Leading with Strategic ThinkingThe pastor, by virtue of his or her position, will influence, to one degree or another, the life and ministry of a congregation. Many refer to this influence as leadership, though I prefer the former rather than the latter word, as the former word identifies the fruit of the latter.

The pastor influences the life of his or her congregation – actively or passively, intentionally or unintentionally, strategically or haphazardly. If done actively, intentionally and strategically, the pastor will discover many ways to biblically, authentically, and honorably influence the ministry of his or her congregation.

In their new book, Leading with Strategic Thinking, Aaron Olson and B.K. Simerson provide some handles for understanding the different ways individuals influence their spheres of responsibility. This book emerged from their research study of 300 Aon professionals and Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) students. Kate MacArthur offers a succinct book review here.

In Leading with Strategic Thinking, the authors describe four styles of leadership or influence. In addition, they encourage individuals to adapt their style for different situations, citing that the most effective leaders use the right leadership style at the right time. Here are the four styles identified by Olson and Simerson:

Visionary Leadership – This model is about leading with the power of an idea. It is best employed when the leader knows the preferred outcome and, then, motivates others to own it.

Directive Leadership – This model is best employed when both the process and the outcome are clear. The leader, then, guides the process to the preferred outcome.

Incubating Leadership – In this model the leader positions him or herself as one who empowers others to take the ball and run with it. It requires more prompting than prescribing, more guiding than driving.

Collaborative Leadership – In this model the leader takes his or her place among others as together they create processes and outcomes that could not be created alone. In other words, this style assumes that the answers are in the group.

Why is this book important to those called to pastors? Most people discover that they gravitate to one of style of leadership. It seems that it has even become common place for pastors to identify their leadership style and, then, limit themselves to that style.

But inevitably pastors will find themselves in situations where the best way to exercise positive influence requires a switch from their preferred style to one better suited for the situation. If they fail to make this switch, they will fail to influence their congregations in a positive manner. In some cases they will even bring great harm to the church and, perhaps, find themselves looking for a new field of service. (Do I have a witness?) In contrast, when pastors adapt their leadership style to each situation, they experience more effective ministry while enjoying the fruit of a healthier congregation.

SchutlzeThroughout my life, I have heard many people offer speeches. I’ve heard good and bad, interesting, funny, too long, and too short speeches. I’ve heard skilled people speak and those who sounded like they had never spoken before. I remember the great speeches. They seemed well planned with little error or disruption. But I wonder if the speaker, while preparing his or her speech, ever thought: “I have to be the best servant speaker that I can be.”

Yes, I said servant speaking. The phrase “servant speaking”, in my opinion, sums up the purpose of speaking. Quentin Schultze, in An Essential Guide to Public Speaking: Serving Your Audience with Faith, Skill, and Virtue, writes that we should use the gift of speech to serve others. In other words, we are to be “servant speakers.” But what is servant speaking and how do you become a servant speaker, especially if you are a speaker of the faith?

Servant speaking is about responsibility. If given the gift of speaking, then we have a responsibility to serve others. Everything starts with the gift of communication. “We should use the gift of communication wisely to form public associations such as neighborhood groups, city commissions, and nonprofit clubs.” Overall, servant speaking is about using a communication gift to speak up for other people. Servant speaking is not only about performing a great speech but helping others in certain situations. Schultze writes that a servant speaker must be ready to, “defend the essentials of the faith, empower the voiceless excluded from public discourse, expose wrongdoing, and repair others’ wrongly damaged reputations.” A good servant speaker listens well, prepares well, and addresses obstacles.

Some of the challenges that speakers face are fear, ego, and depending too much on talent. Fear can be one of the greatest problems for speakers because it can affect everything. One of my greatest fears during speaking is going blank. I know I can confront this fear by being prepared and by not being so hard on myself. My focus should be on the people I have come to serve.

I believe that a speaker can overcome fear by overcoming his or her ego. Schultze reminds his readers that ego can get in the way of any speaker, but often ego affects skilled speakers. Sometimes being too good at something causes a sense of arrogance. A servant speaker does not rule with ego. Servant speaking is about skill; but it is not all about skill.

At this point in my reading of Schultze’s book, I took many notes. I remember taking a public speaking class in college. The main focus of the class was developing speaking skills because with these skills, in a way, I was supposed to become a great public speaker. According to Schultze, “Rather than doing the hard work necessary to become good speakers, we can fall into the trap of looking for a few simple tricks of the trade. We search for new techniques that will impress audiences. These techniques become magical solutions to our speaking problems – like spoken abracadabras.”
In other words, skills are important but we have to really do our work as servant speakers; this is how we become good speakers.

