Friday, January 7, 2011

Pastoral Ministry is a Life, Not a Technology

Evangelicalism suffers under the leadership of those who treat ministry like a technology and church like a business.
The Church does not need brilliant personalities but faithful servants of Jesus and the brethren . . . Pastoral authority can be attained only by the servant of Jesus who seeks no power of his own, who himself is a brother among brothers to the authority of the Word.

-- Dietrich Bonhoeffer
I discovered the spending a day reading thrity pages of Karl Barth's Dogmatics helped me more in my pastoral work than a hundred of pages of how-to literature.

In my church history reading I ran into a biography of a pastor, The Life of Alexander Whyte; a personal narrative of a pastor, The Letters of Samuel Rutherford; and a fictional account of a pastor, Father Zossima in Feodor Dostyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov . . .

These books helped me a lot. But I didn't know why stories about pastors who lived centuries ago could help me so much. I thought I was supposed to be a modern pastor, relevant to the world around me; and these books were from different worlds. But as I read these stories I felt myself caught up in the protagonists' struggles to follow Jesus Christ in their daily lives.

These narratives pointed me to the fact that pastoral ministry is a life, not a technology. How-to books treat pastoral ministry like a technology. That's fine on one level -- pastoral ministry does require certain skills, and I need all the advice I can get. But my life as a pastor is far more than the sum of the tasks I carry out. It is a call from God that involves my whole life. The stories I read helped me to understand my life comprehensively. My life, too, is a story, and it is the narrative quality of my life that makes my ministry happen. Others see and participate in the story as it is told. I have discovered that when I follow Jesus in my everyday life as a pastor, people meet Jesus through my life.

-- David Hansen, The Art of Pastoring
Most churches make the mistake of selecting as leaders the confident, the competent, and the successful. But what you most need in a leader is someone who has been broken by the knowledge of his or her sin, and even greater knowledge of Jesus' costly grace. The number one leaders in every church ought to be the people who repent the most fully without excuses, because you don't need any now; the most easily without bitterness; the most publicly and the most joyfully. They know their standing isn't based on their performance.

-- Tim Keller


Nate said...

Wow, solid insights. If you don't mind, I'll lift some of that Tim Keller quote- it dovetails nicely with something I've just written about. Thanks!


Stanley Markowski said...

I whole heartedly agree. I think a lot of pastors want to put the cart before the horse, and just focus on the practical side of things, rather than let theology drive their ministry.

The more and more i study the more i realize how majestic God is and how broken I am, and that fuels my ministry.

It would be an interesting study to see when ministry handbooks took prevalence in pastoral bookshelves as opposed to theological writing. My guess is within the last 60 years. I've yet to see a ministry handbook from Augustine's time.

Benjamin Wu said...

Many thanks for sharing.