What does it mean to be pastoral? I’ve heard some express concern that the concept is abused to take the easy way out. I’ve heard others fear that the Church too often forgets to be pastoral. Acts 16 gives us a view of pastoral ministry that both inspires and challenges. We find these words, “Paul wanted [Timothy] to come along with him. On account of the Jews of that region, Paul had him circumcised, for they all knew that his father was a Greek” (16:3). In this sentence and a half, I see the reality of what it means to be pastoral and I want us to come along with Paul and Timothy for just a minute as we unpack what this word means for us as disciples.
What was Paul looking for in Timothy? He was looking for a co-worker in the transmission of the Gospel. Someone with whom he could proclaim Christ crucified and risen. It is this desire, or rather conviction, to share the Gospel that led to what I’m calling Paul’s ‘pastoral response’. He has Timothy circumcised.
We’re all big kids here, right? I mean, ouch! This moment shows us that true pastoral actions lead to taking on discomfort to reach the person. An authentic pastoral spirit doesn’t compromise the Gospel for the sake of comfort, it compromises our comfort for the sake of the Gospel. The gospel which is meant for everyone.
Acts tells us that Timothy’s circumcision was because of the Jews. This challenges me because I often think of being pastoral as a way of reaching the distant. Instead, Paul was intentionally pastoral to circumvent the rigidity that would not respect Timothy unless he was circumcised. Paul is one of the greatest advocates that circumcision has no bearing on salvation in the New Covenant. Despite his opposition to the rigidity of the Judaizers (those demanding gentile Christians must also be circumcised) he has Timothy circumcised to cunningly approach them.
As I prayed with the passage, I was distracted by the voices I’ve heard in the past complaining about those who are overly rigid or the overly lax in their pastoral approach. My desire to solve that little dispute diluted the force with which I must ask myself if I’m being pastoral. Am I compromising the Gospel for my comfort or my comfort for the Gospel, so that it can reach the person right in front of me?