Paying for School

My ongoing adventures in life and the pursuit of more...

Monday, February 10, 2014


In Jurassic Park, the beginning of the end was the discovery of a mosquito, full of blood and trapped in amber, preserved from the time of the dinosaurs.  Extracting a little DNA from that source was science fiction but it’s also one model for how we sort out what a pastor is and does.  In this case, the amber is our New Testament or the first century record of the Church and some of us believe that inside that sample we can extract the DNA that, when incubated properly, will produce the original intentions of its Creator.

For others, the amber is not found in the first century when they hardly understood the Gospel but rather found in the Reformation and particularly in the work of Luther and Calvin.  In the Reformation, you will hear suggested or argued, the Gospel was finally realized and therefore in the outworking of that understanding can we see what a pastor is or does.  In this case the DNA comes from those men like Martin Luther and John Calvin and their distinctly unique pattern determines our form and function today.

And there is a third choice that prevails today. That of apostolic succession.  There are churches today that lean into this kind of amber as their source code, their DNA for what is, what was and what shall ever be, amen.  This group tends to look more medieval than the other 2 and they maintain more than just attitude but even the external forms and wardrobe from the period of time in which they became solidified.  Amber, after all, begins in a liquid form and over times solidifies.  The who and what of pastoral care, for this group, was trapped in amber centuries ago, solidified in the middle ages and that DNA continues to be extracted and replicated (with a few minor revisions) until the present day.

I believe there is a fourth way.  This isn't an original thought, but I think, the least successful of the four.  This fourth way imagines that the amber isn't the key but the DNA is.  The source code isn't found in past DNA but rather it shapes the formation of the DNA through every generation.  This fourth way relies on the gift of God’s Holy Spirit to create and continuously recreate the Church (and its ecclesiology) for the present age.  Rather than ignoring or rejecting our past, we embrace it as the journey that brought us to now.  Instead of critiquing yesterday for its faults, we mine yesterday for its gold.  But I am not trapped then, like a mosquito in amber, doomed to be what was for a time that no longer is.  I am free to be born again again and become what this generation, this particularity, needs.  I am not my grandfather or my great grandfather or my great great grandfather, but I am nothing without them.

This fourth way is a living way.  It is the most challenging way.  It is the way that requires more from me, from us, than any of the other ways.  It is dynamic.  It expects more of me/us and it depends more on me/us. We are living forward in this fourth way, not to be the church of the first century or the fourteenth century but (as Pannenberg says) the church of the last century.

What are the implications you can imagine for this fourth way?
What issues does this fourth way raise?

Friday, February 7, 2014

Mind the Gap

What They Didn't Teach You In Seminary…

A friend of mine once took a youth ministry position at a church and as he settled in, putting books on his shelves, the senior pastor asked him if he had any good books on church leadership.  My friend offered, “A Theology of Church Leadership” by Larry Richards.  The senior pastors reply, “I was looking for something more practical than theology…” A little piece of my friend died in that moment.

Somewhere along the line we hit this gap between the stuff that is true and the stuff that works in pastoral ministry.  I can’t point to the exact time or circumstance because they are different for each one of us but mind the gap because we all come across it.  In Bible College, we had one dear brother who taught his Practical Ministry classes that you can never be friends with the people in your congregation; your friends will be other pastors/ministers.  It’s just easier that way.  I've listened to many messages preached by pastors whose theology holds that we are saved by grace through faith alone who also berate their congregations or twist the guilt screws about tithing, gossip, volunteering- because it works.

Man is a giddy thing.

Here are some quotes from references on my thesis topic.  Along with the words that are helping me sort out what pastoring is all about, are my own comments about the book, the author or the points they are making. In all these cases, I frequently observe the gap between what we know and what we do.

The Christian Pastor by Wayne E. Oates, Westminster, 1982.
“Many are the tasks into which circumstances press the Christian pastor, but he thinks of himself at his best as being a shepherd of his flock, a minister of reconciliation whose task is the care and cure of souls in the face-to-face relationships with individuals.”   He then goes on to break down the “Pastoral Task” like this: The Crisis Ministry of the Pastor, The Symbolic Role of the Pastor, The Personal Qualifications of the Pastor and The Identity and Integrity of the Pastor.   I have to admit that his outline seduced me at first glance and as I’m getting in to the book itself I’m developing a relationship deeper than the initial seduction promised.  Ultimately I think this is the book I wanted to write.