So, along with skill, a servant speaker should prepare by doing the essential research that will produce a very thematic, unified speech. We need to be prepared to listen to others and most importantly yourself. How many people really listen to themselves before speaking to a crowd? This is not arrogant. If you really listen to yourself speak, you can better critique your speech before you speak before an audience. Also, you can better identify the purpose, meaning, strengths and weaknesses of your speech, sermon, prayer, or presentation. A servant speaker has a responsibility to be truthful. This can one of the greatest challenges for speakers because sometimes others do not want you to be honest. It is one thing to be a great speaker; but a speaker that is great and honest can be a threat.

As people of the Christian faith, we have the responsibility to speak truth. God’s word is true and we represent him. We cannot be servant speakers without being “truth-tellers.” Overall, servant speaking is about virtue. As a servant speaker, I should be more concerned with my character than my outside appearance. In other words, I can present myself as a good speaker, but who I am internally really shows my true speaking ability.

According to Schultze, being a Christian servant speaker means I must walk in the fruit of the Spirit because this makes me a great speaker. Character and skill are essential. From reading Quentin Schultze’s book, I feel that I have been given the answer to the nagging question: What is the true purpose of speaking? Honestly, I thought the answer would be more complicated but the answer is summed up in one word: Servant.

Guest blog by Brittani Pipes, Northern Seminary student and member of a class on worship entitled “Everything BUT Sermon and Song.”

SchutlzeEvery congregation has a liturgy, even those congregations which shy away from the word. For them, the word “liturgy” may seem like a dirty word… suggesting the Roman Catholic mass or the Episcopalian prayer book, accompanied by vestments, candles, and altars.” (D.G. Hart & John R. Muether, With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship, 92). But the term “liturgy” could have more play, especially among Evangelicals.

The word derives from the Greek λειτουργια, transliterated as “leitourgia,” a word that means “the work of the people.” In contemporary conversations about worship, the word “liturgy,” refers to the collection of components within a ceremony, ritual, or service. While many self-identified “non-liturgical” congregations use the word as an adjective to describe a type of worship (i.e., formed worship), the noun simply refers to the order of actions or activities that take place during the weekly gathering of a local body of believers. So understood, the word liturgy includes a congregation’s coming and going and everything in between.

Surely we can agree that, so understood, every congregation has a liturgy and every congregation has liturgists, those individuals responsible for guiding the congregation through the liturgy from its beginning to its end. Up until about fifty years ago, the primary liturgist for American Evangelicals was the pastor, supported by an aptly trained organist who guided congregational singing and prompted actions like standing and sitting.

During the past thirty years or more, the pastor has begun to share responsibility as liturgist with one or more individuals. In my experience as a pastor, for example, the Associate Pastor often provided one or more prayers, a worship leader led congregational singing, and a member of the congregation offer a “Prayer for Illumination” and read the Scripture lesson. Your experience may be similar. If so, as a side note, you may have learned, as I did, that the congregation appreciates less than more when it comes to the number of people on the platform.

If every congregation has a liturgy and every congregation has liturgists, doesn’t it make sense to prepare individuals to serve as liturgists? Wouldn’t the witness and worship of the church be strengthened by encouraging those called by the Lord and His church to serve as liturgists?

Most Christian traditions, most notably Roman Catholicism and mainline Protestantism, seem to think so. My experience and research suggests, however, that Evangelicals and Pentecostals are less inclined to do so. Both of these traditions have exerted considerable energy in preparing sermons and songs for preachers and cantors (the traditional title for song leaders), but appear to have neglected those elements in the service other than sermon and song. (One notable exception to that trend has been the work of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship in Grand Rapids, MI).

The lay of the land so described among Evangelicals and Pentecostals led me to create a course at Northern Seminary (Lombard, IL) entitled “Everything BUT Sermon and Song. Traditionally, seminarians commit considerable energy towards the preparation of and delivery of sermons. More recently, seminarians have dedicated considerable energy towards the discussion of congregational worship. In contrast, little attention has been given to the other elements of the weekly gathering, the most prominent of which is public prayer. This course has been designed to help students develop as liturgists, as those who plan and lead the weekly gatherings of God’s people. We hope to explore the basics of public speaking, the shape and power of liturgy, the public prayers of the gathered community, and the practice of liturgical leadership.

