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The Pastor and the Jedi-Master

Today’s guest post comes from Brainerd Prince. The comparative essay examines the leadership style of the Jedi–and its emphasis upon masterhood–and draws implications for Christian pastoral ministry leadership. For disciples to become more like Christ, a pastor must become more like a Jedi-Master. (Click to Tweet)

A Jedi Master Trains His Padawans

Jesus, after he was gone, wanted his disciples to be masters like himself rather than contemporary pastors! This is neither to be provocative for the sake of it nor purely an attention-grabber.  I am deliberately positing the image of a master in opposition to that of a pastor with a view to get behind these images and seek an ultimate reconciliation. I will begin with the master-image. Jesus was a master and in his becoming the ‘servant’ and ‘friend’ he was equally elevating his ‘servants’ and ‘friends’ to masterhood. That is why he was able to say to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and great works than these he will do; because I go to the Father’ (John 14:12).

Being a master is a bit like being a Jedi-Master in the world of Star Wars, the highest rank of the Jedi order, with the privilege of sitting in the Jedi High Council. A master could also be compared to the Aristotelian Master-Craftsman, the wise Architekton, who is a master of his techne, or craft and contributes to the advancement of both his craft and human knowledge. Another comparison can be made to the Indian Guru who possesses the knowledge and skills of his tradition. One must not get the impression here, that what is being advanced is a certain hierarchical or elitist view of the ‘master’, on the contrary, what is being interrogated is – who exactly is a master? Jesus said, ‘follow me and I will make you…’ A master is someone who makes ‘something in someone’. That is the definition of being a master – one who is able to make ‘something in someone’.

It is very interesting to note that in the Jedi legend, the rank of master was bestowed on only a very few knights every generation. Remarkably, the normative path for a knight to become a Jedi master was by training several junior Padawans to become knights and ensure that they pass the Jedi trials successfully. This would get acknowledged by the High Council who will then promote the master-knight to Jedi-master. The Aristotelian Architekton similarly had apprentices working under him who learnt the crafts. The Architekton sets the highest standards of the craft, which the students sought to imitate and surpass. The Indian Guru too had knowledge of the shastras (texts) and Yogic skills that were passed on to the shishyas (disciples) who learnt from him. In each of these traditions, the master had the ability to make ‘something in someone’ so that the apprentice could do greater things than the master who was training him; even as first they sought to reach the excellence achieved by the master. We do not hear of Jesus’ shadow healing anyone, but Peter’s shadow sure did (Acts 5:15).

But is this the image we have of a pastor today? Is she primarily seen as a master who is passing on skills and crafts to apprentices and disciples, who will in turn do greater things than her? Is she seen as someone who has to make ‘something in someone’? All I am asking for, is an interrogation of what is required of the role of a pastor today? The New Testament had high demands on that role. It required a similar role to that of the Gospels’ image of a master. She was to teach, train and preach apart from shepherding roles. These are highly sophisticated and technical skills that require a pastor to be a grammarian, philosopher, theologian, politician, and mediator. It is indeed a high calling! A calling for a select few, for those who are not only acknowledged to possess these skills, but who by imparting to others, by producing ‘something in someone’ and in the acknowledged success of their disciples, become master-pastors. Does this not remind us of Paul’s command to Timothy, ‘And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others’ (2 Timothy 2:2). Timothy’s own rite of passage into apostleship, or into masterhood, was not just being a preacher or teacher, but in ‘entrusting’, or producing ‘something’ in ‘reliable men’ who then become ‘qualified’ to do the same ‘entrusting’ in others. The rite of passage into masterhood for Timothy is even tougher than that required for becoming a Jedi-Master! In that, he not only has to qualify his own knights, but his success lies in his knights successfully training the next generation and it is in the success of the third-generation that Timothy gets his promotion.

Is this in any way seen as a ‘qualification’ for pastorhood today? Recently I have heard two terms being mentioned with certain routine in general media – pop-culture and pop-psychology, to which we can definitely add, pop-preaching. Often, it is thought, that the role of a pastor or a leader in all her works, be it, preaching, teaching, or counselling is to ‘pass on’ ‘information’, ‘data’, ‘abstract knowledge’ in contradistinction to skills and crafts. A Pastor takes on a congregation, not a school of apprentices or disciples. Maybe this is an exaggeration, but it will serve to highlight the distinction that is being made.

