John Wesley on Why Pastors Must Read

On August 17, 1760, John Wesley wrote a letter to a preacher named John Premboth. His words are critical for pastors to hear today.:

What has exceedingly hurt you in time past, nay, and I fear to this day, is want of reading.

I scarce ever knew a preacher read so little. And perhaps, by neglecting it, you have lost the taste for it. Hence your talent in preaching does not increase. It is just the same as it was seven years ago. It is lively, but not deep; there is little variety, there is no compass of thought. Reading only can supply this, with meditation and daily prayer. You wrong yourself greatly by omitting this. You can never be a deep preacher without it, any more than a thorough Christian. Continue reading

The Struggle for Contentment in Ministry

I got into ministry hoping to do something great for God. I was going to change lives, shape communities, and see people in large numbers become super-Christians. I took a small church while in seminary to give me experience and to support my family. I was never going to stay there. I had gifts and abilities that made me a good prospect for larger churches.

But then God did a funny thing (as God often does, I have found). God called me to stay at that church. I assumed that God had big things in store for this church. But then another funny thing happened—God has not done huge things there. He has done a lot and it has been cool to see. Still, it moves a little slow for me. I even started a doctor of ministry to burn off some access energy.

I am not complaining. I love it where I am and feel truly called there. What I am reflecting on is this drive that I have for bigger and better. Pastors are in a weird place. We are called to love our people where they are while we are helping to shepherd them to where they could or should be. God may call us to larger churches, but God also might call us to stay where we are. We get into this vocation to do great things and then we end up doing a little of boring and ordinary things.

I think too many pastors are working for their next church or striving for the church that their current church could be. What we really should be doing is being faithful in the little things where we are. We all struggle to be content in ministry. Mountaintop moments of success are far apart and far too quick when they happen.

I wonder if we, like the Old Testament prophets, are called to embody and experience what we are prophesying. Maybe we are like Hosea marrying an unfaithful woman living out God being cheated on. Or maybe we are like Jeremiah laying on a stone to represent sin.

Pastors, more than anyone else, live in the tension of “now and not yet.” This is the theological understanding that God’s kingdom is paid for and has come and yet is not here in the potency and power that it someday will have. We live deep in the current conditions of our world and our people and at the same time we proclaim and work for a world that has not yet come. Our sermons are preached from this tension. Our counselling is done in this tension.

So maybe this struggle of ambition vs. contentment and of what is vs. what could be is not something to be feared. Maybe it should be expected. Maybe it is normal. Maybe it is part of the call.

 

Are Pastors Pros? A response to a response

I recently wrote a blog pondering what ways the pastor is and is not a professional. My blog was responded to by a blog of my good friend Dan Turis. Dan said that he disagreed with me and then proceeded to write a blog that I agree with. I think where Dan and I ultimately disagree is about the danger of professionalism.suit tie

Dan seems to be worried that pastors are not being professional enough. They are seeing their jobs as less important than the work of people like doctors, lawyers, or business executives. There certainly seems to be a decline in the public opinion of pastors.

I think Dan is right to be worried about that. I have seen too many pastors trying to be cool. Pastors need to have and show more respect for their vocation if others will follow.

But I am more concerned in the other direction. The more prevalent problem today is that pastors have hidden behind their professionalism. The can lead an organization and play a role instead of caring for people or tending to their own sanctification. They can become proud and use their pulpits and their parishioners to fill their own ego. They can build vision statements and do organizational development instead of living God’s Kingdom in this world. They separate themselves from the care of people and from truly listening to God.

Dan says, “Simply put being professional and “having a heart for God and his ministry,” are not exclusive. They are one in the same.” They should be, but sometimes pastors get out of balance and ministry becomes either/or instead of both/and.

Are Pastors Professionals?

The last few hundred years have shown the rise of the professional. Before that most people were farmers or traders. But now we have professions—doctors, lawyers, executives… These people are marked by their dress, their full time work, their education and training, and their respect and prestige in the community. Another mark of a professional is specialization. Some doctors may be general practitioners, but many specialize in things like pediatrics, oncology, or neurology. When you get sick you may get referred to one of these specialists. Lawyers have their specialties in certain types of law just as executives often have their own areas of the business to manage.

professional

Is the pastor a professional? Do pastors also fall into this category? We have certainly tried. Starting in Calvin’s day the pastors tried to look and act like university professors. In recent years, pastors have tried to look and act like psychological counselors or CEO’s. We have even specialized ministry. We have pastors for youth, young adults, family, counselling, worship, and preaching.

