Monday, August 04, 2008

Pastor as Spiritual Leader - Part II

Congregations are demanding entities. The church I serve has around 450 members, and if I were to poll them on what they expected out of me as their pastor, I would probably get several responses. I think it would be safe to say that being a competent manager and being a spiritual leader would be chief among them. While theologically and scripturally there is a problem with just being a "hireling," the reality is that people do pay some pastors a fair amount of money - and they rightfully have some expectations.

Church Management/Administration - "Being Martha." I hate administration and management. But the reality is, there needs to be a rhyme and reason to what we do in the church. The Apostle Paul may have said it best: "All things be done decently and in order." My reason for trying to do it as well as I can is so I don't have to do any of it over.

But how do you do it? Some looked at Niebuhr (I can't remember which brother) during the 50's and 60's (and into the 70's and 80's, since I studied it also) who suggested running with the business and military models of the day (i.e., Management by Objective) to organize and prioritize ministry and programming. Some folks went to Steven Covey seminars. Some heard Herb Miller lecture. Some, like me, paid major bucks to attend Ken Callahan events at Calloway Gardens (I don't remember much, but I did play one of my best rounds of golf there!). And while these models were designed to prevent reinventing the wheel and to allow more of church ministry to be shared, they had one fatal flaw: very little theological underpinning, and virtually no evangelical underpinning. In short - they managed what was present, but encouraged little innovation or visioning. That ran tangent to the Christian proverb, "Where there is no vision, the people perish." You certainly cannot blame any one thing for the Mainline decline of the 60's and following, but one can be sure that the Management by Objective or 12-Step models certainly weren't the answer to the problem.

Spiritual Leadership - "Being Mary." I think some rebellion occurs somewhere along the way when called men or women begin parish work and encounter realities and conflicts. Somehow, a shift away from being makers of disciples and caretakers of church souls and a shift toward being the Chief Administrative Officer (the Book of Discipline's words, not mine) takes place. Why didn't someone along the way say, "it's not either/or, it's both/and?" Naturally, cynicism creeps in. Pastors feel like they are losing their identity.

I'm old enough now to realize that my own church polity is far from perfect. Has anyone realized that the UMC has virtually no theology of ordination? We have a lot of rules and regulations about it - but no theology. It only makes sense that viewing the pastor as spiritual leader is difficult in a denomination that has no theology of ordination. I will say this: we DO have an excellent PROCEDURES AND POLICY section for ordained ministry in our church law. Just no theological underpinning for it.

We have 10's of classifications for pastors: full-connection elders and deacons (who are ordained); commissioned probationary elders and deacons (who are not ordained); associate members (some ordained formerly, some not); part-time local pastors, full-time local pastors, student local pastors, supply pastors (who are not ordained). However, what do people in the pews called the person behind the table and pulpit in their church, regardless of the permutations listed above? "Pastor."

It is no wonder, then, that pastors have a hard time seeing themselves as spiritual leaders, given our denomination's confused look at matters of ordained (or unordained) ministry! The fact is, layfolks could care less about conference membership and clergy classifications; they want a spiritual leader. It's not only what they're paying for, it's what they desire and yearn for!

What is the tool most needed for pastors to be spiritual leaders? It has nothing to do with workshops, schools of ministry, or even a curriculum geared toward a degree: it is the pastor's very own faith. It requires maturity. It requires an understanding of the needed balance between being a manager and administrator AND incorporating one's own spiritual life into directing others. Henri Nouwen said it much better: "Ministry means the ongoing attempt to put one's own search for God with all the moments of pain and joy, despair and hope, at the disposal of those who want to join the search but do not know how." (from Nouwen's Creative Ministry, p. 111).

In short, sometimes we need to be preparing the house (Martha), and sometimes we need to pay attention and seek the Master's will (Mary).

I'm not through letting this go just yet...


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