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Pastoral Lessons From The Barber Chair

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The buzz of conversation is constant. Friends greet each other while strangers smile warmly. Everyone is welcome here. As I enter the room I’m warmly greeted by name, others, not so well known, are embraced by the noise of conversation as an elderly gentleman shuffles sideways on the seat to make room. No one seems to be in a hurry.

My town has less than 13000 people who call it home, yet the local Barber shop is never empty. Rob, my friend in an electric wheelchair, rolls in most afternoons for his daily dose of company and news, occasionally he gets a shave; he’s never asked to pay. While I wait for a chair to open up, a conversation flows on the topic of tolerance. Though they don’t know the labels, Buddhist, Marxist, conservative, and quasi-Christian views get tossed around the room. No one yells. No one storms out. Most disagree with each other. Everyone is still smiling.

More walk in and are greeted by name. More spots on the bench lounge are discovered, while others sit on the old pew in the sun just outside the front door. Day old papers are shared and discussed as electronic devices are ignored. On the odd occasion, a young stranger absorbed in a screen arrives, but it never stays on for long; it’s hard to hold a conversation and check your notifications at the same time. When the same young guy comes again, his phone will stay in his pocket.

I hear weather updates, stock prices (the four-legged kind), and speculation on the long term prospects of our local football team. I’m asked, for possibly the 13th time if I remember correctly, if I really am a priest. I once tried to discuss the priesthood of all believers while explaining the mediatory function of Jesus, but now I simply respond with, “Yes. But not the type you’re thinking of. Drop in some time and we can catch up.” I smile as a new conversation starts about why priests wear ‘dog collars’ and robes, as well as how an elderly neighbour once chased away a ghost with a crucifix.

“Just a bit of a tidy up, thanks.” I get comfortable in the chair as my Barber dusts someone else’s hair from his apron. A bell awkwardly chimes as the door slides back, “G’day Mick, how are you?”

With my trim and tidy-up now done, I’m sitting in a quiet office with Bibles and books scattered around my desk. Pastoral concerns, leadership considerations, and next week’s sermon are all competing for space in my mind, when suddenly a new train of thought imposes itself—the Barber Shop.

Here are few lessons I’m considering from my trip to the Barber:

1. Community Matters

What you won’t see on the wall of the Barber Shop is a nicely presented graphic of the key vision or mission statement, but it exists just the same. My local Barber doesn’t have a document outlining his vision, but he has a culture of community that speaks volumes.

We rightly guard the treasure entrusted to us in the gospel—and should eagerly contend for doctrinal purity—but do we work to cultivate the type of culture the gospel should produce?

What about us? We rightly guard the treasure entrusted to us in the gospel—and should eagerly contend for doctrinal purity—but do we work to cultivate the type of culture the gospel should produce? Ray Ortland is supremely helpful in this regard when he says:

Every church culture is communicating something. If a church is not positively communicating the gospel both by what it says and by what it is, then that church risks unsaying by its reality what it is saying by its theory.[1]

The gospel is of course ‘good news’, something that is proclaimed and believed, but it also produces something among the new people it forms. Is the gospel producing something among us that can be experienced? Are gospel implications tangibly lived out among our churches in such a way that those who meet us can not help but engage with the God of the gospel?

2. The Value of ‘Being Known’

As I see customers greeted by name, I notice the same look on their face as I feel on mine. I can’t really describe the expression, but I know what it communicates: ‘These people know me. I matter to them.’

That we, in Christ, are known and loved is a profound reality of the gospel. Shouldn’t our churches echo this truth? Should we not strive for intimacy? I wonder at my own drift toward isolation from the body of Christ while calling it ‘leadership efficiency’. Thabiti Anyabwile puts out the call, ‘Brothers, we should stink!’, ‘We should be so frequently among them that we smell like them, that we smell like their real lives, sometimes fragrant but more often sweaty, musty, offensive, begrimed from battle with the world, the flesh, and the devil.’[2]

Not only is this good for us as elders and pastors, but it is vital for the flock. ‘I’m not so good with names’ is no longer a valid excuse—get good with names, it the least we can do.

3. Model What You Preach:

I know that ministry among the flock threatens to consume you, even on ordinary days. But we are in grave danger if we lived detached lives from the world our flock lives in. We are not ‘Pastor’ to our entire town, but we are pastors to those of our flock who live and breath in that world. Restricting the voices that influence us to a small cohort of detached entities may bolster our theology, but unless we grow in our ability to exegete the culture into which we preach and shepherd, we run the risk of discipling theological astute believers who can win debates on Twitter but are unable to love their neighbour well with the gospel.

So deliberately engage with cultural cross-roads in your community. Hear the topics of conversation, feel the frustrations and yearnings of your community, and then consider how your church could bring the good news into those places.

At the very least, go and get a haircut at your local Barber. More than likely you’ll walk out feeling fresh and sharp, but maybe something more will happen there. I know it has for me.


[1] How to build a gospel culture in your church (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/how-to-build-a-gospel-culture-in-your-church/ )

[2] https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/brothers-we-should-stink

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