The trick is that we are professionals and we are not. We are in the sense that there is someone of a part to play and we need to respect that part. Whether a pastor wears a robe, a suit, or skinny jeans there is still a wardrobe for the pastor. Many are still full time and most certainly have the expertise and training. We een retain some respect and prestige in the community. Some of us are specialists and some contexts demand more specialized ministry.

At the same time, we are not quite professionals. We are required to general practitioners. We have to be proficient (or at least knowledgeable) about a bunch of areas—Bible, preaching, teaching, worship, organization, running meetings, organizational development, pastoral care, funerals, weddings, community outreach, facilities, fundraising…

Besides the need to be a general practitioner, I believe the heart of being a pastor is not being a professional. The center of the ministry is having a heart that loves God and pursues God’s will. Pastors need to be distinctly non-self-reliant. I worry that an overemphasis on professionalism has harmed the ministry.

Leading with Story Pt 4: Leading with your own Story

This is Part 4 of a blog series developing the idea of Leading with Story in churches.

I have been developing the idea that story is not just a part of preaching but could also be thought of as the essential material of leadership. Here is a key to doing that: Leading with story begins with your own story. You will always have trouble being a Story Pastor if you do not understand your own story. Your story not only shapes who you are and how you approach things, but it can also help you develop other stories. Let me explain how that works.

the story of my life

As a Story Pastor you are always crafting and working with lots of different stories—the church’s, the individual members’, the community’s, God’s… There is always a danger that you can lose sight of your own story in the midst of these other stories. You can lose your own distinct calling, passion, conflicts, and successes. This can be dangerous for a few reasons. Your identity can become too tied to that of those around you. If this happens then it will warp how you feel about yourself and your work and how you find and follow God’s call for your own story. As Christians, we believe that our jobs are never just our jobs but also they are callings. They are part of who we are and part of our stories. Yet we must be careful that they do not consume our story. Our calling is a part of us but it is far from the whole of us.

Not only can you lose your story in all these other stories, but if that happens you will lose one of your best insights into understanding the other stories around you. The story of the church has to be discerned and written as a community since it is a conglomeration of the people. It is much easier to discern and follow your own story because it is simpler. If you can understand your own story, then you can have clues as to the larger story of your organization. You can begin to ask questions that help you compare and contrast what you are feeling to what is going on in the larger story. What excites you about a new idea? Why don’t you like this person? Where do you feel that you are on purpose or not on purpose in your organization? These kinds of questions can be hints as to the larger story and how to write the next chapter, but they can only be discerned if you have enough distinct understanding of your own story to compare the stories and know the differences.

It works well when your story and your church or organization’s story are at least parallel. Sometimes, however, the plotlines begin to separate. This could be a sign that one or both of the stories are not right and need to be written. The point where your story and your congregation’s story begin to diverge can also be a sign that God may be calling you somewhere else. You can only see this if you have a clear picture of your own story.

One of the other images that I like for the Story Pastor is the idea of a story-weaver. I think that pastors and leaders weave all of these stories with God’s story to create a tapestry of a Church’s story. I think that God’s story and your story form the base of the pattern. As a pastor, I live closest to those stories. The other story-strings take a lot of time and group input to develop, but I can study God’s story and reflect on my own story daily.  I am not saying that you have to be constantly telling your story to your people, though you should sometimes.  But you do need to know your story and use it to inform your storytelling.

If you have lost your personal story in your work then I suggest a few things:

  1. Answer some reflective questions: What stories of your life have defined you? If you wanted someone to know you, what stories would you include in your bio? What is most important to you in your life?
  2. Dive into a pastoral biography or a Biblical character and see what of their story resonates with you.
  3. Ask a good and honest friend from outside the stories you are consumed in to help you. Find out from them how they see you and what from your story they see as defining for you.

What other thoughts do you have on leading with your own story? Why is it important? What makes it difficult? How do you do it consistently?

Leading with Story Pt 3: Story Leadership (or Why I Call Myself a Minister of Story and Sacrament)

This is Part 3 of a blog series developing the idea of Leading with Story in churches.

I have previously developed the problem of confused roles or identifying metaphors for pastors. I have also expressed the importance and power of stories. Now I want to move into the idea of leading with story.

tell me your story
Every person, family, or organization is in the middle of a story. Actually, they are in the middle of multiple stories. We have different areas of our lives with their own stories. We have different parts of the organization or family that have their own stories. These areas are filled with people with their own mix of personal stories that they are living out. We carry our own perspectives and memories of the stories that often differ from others who were supposedly part of the same story. This intricate web of stories are sometimes in unison, sometimes in contrast, and always in flux.