While preparing the syllabus for the course I discovered many excellent resources, such as the The Worship Sourcebook (Faith Alive Resources) and Kimberly Bracken Long’s The Worshiping Body: The Art of Leading Worship (Westminster John Know Press, 2009). I also discovered a great text from an unlikely source: An Essential Guide to Public Speaking: Serving Your Audience with Faith, Skill, and Virtue by Quentin Schultze who serves in the communications department at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan (Baker, 2006).

Without question, there are many similarities between effective public speaking and effective liturgical leadership. So I should not have been surprised to receive help from a book on the former for those involved in the latter. And Schultze caught my attention right away. In his “Introduction” Schultze notes that speech is God’s gift to humanity, and one that speech should be used to faithfully serve others, virtuously, and skillfully.

As I read those words, I wondered if the same could be said about the words used by liturgists. Isn’t speech God’s gift to liturgists? And should they not speak faithfully, virtuously and skillfully in the service of the Lord and His church? Of course they are and of course they should.

So in today’s blog I follow the lead of Quentin Schultze and encourage liturgists to function as virtuous servants who faithfully serve their congregations, in the biblical sense, and skillfully use verbal and nonverbal methods.

  • Serve Faithfully – To meet this outcome liturgists must cultivate a spirit of humility. Guiding the liturgy of God’s people, the Bride of Christ and temple of the Holy Spirit, requires humility to serve Christ and His church. If we draw attention to ourselves, we have failed (37-38).
  • Virtuous Service – To meet this outcome liturgists we must cultivate our hearts and seek to develop fruit of the Spirit. Then we will experience unity between our inner and outer selves. Then we will minimize the number of times our lives contradict our leadership of the liturgy (86).
  • “Crafting Artfully” – Too meet this outcome, we need to work hard at crafting liturgies characterized by “thematic unity, expressiveness, and situational fit” (57).

Schultze offers excellent tips towards achieving that last outcome. I have paraphrased and applied a few of them to the work of the liturgist:

  1. Plan your liturgy as a unified work of art – just as you select clothes to wear that go well together (58).
  2. “Enhance verbal expressiveness by varying your verbal pace, loudness, and frequency range” (65). Also, wisely use nonverbal means – such as arms, hands, and eyes – to express yourself (64).
  3. Remember, “not all topics, illustrations, gestures, and vocal styles are for all” congregations (67). It is given, then, that context shapes liturgies.

In conclusion, surely we can agree that every congregation has a liturgy and every congregation has liturgists. May we also agree that the weekly gatherings of local Christians will be strengthened, not only by giving the appropriate amount of attention to sermons and songs, but by doing the same for everything else that takes place in between a congregation’s coming and going?

GamblersDuring the season of Lent, I typically pull a dusty book of sermons off one of the shelves in my library. This year’s selection was The Gamblers at Golgotha and Other Sermons by Galbraith Hall Todd (Baker Books, 1957). Todd once served as pastor of the Arch Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, as well as a lecturer in homiletics at the Reformed Episcopal Seminary in Philadelphia.

In The Gamblers at Golgotha, Todd offers fourteen sermons on the minor personalities associated with the passion of Jesus Christ. It’s a nice read and includes some nuggets that I share with you.

In his sermon on the “Donor of the Donkey” – It is an encouragement for servants of Christ, especially those engaged in the ministry and teaching of His Word to know that he purpose for which they are sent will be accomplished. God does not permit His Word to return unto Him void. The sermon which has been produced under the guidance of the Spirit of God will find persons who have been prepare din mind and hear and made receptive by the selfsame Spirit (11).

In “A Man Carrying a Jug of Water” – As we are called to fulfill tasks for which there is little or no recognition, but which contribute, far above our meager power to compute, to the kingdom of Christ, we should lift the ancient prayer of Moses, “Establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it” (26).

In “A Tale of Two Maids” – It is not identification with an outstanding position, name, or institution that merits honor but the gifts and graces of mind and heart which one brings to and demonstrates in the place (60).

In “That Choice Goes By Forever” – The gravest error of churches and clergy is that of falling into the disposition of Pilate, namely, that of wishing to content the multitude. The voice of the people can seldom be accepted as the voice of God, hence, the voice of truth and right (74).

In “Emotion on the Road to the Cross” – Jesus does not desire us to luxuriate in religious sentiment concerning Him and His cross. He longs to see tears, not of pit for Him in the spectacle of his suffering, but of contrition for our sins and of surrender to His claims on our souls (97).

