Why Pastors Need to Be Mystics

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Okay…don’t freak out because I used the word “mystic.” I’m talking about Christian mystics. I have a whole chapter in my book Mile Wide, Inch Deep on why we should be comfortable with Christians mystics. Here’s my definition of a Christian Mystic.

  • Mystics believe God can be experienced. Mystics base this belief on their understanding of the Bible and their own personal experience.
  • Mysticism is the practice of spiritual disciplines—such as, but not limited to, prayer, scripture meditation, solitude, fasting—that help one experience God.
  • Mystical is the actual experience one has with God. When we say, “I felt God say to me…,” we are claiming to have had a mystical experience.

Having said that, let me say this:

The greatest need today is not for better sermons, better outreach strategies, better mission statements, better and clearer values, better leadership skills, better staff, better volunteers, better small groups, better offerings, or better vision. We don’t need more ideas, more opportunities, more systems, or more resources. We have enough books, conferences, and experts willing to tell us what we should do.

The greatest need today is for pastors who know God deeply and experience God regularly. We need mystics in the pulpits, spiritual directors who, from their own depth of soul, know how to take their people by the hand and lead them into experiencing God for themselves. Since spirituality is more caught than taught, we need pastors who have become infected with a virus, not life-threatening but life-giving, a virus passed on by close proximity, a virus called intimacy (into-me-see) with God. We need contagious pastors who infect others, not because of what they know but because of who they are.

Mystic shouldn’t be added to Paul’s list of leadership gifts in Ephesians 4:11-12, it should be assumed. Shouldn’t an apostle experience God? Shouldn’t a prophet experience God? Shouldn’t an evangelist experience God? Shouldn’t a pastor-teacher experience God? If we answer yes, then isn’t it fair to say that all four of the leader types (or five if you don’t believe in hyphens) in Paul’s list are mystics?

In her book Christian Mystics, Ursula King says, “Thus there is a need for a new mysticism in a new world. Creative mystics are needed to adapt the heritage of the past to the needs of a new season. In the past, the wisdom and insight of mystical knowledge has been handed down within the Christian Church and was tied to its doctrines. But today the situation is much more experimental and open-ended. There remains the question, then, how mystical teachings and practices are best disseminated and transmitted.”

May I suggest: one of the best ways for mystical teachings and practices to be disseminated and transmitted is through the encouragement and example of a pastor who has the heart of a mystic.

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Think back for a moment to those Christians from your past that had the greatest impact on you. There was something different about them, wasn’t there? They seemed to be more spiritual, or closer to God than others you knew. Just being around them made you feel nearer to God. And even if their maturity or spirituality seemed beyond your grasp, there was something about them that urged you along, making your heart wish for and believe that a closer relationship with Jesus was possible.

Remember our definition of a mystic? A mystic is one who believes that God can be experienced, has some experience in experiencing God, and is good at helping others grow in their experience of God. Don’t miss that last phrase, “helping others grow in their experience of God.” If this is not the job of a pastor then I don’t know what is. If there is anything our people need more from us than this, I don’t know what that could be. And if I’m correct, then the really exciting thing is that this is possible for every pastor regardless of his or her education level, church size, or Myers-Briggs score.

You may or may not have a ministry degree. You may or may not have a large church. You may or may not have written a book. You may or may not have been the one asked to speak at a church conference. The name of your church may or may not have appeared on a Top 100 list in some ministry magazine. It doesn’t matter if you are an introvert or an extrovert, a great speaker or just adequate, bi-vocational or full-time, tall, short, fat, thin, attractive, or look like the rest of us. If I’m right, then you can be a mystic. If I’m right, then the people who sit in your church staring back at you each week need you to be a mystic.