Great leaders lead by shaping and crafting the story of their organization. They use particular language to make the story compelling and use challenges as conflict that pushes the story forward. They are constantly working to shape the story of the organization to its staff (management) and its customers (marketing). They are crafting a compelling story in which everyone wants to play a part. In fact, there is a growing field of narrative leadership or storytelling in business. Companies now have positions in storytelling.

In Christian leadership there is a larger story. This is the story of God, the Greatest Story ever Told, or “the old, old story.” It can also be understood, as my teacher Len Sweet puts it, as “the greatest story never told.” God’s story tells us a lot of things about who we are and who are churches should be. It stands in contrasts to many of the stories that this world tells.

As my friend Graham Standish points out, many churches are living with writers block. They need new stories. In a lot of cases they need to go back and retell the old stories and “the old, old story” to get the current story back on track. It is as if many churches have forgotten or incorrectly remembered the previous chapters of the story they are in. They also need to start intentionally shaping the next few chapters. They need to find new roles in bigger and better stories that will compel the church forward.

I am talking about much more than narrative preaching here. I am wondering what it looks like to see story has the key paradigm and the dominant building block of ministry. I have begun to think of myself as a Story Pastor. Instead of using the classic description of “Ministry of Word and Sacrament,” I have begun to call myself a “Minister of Story and Sacrament.”The_Historian_(The_How_and_Why_Library)

The Story Pastor does his or her work with story as the clay. We begin to shape better stories for our congregations. We counsel people in their stories. We find out the story of our communities. We craft the next chapter of our congregation’s stories. We reenact God’s story every week in worship. We weave multiple stories together and help write better stories. We teach our people to share their stories as testimony for the others.

What do you think about the image of The Story Pastor? How is a Christian leader like a storyteller?

Leading with Story Part 1: The Crisis of Pastoral Imagery

This is Part 1 of a blog series developing the idea of Leading with Story in churches.

Pastors and Christian leaders have a long history of identity crisis. We use a great number of terms like pastor, priest, bishop, or preacher. We have tried on different metaphors throughout history such as priest, shepherd, prophet, physician of souls, pastor, teacher, leader, and counselor. Some of these metaphors are so old that we cannot connect with them without considerable historical work. Others are so wrapped in specific connotations that they represent a truncated view of ministry.

Sheep_with_their_shepherd

Let me give a couple examples. When we think of a pastors as a shepherd we typically mean the specific function of pastoral care. After all, none of us has ever seen a shepherd. We don’t understand what they did when that metaphor was used in the Bible. Shepherding was the metaphor of kings because of the huge responsibility of the task: guide the sheep to different pastures, breed and sell, protect from predators, care for the young and injured, read the weather and the seasons to know where they had to be… The job was so much bigger than we have in mind when we use the term.

Pastors today have been trained to think of themselves primarily as leaders or pastoral counselors. Are these faithful metaphors? Do we lead as a CEO might or do we lead by following Christ? Is it accurate to equate a person’s psychological health with their spiritual health?

It is common to use preacher as a term. This grew out of the Reformation. The challenge is that it makes one function of ministry the defining picture of our work. This is problematic no matter how important that function is.

Maybe every generation or even every individual pastor has to shape their own metaphors. I am still thinking about how that works. But I have observed that our metaphors and identities shape our work and how we feel about our work. If you see yourself as a preacher then you are going to put a premium on the time you spend preparing your sermon. If you see yourself as a counselor then you are going to spend more time counselling people about their mental and emotional challenges.

I think that every metaphor for ministry that we use and live-into for ministry needs to fulfill 2 criteria. The metaphor needs to be faithful to the tradition and the Biblical and historical definition of the work of ministry. The metaphor also needs to be fruitful for ministry. In other words it needs to help the pastor today do his or her work more effectively.

To that end I have been toying and tinkering with the image of pastor as storyteller. Many cultures have had people who officially or unofficially act as storytellers. These people not only told the history of the people, tribe, or community, but they also shaped the ethics, culture, and practices of their particular places. Storytellers today are not like those of old. Today it is the artist, the writer, the director, and the marketer that gets to tell the stories that capture and shape culture.

story road

Doesn’t this kind of storytelling also fit the ministry? Pastors have their own stories, the stories of their churches, the stories of their people, and the stories of their communities. Pastors proclaim what has been called “the greatest story ever told.”

I am planning a dozen or so blogs to explore the idea of Leading with Story. I will look at the growing field of narrative leadership. I will be connecting narrative and story with things like leadership, theology, worship, preaching, counselling, ethics, marketing and hospitality. This is what I am working on in my Doctor of Ministry program and building toward my dissertation. It is my hope that the blog series will help me get things in writing but will also give me feedback and new ideas as people interacts. Please make comments, engage on social media, and let me know your thoughts. I hope that we can help each other in our stories.