In “Chosen in the Stead of Judas” – Apart from the casting of lots, the other aspects of the disciples’ method constitute a pattern for us in the many decisions with which we are confronted as individuals. We must us the reason, common sense, and the powers of judgment with which God has endowed us, lifting the earnest prayer that His directing hand will be upon us, controlling our minds and overruling all of the circumstances involved in the particular situation (133).

In “Chosen in the Stead of Judas” – God does not permit the taints and blunders of one of his servants or an entire generation of His people to arrest the progress of His kingdom in the world (137).

In “The Man Who Was Not Selected” – No matter how incommensurate with your capabilities is your place and how inadequate a theater for the manifestation of your talents it may seem, God in His wise providence has you in the place where He wills you to be and where you are most fitted to serve His cause (151).

rejoiceOf all the work we do in this world, how much of it causes Jesus Christ to rejoice?

We might hope that by doing everything as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:17), we cause Jesus Christ to rejoice. Perhaps, but the Bible doesn’t confirm that aspiration.

We might hope that by faithfully fulfilling our callings as a husband or father, a sister or a mother, a neighbor or friend, we cause Jesus Christ to rejoice. Perhaps, but the Bible doesn’t confirm that aspiration either.

What work in this world causes Jesus Christ to rejoice? In Luke 10, we find an answer to that question. There we discover that Jesus appointed seventy-two others to serve as ambassadors of the Gospel. Their mission? To heal the sick and proclaim that “the Kingdom of God is near” (:9). Jesus sent them out two by two with the promise that the “harvest is plentiful” (:2).

The seventy-two returned from their mission with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” Moments later, Jesus, “full of joy through the Holy Spirit,” said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children” (21).

On November 17, 7136, Jonathan Edwards delivered a sermon based on that story from the life of Jesus. You may find this sermon among a collection of previously unpublished sermons by Jonathan Edwards entitled The Salvation of Souls. The volume was edited by Richard A. Bailey and Gregory A. Wills (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2002).

The occasion for the November 17 sermon by Edwards was the ordination service of David White, pastor-elect of a newly organized congregation in Lambstown (now Hardwick), Massachusetts. White served as pastor of the Lambstown church until his death in 1784.

As was his custom, Edwards described the doctrine around which he constructed his sermon: “When those ministers of the Gospel that have been faithful and successful come to give an account of their success to their Lord that has sent them, Christ and they will rejoice together” (76). From that premise, Edwards offered several reasons why Christ rejoices on such an occasion.

  1. Christ will rejoice in the success of his ministers for their success yields praise to Jesus Christ (II Thessalonians 1:11-12).
  2. Christ will rejoice in the success of his ministers because he loves them.
  3. Christ will rejoice in the success of his ministers because their success is his success.

In the application section off his sermon, Edwards reminded David White and all present of this truth: Christ rejoices when pastors faithfully complete their mission as ambassadors of Christ; their “success” in the ministry causes Christ to rejoice.

Edwards study of the text led him to offer the following statement: “What an excellent and honorable employment must that be which is concerned about that which is so great and glorious in its end and issues as the joint and mutual gladness of the laborers and of him that is the Great Head of the church and the Lord of angels” (85).

What other employment produces such a glorious and blessed effect? “The very business of those that are called to this employment is to do that in which Christ exceedingly rejoices: The work of ministers is to rescue lost souls and bring them to eternal happiness, which is the work that Christ himself came into the world upon and shed his blood for. It is to be the instruments of Christ’s success in the work of redemption, which God looks on and speaks of as the most glorious of all his works” (86).

Edwards adds, “Every time that a faithful minister is an instrument of the conversion of any person, it brings a soul to espousals with Christ and occasions gladness in his heart and adds a jewel to his crown off rejoicing. And hereafter when they come to give an account to their Lord of their success, they shall then behold this crown of joy which they have set on Christ’s head, and Christ will at the same time give the same jewels to them to be their own crowns of rejoicing. And thus they shall have communion in the same crown of joy, which shows the exceeding blessedness of this work” (87).

In that Edwards writes as a Protestant in the Calvinist tradition, we may assume that he would agree that every Christian is a child of God, redeemed by Christ, and a temple of the Holy Spirit. He would surely affirm that there is no distinction in status between Christians since every Christ-follower, both laity and clergy alike, have been called to serve Christ as prophets, priests and kings. He would agree that all Christians, both clergy and laity alike, have been called by God to serve in this world.

But he is not willing to say that every “employment” causes Christ to rejoice. Instead, he notes that the Bible portrays Christ rejoicing when the seventy-two returned with a report of their successful mission. He also notes that Christ invites those same ministers to rejoice that our names are written in heaven (:20). He could have also brought in a few parables recorded in Luke 15 by which Jesus encourages us to rejoice with him when the lost are found (15:6, 9) for “there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (10).

