I’ve been thinking about pastoral ministry and the many images we have that define that vocation. We’ve hear of shepherd, teacher, leader, guide, and coach, among others. They are all valuable images that lend to the vocation. However, in our culturally progressive and business-minded world, new images of pastor as CEO, or manager have made their way to the ministry forefront. These images, mainly justified for their effectiveness at growing churches numerically, have also presented a challenge to the ancient and serious vocation of pastor to lead and guide. The challenge is largely about control and a type of manipulation to produce the desired numerical results.
Is numerical growth a bad thing? No, it is actually a wonderful thing and a (not the only) sign of God’s blessing. We flirt with danger when our primary way of defining success is in terms of numerical growth. In scripture (most commonly Acts) we find numerical growth recorded and in fact emphasized often. However, it was mostly a byproduct (if I can use that term) of the Church’s faithfulness to the leading of the Holy Spirit. That is not to say that numerical growth will accompany faithfulness, sometimes it doesn’t; although the faithful community is attractive. While numbers are important in terms of the Kingdom – after all, it is God’s intent that all be saved and inherit eternal life (1 Tim 2:4) – they cannot alone define success for us; most notably because of the cultural forces of capital that tempt us to commodify people so as to get more people and therefore claim success. This results is a mentality that believes numbers (success) can be achieved if the right levers are pulled and strategies implemented.
As the church’s pastors are an important vehicle through which discipleship and growth happen, it’s important to offer counter perspectives on pastoral ministry to inspire this craft as ‘other’ than controlling outcomes. In addition, if we believe that the future of God is among His people (Roxburgh, et al), then the vocation of pastor should be one that does not impose direction or control onto a community, but instead, cultivates an environment where God’s voice and direction can be discerned communally whilst not neglecting the value of spiritually mature leadership in the church to facilitate that discernment.
With that in mind, I want to offer three perspectives that I think can help us foster creative and healthy ways of pastoral ministry. They are above all responsive postures that I feel will keep the church in her rightful place, not in control, but responsive to the leading of the Spirit in each and every situation of mission and ministry. I might add at this point that some of the modern images for pastoral leadership mentioned are not inherently bad. My warning is that when imported from the business world, for example, they come with an ethos of control.
Pastor as Midwife
I originally heard Eugene Peterson give this image in a recording of his Soul Craft class, taught at Regent College in the late 90’s. The idea of midwife is an important one to consider when thinking of pastoral ministry, as it is a servant role that does not control new birth, but facilitates it. In the same way as pastors we must always be in submission and service to the life God is birthing in people so as to faithfully help it along. Pastors who reverently fear God and respect His image in the face of others will do well to avoid the compulsion to give all the answers and manipulate outcomes. Being an instrument in the hands of God assumes that we let God use us as he wishes, rather than using God as we wish.
Pastor as Gardener
Gardening is a task that requires great patience. It is time consuming and requires the gardener to be aware of seasons and weeds and pests. It requires a diligence to prune and encourage growth toward bearing fruit. So too the pastor. The pastor who sees himself/herself as a gardener will know that the primary task is to cultivate the environment for spiritual growth to occur. It requires a commitment to fostering a community of openness and honesty; a community of discernment. The pastor cannot make the garden grow, that’s God’s responsibility. The pastor merely tills the soil, making the place ready to bear fruit. This too is an image that will keep the pastoral vocation servile to God’s leading.
Pastor as Co-Detective
To be a detective, one must be constantly aware of surroundings and the greater truth. That is, after all, the goal of detective work; to find the truth of a matter. Questions like “what is going on here?” and “What happened?” occupy most of the detective imagination in the effort to discover the greater truth. All the clues are carefully examined to aid in this task. As Christians, we are all called to a detective like work in discerning the Spirit’s activity in our lives. Pastor as co-detective can help aid in this process by asking the right questions and helping others discern God’s work in their lives and the lives of the greater Christian community. It is also a role that is in service to the greater work of God in the life of the church. It is above all a listening vocartion. Pastors who seek to be co-detectives in the Kingdom to the work of God will do well to remain in submission to the active and present Lord in each situation, relationship, and missional horizon.
Offering these perspectives on pastoral ministry does not negate the ones commonly used. I would suggest that fresh images should always be imagined to help keep perspective and enrich the task of ministry. These perspectives are not without potential weakness as well. It is the Church’s task to evaluate ministry often to ensure we are being faithful.
There are situations that call for different approaches to sustain the community. One can think of Paul and the measures he took to corral the leadership in Ephesus as a result of faulty teaching. This was a drastic and prescriptive measure compared to the normative pastoral guidance Paul employed which creatively incorporated some elements of the perspectives shared above.
What images of pastoral ministry are helpful to you?
Technorati Tags: Church, community, Discernment, ecclesiology, emerging church, Ministry, Pastor, Spiritual Formation