Questions for Reflection:
Question #1- What terms do you yourself and the work you do? How does that shape your work?
Question #2- Do you have a particular image that defines your work? Why is that image so powerful for you?

5 Things for Pastors to Remember on Christmas Week

Christmas week can be a very difficult time to be a pastor.  This is a week with a lot of pressure and very high expectations.  This is a very important time for the church as we see new visitors and pray for end-of the-year-giving to come in.  It is also a time with a lot to be done both at church and at home.  Here are 5 things I would remind pastors for having a great week.

nativity icon

1. Relax- It is not all up to you.  The message of Christmas is that God became flesh and dwelt among us.  We already have a savior.  You are not Jesus.  If you run around like you are the savior of the world or at least the savior of the church then you undermine the entire message of the season.  Relax.  Trust God to show up in your worship services.  The hymns, tradition, and story have plenty of power to make Christmas special.

2. Your family is more important than your church family.  Don’t neglect your own family.  You will really regret it if you run the biggest church in the world but your children end up despising the church because of what you do.  At our house, we arrange for Santa to come on the 24th.  That way I can hang out with my family, go to Christmas Eve service, and then head to family’s houses on Christmas Day.  Be creative in how you spend your holidays to maximize your focused time with your family.

3. Don’t forget to experience Christmas for yourself.  I think I totally missed my own experience of Christmas my first 2 years in ministry. It is easy to get so busy doing Christmas that we don’t feel it at all.  Take time to read the stories for yourselves.  Watch a move about the life of Christ.  Take time to meditate on the amazing thing that Christ did in becoming flesh.

4. Take some time off. Most of us put in a lot of hours getting read for Christmas.  Take some time off.  I personally do not like to take the Sunday after Christmas off because I want to be there in case visitors come back.  What I do is a simple service with a lot more singing and a very short sermon that I have worked ahead on.  In fact, I do that the first Sunday in January as well so that I have those two weeks to rest, recover, and spend a lot of time with my wife and kids.

5. Buy yourself a present for the Holidays.  I always buy myself a good and refreshing book Christmas that I am going to spend some time with while I take some time off.  This year I have 2 books: In the Name of Jesus by Henri Nouwen and Imagining Redemption by David Kelsey.  The blessing is that I have those books to look forward to as a reward for after the craziness of Christmas.

Whatever your methods, remember this:  The best way to take care of your church is to take care of yourself and your family.  Merry Christmas.

Why I am Like Mark Driscoll

mark driscoll

I have been following this whole Mark Driscoll situation at a distance for sometime. Mark’s ministry has meant a lot to me personally. (Google “Mark Driscoll” if you don’t know what I am talking about or check out WARREN THROCKMORTON’S BLOG).    A couple of his early books were used by God as I was called to ministry.  I am saddened by this.  I am saddened for the hurt this has been for Mark’s family (see THIS VIDEO).  I am saddened by the fall of Mars Hill Church. (See THIS BLOG by Christ Brown from Pittsburgh Seminary as to why this may be a really good thing)  I am especially saddened that his book Call to Resurgence is going to get lost in the shuffle.  It is one of the clearest and most accessible look at the current state of the church and call to action that I have read.

Mark Driscoll is being vilified.  He has done nothing done illegal.  He did not have an affair or a kill anyone.  That is not to say I can defend his actions or attitudes.  He has been a polarizing figure and seems to have created an unhealthy culture at Mars Hill Church.  He has done a number of questionable things that have hurt others.  But he has also done a lot of good.  My grandmother has a metaphor for a story like his.  “A cow that gives you a good bucket of milk and then steps in it.”  He did a lot of good things.  A lot of things now seem soiled.

How did he step in it?  What was the problem?  I think that this quote from Bonhoeffer speaks to the moment:

“Whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister” (Mark 10:43). Jesus made authority in the fellowship dependent on brotherly service. Genuine spiritual authority is to be found only where the ministry of hearing, helping, bearing, and proclaiming is carried out. Every cult of personality that emphasizes the distinguished qualities, virtues, and talents of another person, even though these be of an altogether spiritual nature, is worldly and has no place in the Christian community; indeed, it poisons the Christianity community. The desire we so often hear expressed today for “episcopal figures,” “priestly men,” “authoritative personalities” springs frequently enough from a spiritually sick need for the admiration of men, for the establishment of visible human authority, because the genuine authority of service appears to be so unimpressive. There is nothing that so sharply contradicts such a desire as the New Testament itself in its description of a bishop (I Tim. 3:1 ff.). One finds there nothing whatsoever with respect to worldly charm and the brilliant attributes of a spiritual personality. The bishop is the simple, faithful man, sound in faith and life, who rightly discharges his duties to the Church. His authority lies in the exercise of his ministry. In the man himself there is nothing to admire (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together pg 108)