The purpose of this sermon by Edwards is not to minimize the contributions of those in “temporal employment.” Instead, it is to encourage pastors to complete their missions as ambassadors of Christ: “Though the work of the ministry be not ordinarily a work of such temporal advantage in this land as in some other places, nor as it has formerly been in this land, yet what cause have those that are employed in it and are faithful in it and in a measure successful to rejoice in it on account of these unspeakable spiritual and eternal honors and blessings that Christ has annexed to it” (87).

Truth be told, Edwards encouraged me when I read his sermon. He reminded me that, while every Christian has received one or more calls to service in the name of the Lord, few can claim with certainty that their service causes Christ to rejoice. As one who loves the Lord – at least, tries to – I love bringing joy to Christ.

I hope this brief summary encourages any pastor or any person considering pastoral ministry, as well as any person called to announce that the “kingdom is near.” While the work of the ministry doesn’t offer much in the realm of temporal advantage, Christ has annexed to it unspeakable spiritual and eternal honors. What we do as ministers of the Gospel causes Christ to rejoice – and not many people can say the same.

Transformation-in-text-webpage-711x200.jpgA few months ago, I met with a counselor as part of a ministry assessment for a spiritual formation class. He noticed that I had some unresolved issues that were affecting my behavior and recommended that I meet with a therapist. My initial thought was, “Thanks for the concern, but no thanks.” I had grown up with the impression that, since my sin had been forgiven, I simply needed to pray and have more faith when I felt into habitual sin.

Upon reflecting, though, I felt a deep sense responsibility to deal with my pain and sin. I knew I was headed for pastoral ministry, and I felt that I needed to do everything in my power to receive healing for the sake of my future congregation. I started meeting with a counselor and have begun to deal with deep-seated anxiety.

In the church where I grew up, my pastors did not place much emphasis on the their self-care; their priority was caring for the congregants. The congregants’ spiritual growth took precedence over their own.

It seems to me that my pastors’ mindset is a common one in the church. But is it the most biblical? After reading James’ W. Thompson book Pastoral Ministry According to Paul, I don’t think so.

Thompson explains that one of the primary roles of the Christian minister is to be a model of transformation. Drawing from the letter to the Philippians, Thompson explains that Christians live in anticipation of the complete transformation into the likeness of Christ at his return. In the meantime, they are transformed into his likeness as they identify increasingly with the cross, learning to love each other more (Thompson 2006, 50-53). This present transformation (sanctification) has begun in their baptism—their “death to sin and new existence in Christ,” as Romans 6—8 explains. Thus, to be sanctified, the church community must live in this new reality of baptism. The goal of ministers is “to guide the community toward this transformation” (101-105), and one of the primary ways they do that is by modeling it themselves (51, 161). The pastor, then, must be the Christian par excellence.

This picture of the pastor differs from many contemporary models. It’s not uncommon to hear stories of pastors’ failings. In recent months, Mark Driscoll’s intimidation tactics made headlines across the evangelical world. Even more recently, we heard about Heather Cook, an Episcopal bishop, killing a bicyclist while texting and driving intoxicated. We generally denounce such shortcomings, but often the root of them is not sought out.

A more socially acceptable trend is the pastor as the epitome of brokenness. Some churches, it seems, place more importance on the pastor’s transparency about his weaknesses—being a “sinner redeemed by grace”—than on his sanctification—being transformed more and more into Christ’s image. To be sure, sin does not disqualify a pastor, and it is commendable for her to be open about it (with discernment, of course), but she must also constantly seek to grow out of sinful habits—to mortify the flesh (Rom 8:13).

Both the high-profile sins and the romanticized brokenness of pastors are symptoms of the same problem: we as a church have often forgotten that ministers are to be models of the cross-shaped life. In some cases, we have valued the growth and administration of the church over the pastor’s personal needs, resulting in his burnout-fueled transgression. The self-care of the pastor has taken a back seat to the needs of the congregation, so there is little emphasis on his accountability and discipleship. In other cases, the doctrine of grace has been distorted to the point that the pastor who is struggling with habitual sin continues to lead, in spite of the hurt caused to herself and those around her.

I think that Thompson’s application of Paul reminds us that the best thing a pastor can do for her congregation is care for herself. Having died to sin and been raised to life in Christ, she should be an example to her parishioners in her present transformation, as she looks forward to her ultimate transformation at his return.

