Friday, January 31, 2014

Two Views of Pastoral Ministry for Ministerial Candidates

In my forty years of ministry and 15 years of coaching and mentoring churches and Christian leaders, I have noted for some time now two widely disparate views of pastoral ministry. They criss-cross one another at various points, but they indicate two very different views of the pastorate, what is expected, wanted and sought after. One view is indicated by Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, Andy Stanley and others in that circle. They are vision-oriented, leadership-driven, energetic, do "big things for God" type of pastors. An indicator of this type of pastoral ministry would be Warren's recent posting about having a God-sized vision --
"Many leaders never achieve the level of influence they could potentially have because they drift through life on autopilot, maintaining the status quo, without a big ambition. They have no master plan, no big purpose, no dreams pulling them along. But if you’re going to be a great leader, you need to dream great dreams. When you stop dreaming, you start dying. If you have no goals, you have no growth. God put it in your mind the ability to think great thoughts and dream great dreams and to have great visions. When you’re stretching and growing and developing, you’re a healthy human being. We grow by being stretched. We grow by facing new challenges. In fact, I would say that if you’re not facing any challenges right now, you need to go find one quick." (Rick Warren's Ministry Toolbox, Jan 30, 2014)
The other view can be represented by Barton Gingerich in his post, "An Alternative to the Celebrity Pastor" --
"The expectation that congregational leaders give off the “right vibe” has become standard in some religious circles. Some churches today assert that a pastor should be an enthusiastic, extroverted purveyor of hilarity, therapy, success, or optimistic activism. These pastors are supposed to be casual, invested with “big dreams” to do “big things for God,” handy at enabling a good time during congregational worship, “innovative” with outreach (i.e. the kids find the pastor sufficiently hip), and—perhaps most important of all—adept in the vocabulary of self-help and therapy. In other words, people want to feel good spiritually, and the pastor is to model that in his own life. I deliberately juxtapose this with George Herbert, who wrote,The Country Parson is generally sad, because he knows nothing but the Cross of Christ, his mind being defixed on it with those nails wherewith his Master was; or if he have any leisure to look off from thence, he meets continually with two most sad spectacles, Sin and Misery; God dishonoured every day, and man afflicted. Nevertheless, he sometimes refresheth himself, as knowing that nature will not bear everlasting droopings, and that pleasantness of disposition is a great key to do good; not only because all men shun the company of perpetual severity, but also for that when they are in company of perpetual severity, but also for that when they are in company, instructions seasoned with pleasantness both enter sooner and root deeper."
In our age of self-indulgence, Herbert’s vision of pastoral self-mortification must be recovered. The parson is the deputy of God to the parish, with authority to dispense that old combination of Word and Sacrament. In his office, he provides care for the souls of his cure, protection from doctrinal error, a model for piety, and an anchor point as leader. The last thing that a pastor needs to resemble in a culture addled with consumerism, distraction, and atomistic individualism is a guide to a theme park. - See more at:  (Worldview Church Digest, Publication of the Colson Center, Jan. 31, 2014)
Both views claim biblical warrant. Both views maintain they love God and love people. Both views want to faithfully minister the gospel of God's grace to people in need. Both views are not age-defined, though Warren might claim more younger ministers than Gingerich. However, there are vast differences to be noted, and these are important as candidates for the gospel ministry prepare for professional ministry roles. How we see ministry, especially pastoral ministry, will guide our training, our reading, our study, our sermon preparations and our congregational service and ministry. And, no doubt that Warren and Gingerich would agree with that analysis.
Warren would say that Herbert's vision espoused by Gingerich is laced with fear-driven rather than humility motivated ministry, confusing contentment with plain laziness, and "little thinking with spirituality." Gingerich would say Warren and others like him have bought into the "bigger is better" voices in church life, confused ministerial leadership with popularity and relativism, and substituted Scriptural sacrificial living with self-indulgent, success-driven modeling. What I find unhelpful for those seeking the path of professional ministry is the "mud-slinging" and "writing off" that go on in such points of view. Perhaps another, more objective, path is needed, especially for those seeking direction for professional, pastoral ministry.
First, everyone in professional ministry must have a specific calling from God for that ministry, whatever it entails and wherever it might be. Some are indeed called to be "country parsons," to be committed to the care of a relatively small number of people, to care for them as they get sick, to marry their sons and daughters, to officiate at family funerals, and to help them grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ in their smaller worlds. Some are called to much larger ministries that take aim at world hunger and injustice and seek to address these global concerns with resources and a perspective that smaller ministries cannot hope to accomplish. So the very first principle of successful and God-honoring ministry of any size or type or kind is to know one's calling from God. Warren is therefore wrong to assert that the "country parson" minister or church leader has "stopped growing," or that such ministry does not face challenges that stretch us. A "big" dream for this type of ministry might be providing food or clothing or shelter for five more needy families in their town. He is also wrong about being "fear-driven" rather than humility motivated. This kind of ministry requires an enormous amount of self-sacrifice and personal humility. It is important to remember that Jesus honored the servant with the "two talents" just as much as the one with the "five talents."
However, the country parson minister must not malign or disdain the "big-thinking" type of professional minister either. These professionals are just as much committed to biblical living and values. But they, like ranchers, see groups of sheep rather than just single ones. They care on a larger scale, seeking to reach more people with the message of Christ. Their "mall-like" concerns do not discount the "mom-and-pop" stores around them. Rather, they see their calling to reach many, many people with the life-giving gospel. They want to impact the global needs of poverty and injustice. This is Rick Warren's passion and commitment. In one service they may minister to more unbelievers than the country parson will do in many years or even a lifetime of faithful ministry. One way is not better than the other, just different.
The problem comes in when we try to "cross-breed" the two forms of ministry. While the country parson can learn some leadership principles and helpful insights from the Rick Warren's of the ministry world, this is not their venue of ministry. They need to seek out and attend training seminars that address their needs, their problems, their venues. So, attending the global summit of Willow Creek or the Catalyst conferences of North Point may not be a wise use of their time and energies. It would, however, be a mistake to judge these country parsons of being sub-leaders or poor leaders.
I would exhort both types of professional pastoral ministries to value each other, support each other, pray for each other and stay away from name-calling, bashing or pigeon-holing one another. And for the candidate moving into professional pastoral ministry, be careful of valuing one type of ministry above the other. The leading question you must answer is simply this, What does God want me to do for Him and His kingdom? And be satisfied with the answer and calling you receive.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Alma Maters: Support or Bail