As my friend Chris says, Bonhoeffer continues to be a time traveler for the church.  I think Mark’s ministry was one of a “spiritual nature” in Bonhoeffer’s lingo.  I don’t think that Mark Driscoll is the evil and unforgiveable person that he is being portrayed.  I do not think that for Mark Driscoll or for Mars Hill Church it became all about Mark and not at all about Jesus.  I don’t think it is that black and white.  I think the reality of the situation that it was more fuzzy than that.   It was Jesus AND Mark Driscoll.  It was a shared spotlight at times.  This is probably even more dangerous.

The scary thing is that my own ministry is sometimes Jesus AND Jordan Rimmer.  I feel the temptation of leading with personality.  I feel the challenge of equating God’s blessing of my ministry with my own effort.  The truth is that it is not my ministry–it is Christ’s ministry.  The gospel of grace is in direct opposition to it being my grace or being build on my faithfulness.

The Gospel of Grace is such good news because God redeems and uses broken people like you and I.  When we fall apart God can still use us again.  I am always amazed when Christians who follow a faith of grace have no grace for one another.  So many are writing and speaking trash against Mark Driscoll.  I cheer for Mark Driscoll as I cheer for Michael Vick and so many others who have made mistakes.  I have to believe that people can come back from mistakes.  I make mistakes too.  I have to believe that God can use imperfect people to accomplish His will.  I am far from perfect.

Are those who fall and fail beyond God’s redemption?  I pray not, because then I have no hope.  Paul wasn’t beyond God’s saving work.  Neither were Peter or the other Disciples.  Neither were Abraham, Jacob, or David.  The list could go on an on.  The only perfect character in the whole Bible is Jesus, but that is enough to cover the imperfection of the rest of us.

To Mark Driscoll, I pray for your family.  And I pray for you.  May you go through a great time of healing and maturity, and may God bring you to the next place of your ministry ready to serve if that be God’s will.

Wednesday Recommendations: Clergy in Film

I love good movies, so for this blog post I thought I might share my 5 favorite movies with pastors as key characters.  There are plenty of movies with pastors and clergy type characters that I may blog about later, but here are my favorites.
             

> Keys to the Kingdom- This is a classic.  Gregory Peck portrays a priest who does not follow along with the status quo very well.  He ends up as a missionary to China.  He goes through a lot there but ends up serving and doing a lot of good.  I especially love the struggle that the priest goes through over his ministry.  He has not become popular or won many souls.  He returns to Scotland at the end of his life and lives in obscurity.  But he does have an impact on the community in China and that is enough for him.  Outstanding!

> Pale Rider- Clint Eastwood plays a priest comes into a gold mining town.  Through his kindness and hard work he begins to offer hope and life to this run down group of prospectors.  But this hope also begins to tick off the political powers in the area.  As the movie goes on, it becomes clear from his cool nerves and excellent fighting skills that this drifter was not always a priest.  I love the idea of being a priest and a gunfighter, but more than that I love the way this priest brings hope to the daily lives of so many.

 

               

 > The Mission- This movie centers around Robert Deniro who is a very rough slave trader.  The man has an encounter with God and gives his life to serving a mission with a priest played by Jeremy Irons.  The story of the slave trader’s redemption is slowly overtaken by the struggle of the politics of the day.  The missionary work was tied to colonization to a point that the political powers feel they can control the mission.

> Martin Luther- This old black and white movie of Martin Luther is so good.  I have always found Luther’s story interesting and compelling.  This movie shows the historical facts and the social and political background of Luther’s story.  I don’t think many people have seen this one, but I love it.

> Luther- This is a recent edition of Luther’s story.  It does a good job with the story, but its strength is the human element of Luther’s story.  It portrays Luther’s struggles, dangers, and ultimate resolve in a way that moves me every time I watch it.

What are your favorite films or shows with pastors or priests in them?

Wednesday Book Recommendation: Books on Being a Pastor

I really enjoy the memoirs and biographies of pastors.  I have read a number of them, but here are my 4 favorites so far.


The Pastor: A Memoir by Eugene H. Peterson– This book is a gem.  In it, Peterson reflects on learning what it means to be church including his local church and his father’s butcher shop.  He speaks of planting a church and his challenges relating to denominational bodies.  He talks about his labor to translate the Bible for his congregation that eventually became The Message.   This book was an easy read but so rich.