This blog was written by Phil Landin, a student at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, for his class on Pastoral Theology.

paul-preachingOk, I’ll admit it. I love seminary. I love the academics, the intellectual challenge, the camaraderie, the diversity…everything. That’s probably a good thing because I have at least three-and-a-half years to go! I don’t even mind playing the role of “oldest guy in the class,” something that happens with increasing frequency.

When I tell people that I started seminary when I was 55 and am now 57, and that I’ll be 61 or 62 when I finish, inevitably I get one of two reactions followed almost always by the same question. The reactions are either: “Really?” which is usually accompanied by a raised eyebrow, or “Wow, that’s cool.” And then the question: “So, what will you do when you’re done?”

I have to say that I almost always dodge that question with something like: “We’ll see what God has in mind,” or “You know, it’s a ways off and I’m just taking it one step at a time,” or even an occasionally honest “I really don’t know.”

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t doubt my call to ministry, nor do I doubt that the God-directed events in my life have led me to this point. It’s just that I have never really been able to articulate what it means to be a pastor in the 21st century. In other words, being a pastor means different things to different people, and every time I get asked the question “What will you do when you’re done?” I have to determine what it means to me. And I have never been able to give myself a good answer. At least not until now.

Enter the book Pastoral Ministry According to Paul: A Biblical Vision by James W. Thompson. The author addresses the issue of what it means to be a pastor from the apostle Paul’s perspective. He starts with the premise that Paul’s pastoral mission is relevant today and then dissects his letters to determine Paul’s pastoral theology, that is, the foundation and purpose for Paul’s ministry and, by extension, ours (and mine!). His answer is this: “ministry is participation in God’s work of transforming the community of faith until it is ‘blameless’ at the coming of Christ” (p. 20). Quite the mouthful…and quite the task.

The thing that strikes me here is that pastoral ministry is fundamentally communal in nature. Certainly pastors work with individuals and should cherish personal identity and God-given dignity, but Paul’s emphasis, as noted by Thompson, is on the “community’s role in transformation“(p. 46). While individuality may be an underpinning, Paul nonetheless admonishes believers to “strive together as one for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27).

Does this mean that pastors are some sort of coach, pushing their team to victory? Well, I don’t think so.

I’m old enough to remember that a scrappy tight end named Mike Dyczko (Ditka) transformed the Chicago Bears from mediocrity to Super Bowl champs in three short years. He’d be the first to tell you that he did it by the sheer force of his will.

Similarly, I remember Phil Jackson being plucked from the Continental Basketball Association by the Chicago Bulls and ultimately winning six championships over nine years. He transformed the team, if not basketball itself, with his “Zen” approach

So if our focus is on the transformation of the community of faith, are we called to be pastoral Mike Ditkas or Phil Jacksons? Well, I don’t think so. Because for me (and Thompson), pastors working to transform the community of faith can rely not on the force of their will or on Zen philosophy, but on the privilege that comes by being a “participant” with God in His holy work.

So, the next time someone asks me “What do you plan to do when you’re done with seminary?”, I hope I am bold enough to say “I plan to participate with God in His transforming work among the community of believers.”

This blog was written by Lou Bury, a student at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, for his class on Pastoral Theology.

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shepherd1Throughout the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth, American Protestants identified four primary functions for their pastors: preaching (homiletics), planning and leading the Sunday service (liturgics), teaching the basics of the Christian faith to the young in age and the new born in Christ (catechesis), and pastoral care.

In the 1960’s, that consensus about the roles and functions of the pastor began to change. American Protestants created the “Youth Pastor,” or some derivative of it, to handle catechesis. The pastor, who traditionally prioritized ministry to youth, would no longer be responsible for their spiritual formation or pastoral care. That responsibility would be given to a younger, hipper person who presumably connected better with youth than the pastor. Back in the 70s, I was once of those guys.

More recently, American Protestants created the “Worship Pastor,” or some derivative of it, to handle liturgics. Pastors, who traditionally prioritized planning and lead Sunday services, would now be assisted or, in some cases, guided in the development of their weekly liturgies. They would even share responsibility for leading services with non-ordained individuals, a hitherto unheard of practice. One may observe that, in many cases, American Protestant congregations have given this responsibility to individuals with more training and experience in music than in liturgics or theology.

So what is now left for the typical pastor? What do American Protestants expect of their pastors? Two of the four traditional functions remain: preaching and pastoral care. If a person holds the title “Pastor” that person is expected to be able to preach and provide pastoral care when called upon to do so. Clearly, some preach more than others and some provide more pastoral care than others, but all pastors are expected to be able to fulfill those two roles.

