor commenting on Charles Taylor’s work, authenticity is correctly practiced in a way which does not “result in individualism or tribalism but rather a generation of people ‘made more self-responsible.’” See Taylor, A Secular Age, 513 and Steve John Taylor, “The Complexity of Authenticity in Religious Innovation: ‘Alternative Worship’ and Its Appropriation as ‘Fresh Expressions,’” M/C Journal, 18, no. 1 (January 20, 2015).

[44] Brueggemann, Finally Comes the Poet, 3.

[45] Brueggemann, Finally Comes the Poet, 3.

[46] Baab argues persuasively for the need for pastors and pastoral carers to listen deeply. See Baab, Nurturing Hope, 127-148 and Lynne M. Baab, The Power of Listening: Building Sills for Mission and Ministry (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014).

[47] A powerful contextual example of this can be seen in the work of Otis Moss III, where he argues for a blue note preaching that takes seriously the Gospel and the life of African Americans. Such preaching, Moss contends, is poetic and prophetic. See Otis Moss III, Blue Note Preaching in a Post-Soul World: Finding Hope in and Age of Despair (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2015).

[48] James K. A. Smith, ‘I’m a Philosopher. We Can’t Think Our Way Out of This Mess.’ Christian Century 138, no. 5 (10 March, 2021),

[49] Swinton, Raging with Compassion, 180.

[50] Pauw writes, “As Augustine knows, the heart’s reorientation toward God through communal formation is a slow and gradual process.” See Pauw, Church in Ordinary Time, 15.

[51] Brueggemann, Finally comes the Poet, 3–4.

[52] Karl Barth, God in Action: Theological Address (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1936), 11–12

[53] Barnes, Pastor as Minor Poet, 26.

[54] Debie Thomas, ‘Jesus the Poet’. Christian Century 138, no. 18 (September 8, 2021): 35.

[55] Walter Brueggemann draws our attention to the Psalms as Psalms of orientation, disorientation, and reorientation. See Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalm: A Theological Commentary (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1984).

[56] Pauw, Church in Ordinary Time, 142.