Probably no one will ever read this post, but that's o.k. I received my quarterly journal from my college alma mater yesterday. I read it through, and although the articles were interesting, the eclecticism created some heartburn for me. My college, a liberal arts college in the northeast, and a well-reputed school with many sterling graduates and so forth, has been trying to inculcate a new level of diversity within its student and faculty ranks. This is not merely racial diversity, but social, moral and sexual diversity, recognizing the LGBTG community fully. The articles in these quarterly journals seek to portray that diversity, as if that is a good and necessary quality of a fine liberal arts college.

My problem is that I am conflicted in the calls for support for my alma mater. I do not at all support the moral code of the LGBTG community, believe that it is a violation of morality taught in the Bible, and cannot give to an institution that not merely puts up with but welcomes such points of view with open arms, almost panting at the opportunity to lend support and credence to the lifestyles. To support something like this would be a violation of my conscience and belief system.

On the other hand, this college was very good to me--a very poor over-achiever from an area high school who had no hope of such a fine education at such a reputed private school. This school welcomed me with open arms, literally paid for my education through grants, scholarships and on campus work study programs. They allowed my InterVarsity evangelical group to meet in the campus buildings and allowed the student union to host a blatantly evangelical program during the time I was there. No one made fun of us or ostracized us from the college community. I am sure this school would point to this as supporting "diversity" and would not understand my reluctance to give back so that other less fortunate students can attend now.

The problem is that a thoroughly Christian viewpoint on campus is recognized as "one of many." It is therefore tolerated along with Buddhism, Jewish gatherings, covens and gay pride meetings. The problem is that there is no ONE truth system that is believed or practiced or acted upon. The college fathers would say this is the genius of a liberal arts college, and they would point out how they had supported my "narrow" point of view along with others. But Christianity is NOT just one of many systems of belief and practice. It is not just an option along with a multitude of other options for faith and life. It stands AGAINST these other systems as false and detracting from the supreme truth for the universe.

In a post-modern world, my alma mater is right there in the middle of the stream of options, opinions and systems, swimming merrily along with the current, and wanting to stay right in the middle of that current. This creates inner pain for me since I have had a number of professors and staff who have helped me immensely in my life journey. Perhaps others feel the same way I do, maybe for different reasons and convictions.

How does one support their alma mater with the above conflicting diversity?