To the traditional functions of preaching a pastoral care, a third has been added: leadership. The entrepreneurial pastor John Maxwell may not have been the first but he was one of the earlier voices encouraging pastors to develop their skills in the area of organizational leadership. His message has been heard by many. These days the words “pastor” and “leader” are used synonymously, a practice that few challenge.

Clearly, then, the role of the pastor has evolved over the past fifty to seventy-five years. Perhaps, evolved is not the right word since it conveys the idea of development and improvement. I am not sure I want to assert that the role of pastor today surpasses that of 100 years ago. Who am I to challenge the likes of Richard Baxter, James Hoppin, and Washington Gladden?

Perhaps a better word is “adapted”? The pastoral ministry has adapted to the exigencies of the ministry context and to the influences of culture. If such is the case, shall we not expect more change in the future? And what might that change look like?

One change I would love to see, especially in congregations served by one pastor, is the embrace of catechesis of high school students. Granted I write as one who enjoys hanging out with teens. Furthermore, I couldn’t have imagined hanging out with my pastor when I was in high school. Yet, all the talk about making disciples in a post-Christian context leads me to suggest that the most fertile field may be the teens in the congregation.

I would also like to see us question the assumption that pastors are necessarily the leaders of their organizations (congregations). Surely, some congregations require a pastor-leader, but might others be better served by a pastor without the gift of organizational leadership? Plus, doesn’t Scripture allow us to conclude that the gift of leadership may be granted by the Holy Spirit to some in the congregation other than the pastor?

While unsure of the future shape of the pastoral ministry, if past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior, then we best assume that, during the twenty-first century, we will witness further development in the pastoral ministry. Let’s pray that those changes find roots in biblical pastoral theologies.

hero1Who is our model for pastoral ministry? Who are our pastoral heroes?

I haven’t wrestled with those questions until recently – and I’m not sure why it took me so long to get around to such an important exercise. Pastors tend to emulate those they lift up as ideal. Consequently, our models or heroes shape the ministries of every pastor.

I came to those questions while reading the 1884 Pastoral Theology by Dr. James Mason Hoppin who taught his Yale seminarians to “look through and beyond every other model up to Christ.” For Hoppin, the Incarnate Word was the ideal pastor. Not Paul or Peter, Timothy or Titus! Not Calvin or Luther, Edwards or Baxter. Just Jesus, the great shepherd and bishop of our souls (I Peter 2:25).

On that premise, Hoppin encouraged seminarians to fix their attention on four specific points of contact between Jesus Christ and the pastor: the mental, moral, affectional, and spiritual. He clarified those points of contact by encouraging his student to imitate Jesus Christ as a teacher, as a person of moral blamelessness, as one who had sympathy with people, and as one who had the spirit of self-sacrifice.

Hoppin’s argument is convincing, encouraging, and challenging. Here are four quotes that arrested my attention. Perhaps they will do the same for you – or encourage you to make pick up a copy this classic and work your way through it.

As a teacher: “As to the manner of our Lord’s teaching, it was, generally speaking, to drop the word of life in the soul as a seed, rather than as a fully-developed truth; and then the soul itself, in its own life and growth, might take up this truth, and bring it to its perfect maturity by its own through and voluntary act, while it was watered and help from on high.”

As a person of moral blamelessness: “The minister of the pure gospel should pray and strive to approximate more nearly to the blamelessness of Christ, and to appropriate more of his moral purity, knowing that every gain in goodness is a gain in power.”

As one who has sympathy for people: “Here is often the most profound failure. It is too rate that the tone of true sympathy, of that real pathos which is unmistakable and which comes from the heart and goes to the heart; is heard in the pulpit or the pastoral ministration; there is oftentimes a strained imitation of it, but is in a false key soon detected.”

The spirit of self-sacrifice: I think the strictness of self-examination for ministerial fitness is contained in that solemn, searching question of our Lord, thrice repeated, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?”

bridgeOnce every three months, the Rush University Medical Center offers a memorial service for the patients who died in the previous three months. The Memorial Service is sponsored by the Women’s Board and by the Department of Religion, Health and Human Values. The most recent service, on Sunday, October 26, was facilitated by Chaplain Gary Wilson of the Department of Religion, Health & Human Values. Chaplain Krista Messam, a Northern Seminary student, was asked to offer the meditation for this service. It is entitled “A Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Here it is.