The problem with this understanding of pastorship can be traced to a dominant interpretation of the verse we looked at in 2 Timothy 2:2, and probably even to Paul’s choice of terms and the metaphorical significance it possesses. The key term for us in that verse has been the Greek term παράθου (parathou) that we translated as ‘entrust’ following normal English translations. Interestingly, it occurs just once in the New Testament and the dominant sense of the term is ‘to place beside’, ‘to set before’ and there is a close parallel to the idea of a ‘window’. Keeping the image of a window, we could think of Paul telling Tim to ‘window’ to others, or set before others, what he has heard from Paul. It gives us a very passive ontological image even in the act of something being placed out beside an ‘other’. It is like something that is in a room, which in turn is then windowed out, or set before an ‘other’. This dualist image of windowing out ‘something in someone’ has to be challenged. Is mastership really about ‘someone windowing something in someone’. This image, of course, very Platonic, in the sense of the phenomenal world embodying the ‘Forms’ or ‘Ideas’ gives the impression that this ‘something’ that Tim received from Paul has to now be ‘placed besides’, ‘delivered’ or ‘windowed’ to others. It gives the image of a Pizza delivery boy, who fills his Van with Pizzas from the shop and windows them out to hungry customers. I claim that this image and sense is what is often taken from this verse. So the job of a pastor becomes to ‘window’ out, mostly verbally, and also through acts of care, love and concern, what he has received and on a Sunday morning, to window out a homily and an exhortation.  And the justification is, did not Paul himself not command us to do so? But this would be a very ungenerous reading of Paul, and I would venture to say even a wrong interpretation. All one has to do is to look at the following verses. The image that follows this command to ‘window’ is not one of a ‘ Pizza delivery-boy’ rather a powerful image of a ‘suffering soldier’ pleasing his ‘commanding officer’ (vs. 3-4), a ‘competing athlete’ who is meticulous about the ‘rules of the game’ (vs.5) and a ‘hardworking farmer’ (vs. 6). These metaphors, particularly ‘soldier’ and ‘athlete’ fall under ‘master-apprentice’ relationships. Paul is even explicit to point that out. He talks of a soldier ‘pleasing’ his commanding officer and the athlete keeping the ‘rules’ of his craft. Paul is definitely working under an Aristotelian and Jesus view of master-apprentice which finds similarity in Jedi legends and Indian traditions.

In light of this, we must envision a shift in our understanding of a pastor! From seeing her as someone producing ‘something in someone’, we must see her as producing ‘someone in someone’, a true passing on of ‘oneself in the other’, and sure, that does involve ‘many somethings’ but always more than ‘something’, always a ‘someone’. The crafts, skills and knowledge that make the constitution of a master is always surpassed by the being of the master. Jesus said, follow me and I will make you fishers of men, so it was not as we earlier interpreted of making ‘something in someone’ rather it was making ‘someone in someone’.

If we go back to the Greek term in 2 Timothy 2:2, παράθου (parathou), its root is παρατίθημι (paratithémi) although it has the sense of ‘to deposit’ or ‘to entrust’ it also has the sense of ‘commit to in a very up-close-and-personal way’. The force of the term is in the preposition para, which has the sense of ‘close besides’ and the verb tithémi apart from the sense of ‘putting’ and ‘setting’ also has the sense of ‘committing’ and ‘falling’. In light of this we can improvise on the image of a ‘window’ we had earlier. We can think of a ‘falling-close-beside’. We can think of an opening-up, a non-concealment, a revelation of one’s whole being, where the being itself is inside out in its falling closely towards the other. It obliterates the inside-outside binary we get from the image of a window, of something that is taken from inside and given out, rather now we get the force of someone bursting the being out in its entirety in her falling, her committing close besides the other. It is a close encounter, a confrontation. It is the coach not standing at the sidelines, but parrying with his student on the mats. It is the commander, lying next to his junior soldier in the bush, who pulls the solider further down to the ground to escape detection. It involves bodily contact, it involves close engagements, it even involves pain, humiliation, and suffering. But in this bodily engagement it is not something, but someone that is passed on to the other. The transmission is of oneself to the other, in time, through generations. This is the calling and life of a master – be it a Jedi-master, or an Indian Guru, or an Aristotelian Architekton. And to this a pastor is called – a very high calling indeed!

Brainerd Prince, completing a PhD on Indian Philosophy, is working on Sri Aurobindo’s integral philosophy in light of contemporary religious-secular debate within the study of religion. He is working under Professor Gavin Flood, Oxford University. He is also a ‘Research Fellow’ at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, Oxford University (www.ochs.org.uk) and is the Academic Director of Samvada Centre for Research Resources (www.samvada.touchindiatrust.org).

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1 Comment

  1. Kevin Lines says:

    Interesting piece. One of the difficulties in our understanding of the role of “pastor” or “preacher” or “senior minister” in the church is that it is not defined in the NT. As far as the master jedi example, you could also include Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthian churches… “follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.”
    I prefer to use examples from actual lived faiths, but this should connect well with those familiar with Star Wars… and certainly many are more familiar with Jedi Masters than gurus or achetektons.
    Thanks!

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