I wouldn’t call myself a process theist, though there is nothing about process that I have a problem or disagree with. I would say that I have been deeply influenced by process theology and that it makes sense to both my intellect and my experience in this world, but I’m not 100% sold that this is the way it is. I am open to parts of process being wrong, incomplete, or ways others may experience the world. Below I will list several of the major ways I see that process theology can have a positive influence on pastoral ministry.
- Creates more openness
Yes, it can open the pastor up to see the many ways God may be working in different situations and people. Also, there may not be one right and one wrong choice, but there may be many choices, sometimes with varying degrees of good or bad. Instead of having a great deal of pressure to find the “one way” or “one correct choice,” the pastor is free to explore multiple choices and to allow a lot more “wiggle room” for others to do so as well. This will automatically allow the pastor to be less rigid, as each person is given more freedom to create their future. The idea that there may be several good options and God may not care which one (or God only cares that we don’t choose certain ones) brings a sense of freedom and creativity that I think our worlds needs more of. This lack of freedom and creativity is also a major reason why many are distancing themselves from organized religion.
- Invitation to partner with God
Process theology invites people into a co creative act with God in a way that more traditional theologies do not. Since the future is open and yet to be created (the future is not predetermined), there is a lot of work that can be done. Of course with this can come some pressure as there is also a lot of responsibility, but I think most would see this as a wonderful opportunity – we get to create a future with God and our actions really matter! In this regard, the decisions we make may be varying degrees of participation with God as we open ourselves up to God’s leading in each situation.
- Everything is interconnected
When a pastor believes that all things are relational and thus interconnected, his or her vision is much larger. It’s not just about saving souls from going to hell, or about convincing everyone who is not a Christian that they are wrong, but it is a way to see that every life matters, every creature matters, and our earth matters. Some theologies are very short sighted and even destructive as they are merely “evacuation plans.” In process theology everyone is invited to see with new lenses the ways that all our choices affect others for better or worse. Our diet, our transportation, our clothing, our lifestyle are all-important because they have affects on others. When all things are relational we see all things with greater value. This leads to a much more expansive view of the world that includes not just human souls, but all creation!
- God is for the flourishing of all things.
This is related to the others, but is a wonderful way to see the world. In process theology, God is not an angry, judgmental tyrant. Nor does God require blind obedience. God will not punish you just because you didn’t obey. Clearly there are consequences to not following the lure or initial aim of God, but this is greatly different than receiving punishment for not obeying. If God is working for all things to flourish, then God is working for each individual to flourish. It becomes more about opening yourself up to God’s aim than it does about obeying a directive. A pastor can help others understand that God is not waiting for them to mess up or carrying a list of the people who are naughty and nice, but is always working on their behalf. For so many people this will be absolutely freeing! This also means that God is not only working for my flourishing, but for yours, and for all creation. This brings a larger perspective than the common and narrow anthropocentric view of many theologies. God wants all creation to flourish and when we participate in the flourishing of other things we are participating with God. There are numerous ways one can do this, so a pastor can encourage others that they are doing sacred work even in the ordinary things.
- God is not a “being out there,” but is personal and near.
Many picture God as somewhere a long ways away sitting on a throne. Process informs us that God is here and very active in the world. A pastor who has a panetheistic view of the world can encourage others to see all the ways God may be working in the world, or to at least be open to see that perhaps God is working in ways they cannot see. When “all things are in God” then all things become sacred. Pastors can help others see that teaching, office work, running a business, cleaning, laundry, organizing, creating art, music, poetry, non profit work, are all sacred tasks and God is working through all of it. It also brings God a lot closer. God is not a distant deity that sometimes acts in extreme circumstance, but is present in every thing and working in all.
Obviously these are just a few ways, and many of them are related. A process informed pastor can meet the real needs of people when they are hurting and broken because they understand that that a persons loss or pain was not caused by God. A pastor can walk through these difficult times, even if they cannot give absolute reasons why they were caused, and help bring healing and wholeness to the lives of those around them.
I think many people are in need of a different way of seeing God and a different way of understanding how God interacts in the world. The more traditional ways of seeing God are not working and process theology gives us a great way of understanding a God that not only makes intellectual sense to many, but can also be helpful and healing to those who have struggled or are struggling with more traditional ways of understanding God. A pastor does not need to mention the word process or go into the ins and outs of the specifics of process theology. Being pastoral is providing care and guidance to people, especially in difficult times. Process theology can have a very positive influence upon those providing this care as it provides a way to engage in the world that makes sense to many modern people.