Contemporary Images of Christian Ministry by Donald Messer, Abingdon, 1989.
“In his play Zalmen or the Madness of God, Wiesel struggles with this prophetic understanding of hearing and obeying the voice of God.  It is to speak the truth in love even when silence is the better path to survival.”  And this, “Critical to the process of accepting God’s gift of ministry is to move beyond the stereotyped images that we encounter, create, accept, internalize or perpetuate.”  The chapter these quotes are pulled from is titled, “The Divine Madness of Ministry.”  That would have been enough to get me to buy the book but the chapter starts with quotations from two of my favorite authors, Garrison Keillor and Eli Wiesel.  Keillor’s quote is from A Prairie Home Companion and it starts the chapter, “You’re only human, even if you are a minister.  But if you stand up in the pulpit and say that, the first thing people in the congregation will think of is adultery!  And the second thing is “with whom and when?”  That’s gold right there!

And finally this, from one of the first and still best books I ever read about being a pastor…

Working the Angles by Eugene Peterson, Eerdmans, 1987.
“I don’t know of any other profession in which it is quite as easy to fake it as ours.”  And this, “It is an image thing…you discern what people expect and fit into it.”  Indeed. This book still cleans my clock every time I read it.

Last year, about this time, a friend shared an article with me from the business world.  The point of the article was that business leaders often found themselves in a dilemma.  They recognized their system was broken, could even describe exactly what was wrong and what it would take to fix it but things were moving so fast at the speed of life that they couldn't stop keeping the day to day going long enough to implemented the course corrections needed to get their company back on track.  A systemic shut down, rather than tweaking, was the only way to get a different ending to the story they found themselves in.

I wonder if pastors are in that same situation.  We see the things that need to be done but we've got this list of weekly stuff that has to get done or the wheels will come off.  Expectations, both internal and external, drive us and we see what needs to be done but stuff it in the closet in favor of what has to be done.  In a family system, when one member chooses to stop playing by the dysfunctional rules that are making everyone else sick or in pain, they are rarely applauded, rather they are attacked for upsetting the system, the equilibrium, the status quo.  I wonder how many pastors have stopped pastoring in order to maintain their job?  How many of us have given up our vocation in order to keep our career?

Hi, I’m Debbie Downer, and I can’t see the pony, all I can see is a load of poo.

I’m not down about my church or my vocation.  Seriously.  But my thesis project has me thinking and asking myself questions about this thing we do, called pastoring and this thing we are, called pastor. I stand on the shoulders of giants to find answers.

What do you think?  Do you see a gap between the stuff we know is true and the stuff we do because it’s practical?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

What Is a Pastor Expected To Do?

Found via Google Image search for "pastor".
Thesis Project part 1

I am wildly behind on my thesis project work.

I think about it every day, more than a passing thought.  It’s not just the “blank white page syndrome,” where you struggle to start writing because you've got a whole, empty page to fill up.  I think it’s the “blank white book syndrome.”  There’s so much to be said, so much to say, so much to research and read, that I start to experience paralysis.

It starts with this question, “What is a pastor?” or this question, “What does a pastor do?”

Having been at this (pastoring, not the thesis project) for almost 30 years, you’d think I’d have a ready definition or description. And I do. I have my own.  But as I read the work others have done it has become apparent that mine is as different from theirs as theirs are from each other’s. I’m fascinated by the sheer number of pastors working around the world and the fuzziness that surrounds the description of what we do.

Mirriam-Webster online comes up with this, “PASTOR - noun \ˈpas-tər\ :  a spiritual overseer; especially :  a clergyman serving a local church or parish — pas•tor•ship  noun. Origin of PASTOR, Middle English pastour, from Anglo-French, from Latin pastor herdsman, from pascere to feed — First Known Use: 14th century.”  When you look for the verb form, Mirriam defaults to the classic no-no and uses the word in the definition – pastoring is to pastor.  Sure it is.

But I can’t blame Mirriam’s ambiguity on a lack of research.  We who claim the title have taken it on quite a ride over the last 2000 years.  I can default to what I think is a biblical definition of pastoring but that fails to recognize the complexities of both the life and the times in which we live and others have lived before us.  In part, this is precisely why I am developing my thesis project around a classic approach to pastoring.  A classic approach takes in to account the richness of pastoral tradition and history.  Rather than re-inventing our role for a new generation we can make the most of the deep wells others have already dug, stand on the shoulders of giants and anchor our expectations in generations of experience.

One of the great challenges to a classic approach though will be modern expectations of pastor as CEO and entrepreneurs who turn their start-ups and small businesses into Big Boxes and franchise locations.  I’m on the hunt for a Mega-Church pastor who has maintained a classic approach to pastoring.  Let me know if you see one.

In the meantime, my question du jour is, “What is a pastor expected to do?”