 

 

Open Secrets: A Memoir of Faith and Discovery by Richard Lischer– I read this book in seminary and absolutely loved it.  Lischer shares the beginning of his ministry in a small town church.  He wrestles with the quirky people and their family like decision making.  He also shares about the transition from academia to the parish.  Found that this book more than any other prepared me for the slow and unpredictable work of ministry.

 

 

 

This Odd and Wondrous Calling: The Public and Private Lives of Two Ministers by LillianDaniel and Martin B. Copenhaver- This book is not a memoir as much as a series of essays about ministry.  The authors talk about the work that goes on in the church as well as the challenges of their own lives.  Lillian Daniel discusses being a woman and a mom as a pastor.  Copenhaver has an especially interesting challenge of being married to someone who is not a Christian.  This calling to ministry is odd



Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber- Nadia has this incredible way of talking about something funny and then suddenly slamming into your soul.  She tells stories of starting a church for people who do not like normal church. This book is not for everybody.  The first word of the book is sh*t and it does have a strong liberal slant.  But it also had moments of brilliance.  It speaks not just of ministers but ultimately what is grace all about.

 

 

The Legacy of the 2-Horse Pastor

Circuit_Rider_Statue_Oregon_State_Capitol
I have been writing some of the history of the church I serve and found a humorous story. I was reading at the handwritten history that was read at the 100 year anniversary of our church in 1925. Miss Jessie Cuthbertson talked about David Imbrie who was the pastor of my church from 1806-1808. Apparently he traveled around as a pastor since my church was not even an official congregation until 1825. Miss Cuthbertson said this about Pastor David:

“It is said Mr. Imbrie was a very large man, weighing over 300 pounds; and when going any
distance always took two horses. He would ride up to a shouse and get the inmates to assist
him in changing horses, for if not careful, he would fall off the other side. “

What a legacy! After 117 years he was remembered for being so overweight that he had to have 2 horses and had to have strangers help him on to the other horse when one tired out.

As I think about “The 2-Horse Pastor” as I call him I began to wonder what my legacy at this church might be.  What will I be remembered for?  Will I be remembered, or will I become like some of the pastor’s who are never spoken of?  It is as if they pastored there but were never really the pastor.

Why should a pastor care about their legacy?  I think that all pastors need to see themselves as stewards.  Unless we close the doors then someone will follow us.  Some may have to leave soon, some may stay a long time, but sooner or later we will all hand over the reigns to another.

I don’t care so much that I am remembered.  (Honestly, some days I do more than I should!)  I would actually prefer that Christ be remembered as being active in my ministry. I would rather be a spotlight pointing to Jesus than be in the spotlight myself.  Following Christ may mean that I do some things that are not popular. But I hope I am remembered for more than needing 2 horses.

We stand in a critical times for our churches.  Those who were leading at the time of the reformation are remembered and revered because they led when the world and the church were training.  We are leading the church in that kind of moment.  What will our legacy be?

 

My Dad’s Charge at my Ordination

I graduated from Seminary in 2012.  Later that summer I got ordained.  It was quite a moving experience, but by far the most moving part was my dad’s charge to me.  Several of my friends have also found it challenging enough to spur on conversations among us a couple years later.  I hope it is challenging to you as well.

dad preaching

 

Jordan, it is my honor to welcome you to your new responsibilities before your living Lord, and to charge you to honor and fulfill your calling.
I challenge you first to become a life-long learner. The times they are a changing, and you will need to continue to learn if you will be able to keep up and to lead. Specifically I charge you to pick one book of the Bible. It doesn’t matter which one it is but pick one book of the Bible and to make it your goal to become an expert—a living expert in that book. Likewise, I challenge you to pick a theologian, it doesn’t matter who it is, but pick a theologian, a solid theologian and spend your life becoming an expert in his or her life’s work. Let that theologian mentor you and help you in an ongoing way.
I charge you to dare. I believe every person needs a cutting edge in their life—a place or an area in their life where they are pushing and stretching the boundaries, exploring outside their comfort zones. Dare. Push out. Explore the uncomfortable and continue to grow.
I charge you to lead a Word-centered ministry. Ministry is not about our words but about His. We are a people of books, but our identity is that we are a people of The Book. Spend time daily in the Bible.
I charge you to love. You will only shepherd your people well when you truly and deeply and personally care for them.
I charge you to learn and know yourself. Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is within you.” And I believe you will learn how to lead your people as you allow the Holy Spirit to lead your own Christian walk. The Holy Spirit is the teacher in God’s school of discipleship. You will learn how to disciple others as He disciples you.
I challenge you to become a man of prayer. This calling demands of you more wisdom and power than you can possibly bring to the task. The real secret of success in ministry is daily dependence of Christ.
And finally I challenge you to walk your own path. God has gifted you with a unique set of talent, gifts, abilities, and dreams. Each masterpiece God creates is an original, and you are an original. Honor His design and follow His plan. All of us here wish you all and only God’s best in your ministry.
 

