The Real Job of the Pastor

Thoughts inspired from excerpts of Peter Rollins’ book “Insurrection”

Rollins has a chapter titled, "The Real Job of the Pastor" that cut deeply when I first read it. I suspect that these excerpts will be extremely comforting to some and deeply frustrating to others.

I will list various quotes from the chapter and add some of my own thoughts too.

“Let us reflect briefly upon an implicit role that [pastors] currently play within the contemporary Church. At its most basic, [pastors] believe on behalf of the community. This seems to allow us the freedom to doubt. In this way, the [pastor]… protects us from the central experience of Christ on the Cross.

The pastor… acts as a force field…”

In this way, the pastor’s purity and goodness and faith, make it possible for parishioners to doubt and struggle and sin - because the pastor is carrying the weight of the Church members faith for them. This is, for example, why people in churches most often quote their pastor more than their Bible. As long as his heroic example exists, their own shortcomings are only their own personal failures - not evidence of a SYSTEM that doesn’t work.

Or consider another example, many conservative churches believe premarital sex or extra-marital sex is wrong - and while they engage in these activities at a statistically high level (usually the same as non-believers), as long as the pastor abstains and is faithful - the SYSTEM does not suffer a breach. BUT, when a pastor fails, either by giving in to doubt or in some other moral way - it triggers a system breach where they force field fails temporarily allowing the anxiety and weight to fall fully, even if briefly, on those whose faith was sheltered under the force field. For many, this triggers an unwanted existential crisis.

“Existential crisis generally arises not because of some new information that a person receives, but because they are now confronted with what they already know but refuse to admit. ”

So what do we already know? What do we already know about the faith system that we are part of that we cannot speak or allow to be in our conscious thought. Like Luke Skywalker, our ugly crying scream, “NOOOOOOOOO… that’s impossible - that can’t be true” - is actually proof that somewhere deep inside we already likely know. This willful unknowing is worth reflecting on as it is a key human growth and maturity. But rather than face it - often we try to drown it out.

“…The endless courses on apologetics, triumphalist music, confident prayers, and sermons of certainty don’t necessarily reflect the beliefs of the people offering them or receiving them. But everyone participates regardless, because they protect us from facing up to the anxieties of our existence. In this way much of the contemporary Church resembles a drug that prevents us from facing up to the suffering and difficulty that is part of life.


The whole religion industry is thus fueled by our desire to escape suffering and avoid the gnawing sense of meaninglessness. The certainty is marketable because it is a response to our unhappy situation, and it keeps selling because it is ultimately ineffective in properly transforming it. ”

I enjoy being challenged by Rollins’ books and talks. These are the sorts of topics we often pick out at the Jesus + Beer conversations that I host around MKE - you and your doubts and struggles are welcome any week.

Photographer + Storyteller. Pastor + Advocate. Schemer + Party commencer.