As I mentioned yesterday, one of the first thing social scientists do when they want to model interactions is figure out whether the interactions are iterated (i.e. repeated). The vast majority of the work pastors do consists of repeated interactions. While this does take the pressure off of each decision and encourage us to work on our peace and holiness, it also makes it apparent that we need to make a strategic choice: should we focus on prophecy or healing? This requirement flows from the logic of iteration.
Let’s take the example of preaching, imagining it as a one shot, sequential game: the priest gives a sermon, then the people make their decision on how to live. The obvious strategy would be prophetic: describing the Church’s teaching on the issues the people are likely to face and the probable consequences of poor choices (this is why I also refer to it as “risk management”). The priest is trying to give the people the most useful information he can so that they can make an informed decision. They then make their decision and the game is over. Growing up as an evangelical in the Georgia, this is what I saw guest revival preachers do; they had one chance to get into our decision-cycle, and they would make the most of it. I often wondered why our preachers did not do the same (revival preachers are incredibly inspiring).
In contrast to those given by the revival preachers we brought in, the sermons our pastors gave tended to be more pastoral, dealing with the consequences of bad decisions (i.e. speaking of God’s love and forgiveness and the reality of His healing ministry). Why the difference? It wasn’t just personality (although prophets are drawn to revival preaching!), it was the different structure of the pastoral “game”; for the pastor, unlike for the revival preacher, the game is iterated. This doesn’t just mean that our had to help people heal from bad decisions. After all, we could have modeled that in a one-shot sequential game where the people make their decision and the priest has to react (I wonder how many would stick to prophesy? I am sure some would; just as I am sure some would load the front-end with consolation). It was because the pastor, unlike the revival preacher, is playing an iterated game.
Iteration changes the nature of our ministry (to include preaching) because it means that we have the opportunity and responsibility to both prepare people to make good decisions and help them heal when they have failed to do so. The problem is that it is hard to do both well; there are trade-offs. The priest that is not careful in how he preaches against fornication and sodomy is less likely to be trusted by (and then healed through) those who have fallen into these temptations. Likewise, the priest who is not careful in offering healing and consolation to those who have sinned and/or suffered will not be able to provide the kind of guidance the people need to avoid the sins (and feel the shame of them and thus the need for repentance) in the first place.
All of us are naturally inclined toward one approach or the other, and I believe it is the job of the Church to make sure that all of us are constantly working on providing both. This is important because, as in many games, a mixed strategy is best and we should blend prophecy and healing as often as possible (IMO, I say “blend” because I think we confuse people when we jump from one pole to the other). However, I am willing to guess that – due to the preferences of the priest and the needs of the specific people he serves – every priest/parish fosters a culture that can be identified as being more inclined towards either prophecy or healing.
This is good and natural; both cultures are legitimate and we need the witnesses of both cultures within the Church to provide balance and so that we can keep one another honest (and as priest, we should include representatives from both types within our council of friends and advisers). By inclination, I tend to focus on healing and I thank God that I serve in a Church that sets limits for me and contextualizes healing within its own prophetic ministry. Others tend towards prophecy and I thank God that the Church limits their prophecies and contextualizes them within her own healing ministry. A mixed strategy is built into the ecclesiology, kerygma, and life of the Church itself.
The biggest problems that I see come when the fellowship and charity between the two cultures comes to divide us, with the one side calling the other “fundamentalist” or “liberal” and both moving further towards one extreme or the other (while insisting that they are living the Gospel/Orthodoxy). Polarization, demonization, and self-righteousness are bad enough when it comes to politics; they are the anti-Christ when they come to posses our priests and parishes.
Yours in Christ,