Finding New Metaphors for Pastors

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One of the things I have wrestled with as a pastor is my own view of my work.  What really is the job of the pastor?  A pastor is expected to be so many things: preacher, teacher, moderator, worship leader, worship designer, counselor, executive, trainer, financial guru, fundraiser, funeral director, wedding planner, writer, publicist, activist…  The list can go on and on.  Sometimes we feel like janitors, complaint hotlines, and conflict mediators. Some pastors get specific jobs on a team, many of us are in smaller churches where we are forced to be general practitioners.

The main Biblical paradigm for a pastor is a shepherd.  How many of us today have ever seen a shepherd or even smelled a sheep?  The metaphor has little meaning to us.  Dr. Craig Barnes, my professor in seminary and now president of Princeton seminary, once looked at pastor as a “sheepdog” bringing the people back to the good shepherd. Dr. Barnes has also written about the pastor as minor prophet.  (Pastor as Minor Prophet)   He looks at pastors as the people who spin words to comment on culture and the larger realities that people are not seeing.  His ideas have some parallel to Walter Brugemann who uses the prophets of the Old Testament as a model for pastoral ministry.  The Bible uses other metaphors, including gardener, spiritual parent, and maybe even good Samaritan.  Church history adds other metaphors like physician of the soul.  While I learned a great deal from these metaphors, none have ever really connected with me as my own paradigm for ministry.

I see three models of pastoral ministry pushed in the world today.  The first is the pastor as the CEO of the church as an organization.  This comes a lot from large churches that function a lot more like a big business.  This model tends to read a lot of business literature.  The second model is pastor as counselor.  In this model the pastor is all about making people more emotionally healthy.  Pastors in this model do a lot of private counseling and group sessions but also preach on emotional topics.  The third model is pastor as charismatic figure.  These pastors function as religious rock stars whose sermons are posted online and whose stage presence can fill auditoriums. I am being a bit sarcastic as I portray these models.

I find some value in each and read from pastors in each camp, but none of them resonate with me.  They don’t ring true for me in my own calling.  These models also have 2 major flaws.  First, they often lead to burn out because they are so demanding on the pastor.  Second, they will not be accepted in a postmodern world that rejects authority and is suspicious of structured leadership.

So I have been wondering what needs to be done about the metaphors for pastors.  I am looking for thoughts and input as I am considering this for a future Doctor of Ministry thesis.  What are your thoughts?

  • What can be done to reconnect pastors today with classic metaphors?  
  • What new metaphors may need to be created?  
  • What narratives are pastors actually living into?

I am looking for thoughts and input as I am considering this for a future Doctor of Ministry thesis.  What are your thoughts?  Post a comment on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments section and add to the conversation.

 

Clergy Parking

The following is a chapter of the book I am working on.  It tells of the first time I parked in the clergy parking spot and why I still do.

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When I started my job as a student supply pastor, I had some experience.  I had experienced preaching and strategic planning, some discipleship, but little in the way of pastoral care and almost nothing in the context of hospitals.  My first few months at the church were very quiet pastorally.  I was preaching, ironing out a few difficulties with the decision making structure, and working on a few events that I was inheriting.  A week before finals of my third term in seminary, I got a call that Margaret was in the hospital. I was not ready for Margaret.

Margaret was not a member of my church.  In fact, I had never met Margaret.  She was a family member of one of my members.  She had been fighting cancer, but was losing the fight.  We had prayed for her during joys and concerns on several occasions.  She had gotten very odd in her behavior and had been very sick.  The call that I got stated that she was in a coma-like state and that she probably would not recover.  I did not believe that she went to another church, so I went into this visit with the understanding that this was probably going to turn into my first funeral.

I still remember going to the hospital.  I was 27 years old and not even a year into seminary.  What could I bring to this situation?  I did not even know how to get into this hospital since I had never been there, let alone find the right room.  It sounds silly, but I had never gone to a hospital when I did not already have a room number.  I felt so inadequate in that moment that I could not bring myself to park in the clergy parking spots.  I parked next to them, as if I were almost a clergy but was not yet one.