We come here today carrying a variety of emotions.

Some hearts are heavy
because your loved one was taken away from you.
Some hearts are comforted
knowing that your loved one no longer suffers.
There are those of you
who feel you are on the brink of tears,
While others of you
feel you have no more tears left.

Some of you may relate to the song sung by Mary Coultman today,
“Jesus is my portion, a constant friend is he, his eye is on the sparrow, I know he watches me.”

And others of you may relate more to the passage we heard earlier from the book of Lamentations,
“You have moved my soul far from peace; my strength and my hope have perished from the Lord.”

In the book of Psalms we also encounter a variety of emotions.

You may relate to the Psalmist when he says,
“Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him.”

Or you may relate more to the psalmist when he says,
“When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the Lord. All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven, but my soul was not comforted.”

Some of you may relate to each of those emotions in the same week
or even on the same day.
Some of you may not relate to any emotion I just mentioned.

Grief over the loss of life looks different for each of us.
But there is one thing that we here this day have in common-
the loss of an important relationship.
We all notice that there is
a missing voice in the conversation,
an empty chair at the table.

• How Are We Comforted when we experience the loss of relationship?
What is our bridge over troubled water?

I have never been in your shoes, nor have I known the unique pain of your particular loss.
But as a chaplain, I have had the privilege of walking alongside  those who have experienced loss
and I’ve observed four bridges or sources of comfort:

• The first bridge I’ve observed is the precious gift of memories.

You may be familiar with the song, “I’ll Be Seeing You” which we will have a chance to hear later in the service. A portion of the lyrics read,
“I’ll be seeing you, in all the old familiar places
that this heart of mine embraces, all day and through.
In that small café, the park across the way,
the children carrousel, the chestnut trees, the wishing well.”

As the song suggests, memories are often sparked by what we see, touch, hear or smell.
Memories are tied to special places.
Sometimes memories are tied to a personal possession or scent.

Holding on to memories shows up in different ways:
a widow is hesitant to move out of the house, or take her wedding ring off,
a mother won’t change the room of her child who passed away or
a father won’t get rid of his child’s clothes

We’re not so quick to move on because the memories of our loved one comfort us.
Where do you see your loved one?
What places or objects hold memories for you?

• The second bridge is a shared experience.

Isn’t that why many of us are here today?

We are comforted by others who share and understand our loss,
who empathize,
who’ve been there-
they get it.
Sometimes their mere presence comforts us
and we find we don’t need words.

• Thirdly, I’ve observed that some of us draw comfort from the promises of God.

We draw comfort from God’s promise in Psalm 46
“to be our refuge and strength, our very present help in trouble.”

We draw comfort knowing that
“God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

We draw comfort from God’s promise in Hebrews 13
“to never to leave us nor forsake us. “

Finally, we find comfort in our belief in the promise of new life, that this is not the end.

We place our hope in the promise that someday,
“God will wipe away every tear from our eyes;
there shall be no more death,
nor sorrow,
nor crying.
There shall be no more pain,
the former things will have passed away. “

• The last bridge I’ve noted is simply the presence of God.

David writes these familiar words in the 23rd Psalm,
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil; For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

A baby will cry and cry and cry until he is in the presence of his mother.
There’s something about the presence of his mother that brings comfort and security.

A five year old is lost and she panics.
But when all of the sudden she sees her father,
a wave of relief comes over her.
There’s something about her father’s presence that brings her peace.

The comfort of God’s presence is almost inexplicable.

God’s presence communicates to us,
“I’m on your side, when times get rough and friends just can’t be found, like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down”

• Conclusion

Henri Nouwen wrote to his grieving father that real grief may never be healed by time,
But reality can be “faced and entered in the sincere belief that consolation and comfort are to be found where our wounds hurt most.”
As you continue to cross the troubled water of grief, remember the bridges or the sources of comfort that will carry you over.
Hold on to some of those visible reminders and memories.
Seek out those who share your experience, and who can relate to your loss.
As it is meaningful to you, hold on the promises of God and the hope that death does not have the final word.
And finally, draw comfort from the simple presence of God, knowing that He is with you.

As you receive comfort, you become equipped to BE a bridge, a source of comfort to someone else.

In 2 Corinthians we read,
“The Father of mercies, the God of all comfort: Who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

My prayer for you today is that your hearts may be comforted,
and that in receiving comfort,
you yourselves will become comforters.

As you leave this place as both comforted and comforters,
those who cross a bridge over troubled water
and those who become a bridge for others,
May the Lord “bless you and keep you
The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.”

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