The Pastor as “Curator of Inspiration”

I’m playing around with a way of framing the work of a pastor – perhaps you’d be willing to help me out?

I suggest that a part of the role of the pastor is to serve as a “curator of inspiration”

Let’s break it down – starting with inspiration.

ImageFirst, there is the theological sense of the word: God’s special revelation in scripture.  Certainly, pastors have to correctly handle the word of truth.  This is the primary aspect of the calling of the pastor.

However, there is another, more general sense of the word “inspiration.”   It is that which stimulates us to action.

Note that inspiration is not merely that which catches your attention.  Attention catching is the strategy of the lowest common denominator:  it is reality television, pushy sales tactics, rude political operatives, and radio shock jocks.  Attention catching grabs you with insults, brashness, and bravado.   Yet there is little that is inspirational in the self-absorbed offerings of the clever, the outlandish and the fabulous.   Mockery sells, but it never inspires.

Inspiration, on the other hand, comes in that moment of self-forgetfulness when we stand before something, consumed in the experience.  Perhaps it is awe at the beauty of the Red River Gorge in Kentucky.  Perhaps it is the feeling of being transported away by a lovely concert by the Symphony.  Maybe we feel inspired by the storytelling of Garrison Keillor or in the ideas of a TED talk.  Maybe we take inspiration from watching Michael Phelps shatter Olympic swimming records or from delighting in Tim Duncan’s masterful athleticism on the basketball courts.

The word “inspiration” comes from the Latin root spirare, meaning “breathe.”  Inspiration is breathing in, taking in life giving oxygen for our hearts and minds.  Inspiration is that which nourishes our spirit, that which feeds our creativity and our spark.  Inspiration fuels our outlook, motivations, actions, and works.

Paul talks about this ordinary sense of inspiration in his letter to the church of Philippi: “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”

Inspiration comes in many forms: natural wonders, life stories, works of art, accomplishments, and moments of joy.  Inspiration can be all around us, if we but had eyes to see.  Part of the task of artists, storytellers, journalists, teachers, poets, and pastors, is to help us see that inspiration where we had been unable to see it before.

Why a “curator” then?

Curators take care of a collection.  A curator of an art museum oversees the entire collection, preserving it, becoming an expert in it.  However the curator also arranges the collection in interesting ways.   The curator selects pieces and arranges them in juxtaposition and with certain explanatory comments.  The curator introduces us to inspiring things and challenges us to see how they are inspiring.

The curator helps us cultivate the ability to find inspiration in what is before us.

Pastors have access to a great collection: the richness of theology, church history, and Biblical studies.  But we also have in our collection the faith stories of those in our flock.  And we have in our collection all fruitfulness of human culture.  And we have in our collection all the wonders of creation.  “The heavens declare the glories of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”  (Ps 19:1)  As my friend and mentor Steve Brown used to say, “everything is grist for the mill.”

And that’s how pastors are curators of inspiration.  Our job is to help people see God’s glory.

What do you think?

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6 thoughts on “The Pastor as “Curator of Inspiration”

  1. Indeed, pastors have the privilege and responsibility to breathe (inspire) fresh oxygen into our spiritual lungs. Then we, the body of Christ, can run the race set before us with greater vigor. I like the idea of curator, too. When a museum guide shares her knowledge of artifacts, we assume she is telling us the truth. When a pastor shares his knowledge of scripture, church history, etc. we need to have confidence the he is trustworthy. As “curators of inspiration,” pastors must “CORRECTLY handle the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). I like this unique frame for the work of a pastor, and will look forward to more!

  2. Russell, I love the idea of curating inspiration. I was just talking over lunch with a fellow pastor friend… we were totally talking shop. I shared that my real passion is in facilitating user experiences for people to practice/participate in Love. I’m not inspired by the prospect of naming/defining their experiences for them or by simply repeating or outdoing experiences they’ve had before. Inspiration (and wonder) is a great word for the presentness of the present-tense experience. And Curation is such an evocative word when it comes to the role of hosting/facilitating/aggregating. Pastors need not make the content, we can honor the inspiring content that happens when the community gathers!

  3. A nicely curated set of ideas, Russ! Here’s a question your reflection inspired in me: What is driving this trend to reframe the role of pastor? I’m not saying we shouldn’t; “pastor” (i.e. “shepherd”) is, after all, already a way of framing this role. But for a l-o-n-g time, “pastor” seemed to be an adequate model and title for who we are and what we do. Then there came the adjectives: Senior / executive / lead / teaching / worship / youth pastor (which arguably dilute or distort the essential role of pastor). The more mundane “Director” was perhaps an attempt to de-emphasize the clergy/laity distinction (or a sign of being co opted by a business mindset). Now, titles like “Curator” (and I wish I could think of others, but maybe “Curator” belongs to a set of one) seem to be moving in a new direction, sort of subverting the role of pastor (again, not necessarily a bad thing). I’m curious about where that’s coming from, and why.

    • Great question. I’m actually not proposing a new “title” – just a way of re-framing some of the tasks that come with being a pastor. We all know that pastors wear many hats: counselor, visionary, encourager, organizer, etc. I’m just mentally re-framing how I approach the tasks. I think traditionally in the Presbyterian church, we default to Pastor as Scholar and Pastor as CEO and Pastor as Counselor. However, as I think about what I do in practicality, “Curator of Inspiration” seems to hit a lot closer to the mark of how I approach ministry – both in my ministry of preaching/teaching/writing and in my ministry of meeting with people for personal encouragement.

      Great question – thanks for chiming in. See you later today, I hope.

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