I stayed in my car and prayed for what seemed like an hour.  I did eventually find the courage to enter the hospital.  I believe that God gave me a perspective on what to do in that room.   The image that came to me was that of the Incarnation.  I believe that Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit, was already present in that hospital room.  He can only be there in Spirit since He is with the Father.  I was to be His body.  I was to go in there and be the physical representation of His presence that was already there and would still be there when I left.  I did not need high and lofty words or some prayer that was going to make things alright.  All I had to do is show up and be sensitive to what the Holy Spirit was already doing there.  At this realization, I finally got out of the car and entered the hospital.

I was shocked as I entered the room.  I have seen people who were dead before, but not people who are almost dead.  As Margaret’s body was shutting down, her ability to do things like eat or breath properly were greatly diminishing.  I was shown a few pictures in the room but none of them really looked like her.  She was thin to the bones, pale, and laboring to breathe.  I knew when I walked in the room that she was going to die soon.

I have had very few encounters in my life where mortality has really been before me.  I have been in a couple car accidents.  I experienced the death of two grandparents but I was not especially close to them.  I have also been to a few other funerals of people I did not know well.  As I walked into that hospital room, the weight of mortality struck me a lot more than I expected.  I am sure the clinical setting had something to do with this.  I had my tonsils out as a kid and a few trips to the ER growing up.  My wife had two knee surgeries and two children (at the time) from very smooth cesareans.  The hospital was neither comforting nor welcoming.  It was not particularly scary either.  It was unfamiliar.  I am sure this heightened my sense of mortality and compounded my own feelings of inadequacy.

The experience in that room was not what I expected.  I am not sure why I had expectations since they were not based on personal or pastoral experience.  I expected the mood to be one of sadness and mourning.  What I walked into was actually a vigil of a group of people telling stories about Margaret.  I have heard grief described as a fog.  Suddenly this image made sense.  There were lulls in the conversation where the people in the room would stare off into space and they would not seem to be thinking of anything.  These pauses were ended as someone would begin another story of Margaret.

Selfishly, this vigil was great for me.  I did not know Margaret and these stories were glimpses into Margaret’s life.  They would be important later as I prepared her funeral so I took them all in.  I did not have to speak much at all.  They wanted to share their stories with me.  They were probably tired of telling them to each other over and over again.  The pauses in conversation also seemed natural and important as people faced the reality of losing Margaret.

In only a few minutes that room did not feel like a hospital any more.  The formality of the room remained, with its cold floor, tubes, monitors, and, of course, Margaret dying in her bed. Despite these reminders, a peace swept over me.  It seems odd, but this was a crystallizing moment for me.  I suddenly understood that I was born to do this.  I was right where God wanted me.  I felt so honored to represent Jesus in those moments.  I am a pastor!  I cannot see myself doing anything else.

I sat for over an hour in the cycle of stories and silence.  I gained a great deal of knowledge concerning Margaret’s life that day.  She was much loved.  She had many times opened her home to friends and family.  Margaret had been the rock and the glue for a group of friends and family that had gathered for vacation every summer. Before I left I prayed with the family.  I am somewhat ashamed of my own hesitancy to pray.  I think I still had a subtle feeling in the back of my mind that I did not belong there or at least a lack of confidence in what I should say.

As I left, I was so sad for the family. At the same time, I felt excited that my call had been so confirmed with me.  I was still not totally happy with how I had handled myself.  Had I been too passive during this visit?  Surely there was something I could have said or done to be of more help.  I realize now that I had every reason to be overwhelmed.  This situation was overloaded with subtext- things going on under the surface of the conversation.  There were all kinds of thoughts, pains and worries swirling in the room disguised as whatever we were talking about. Every person in this room was telling stories that really boiled down to how their own life intersected with Margaret’s life.

We all wish we had magic words.  They right verse, phrase, poem, or insight that would make the world right in the face of loss and grief.  If those words existed, we would all use them. But here is the fact–they do not exist.  All we have is hope in God and the support of one another.  Sometimes words make things worse.

I do not think that I needed to say much or point out Christ in this situation.  By my mere presence I represented both a faith and a tradition that did not need to be defended or expounded.  I got to use words at the memorial service the next week.  I spoke about how Christ understands personally what we go through.  He was betrayed, killed, anxious over His death, and even lost a loved one.  We can look to Christ for our hope now and we can hope in a future where there is no more cancer, suffering, or death.  While we long for this now, we hope and pray that Margaret was not longing for it any more.

God used this situation as a formative experience for me.  It confirmed my sense of call.  It set my own pastoral theology.  It showed me the essence of hospital visits.  I am thankful for these lessons and for this opportunity to reflect on them. Now, when I go to the hospital, I park in a clergy parking spots.  I do this not because I feel that I am now good enough.  Instead, I park there because I am called to park there.  That is both a scary and an awesome privilege.