Tag Archives: pastoral ministry

Learning to Love the Detour

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Growing up in Chicago, I learned to hate detours. With highways already jam-packed 24/7, a detour just meant another 2 hours out of the way, often in directions that felt like they were taking you further away from where you wanted to be rather that toward it. “Detour” was synonymous with “U-turn”.

So it should be no surprise that when my faith life has hit what I would deem a “detour”, my response would not be stellar. In fact, ever since becoming a Christian I feel like that is all I’ve ever encountered: one detour after another.

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Mark Driscoll & The Road of Repentance

Pastor Mark Driscoll announces that he is taking a leave of absence. Photo credit:  http://www.religionnews.com/2014/08/24/mark-driscoll-step-down-mars-hill-elders-review-charges/

Pastor Mark Driscoll announces that he is taking a leave of absence.
Photo credit: http://www.religionnews.com/2014/08/24/mark-driscoll-step-down-mars-hill-elders-review-charges/

This is a re-post from my article over at Made for More.  Made for More is a great forum for exploring the intersection of life and faith and wrestling with the tough questions that are posed by both.  Head on over to their website and check them out.

FAREWELL PASTOR MARK?
This past Sunday Mark Driscoll, lead pastor of the Seattle megachurch Mars Hill, shocked the evangelical world once again when he announced that he is stepping down for at least the next month and a half while the leadership of his church investigates the charges brought against him by 21 former elders. For those who have not been following this story, Pastor Driscoll has come under increasing scrutiny over the past year as he has faced charges of creating a culture of fear among the church’s leadership, plagiarism, and using ministry funds to advance his own book sales.   In one of the more shocking developments of the past few weeks, Driscoll and Mars Hill were removed from the Acts 29 Network, a church-planting organization that he helped start, by its leadership board.

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What is the Pastor’s Role?

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WHAT IS THE PASTOR’S ROLE?

Since starting seminary this question has been on my mind more and more.  After all that’s the reason that I am here:  to learn what it means to be a pastor so that I might faithfully live out that calling upon ordination.  But what is a pastor’s job?  What’s his role?

For the sake of full disclosure, I have yet to take a course on pastoral theology and the nature of the ordained office, but what’s funny about being at seminary is that there are as many answers to this question as there are people.  As I’ve been dropping in on the conversations of my fellow students it is kind of funny to hear what their responses are.  Of the responses that I’ve heard there are a couple that keep cropping up in some form or fashion:

  • The pastor is the administrator of Word and Sacrament
  • The pastor is the under-shepherd over God’s people
  • The pastor is like a COO, overseeing the proper order and operations of the church
  • The pastor is like a CEO, pushing forward and safeguarding the vision and values of the church
  • The pastor is the lead missionary
  • The pastor is a preacher and teacher

While there is probably some truth to all of these things, what I’ve found in each of them is that they are, essentially, task oriented.  Each of the distinctions describes things that a pastor does, but none of them answers the “Why?”  Why does the pastor administer Word and Sacrament, serve as under-shepherd, oversee the church, safeguard vision and values, and so on and so forth?  What is the goal of the pastoral office?  What should drive the heart of a pastor?

As I’ve been thinking about this, my mind keeps coming back to one verse from Scripture:

[Christ] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.  For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

~Colossians 1:28-29 (ESV)

If I were to sum up the heart and passion of the pastor it would be this:  to present everyone mature in Christ.  And I emphasize the everyone in that verse.  Here is the pastor’s call to both ministry and missions in a nutshell.  We are called to reach all people, the churched and unchurched, the lost and found, the Christian and the non-Christian, with the Gospel message and help them grow up as mature men and women in Christ.

This calling to help all people grow into maturity in Christ is the end to which all of our pastoral activities must be directed.  Whether serving the sacraments, stewarding the resources of the church, teaching and preaching from Scripture, or leading the body of Christ in evangelism, justice, and mission, we should always strive to help people grow in Christ.

Sadly there are times when I think our church’s traditions have fallen far short of this glorious calling.  Too often the pastor becomes the Bible answer man, the one to whom everyone goes with their questions.  And sadly, pastors have enabled this mentality rather than helping the people of God grow in their own understanding of Scripture and how to apply it to life.  I see this immortalized in the pastor-led Bible study, which, in many cases, is simply another sermon before or after the Sunday morning service.  But this is not the only way in which I see this take hold of the church.  I can think of several congregations in which the pastor is the sole leader of all forms of ministry, from small groups to outreach events to mercy ministries.  Why?  Because the pastor is the “called and ordained servant of the Word,” as if everyone else is just a spectator or a cog in the church machine.

I would submit that this is not only unhealthy, but it is unbiblical.  Paul’s desire was that everyone would grow to maturity in faith.; that they would increasingly see their lives through the eyes of Scripture, living lives submitted to Christ and helping others to do the same.  And our role, as pastors, is to serve this end.  This is why Paul writes:

And [Christ] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and the teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

~Ephesians 4:11-16, emphasis mine (ESV)

This is my calling as a pastor:  to serve the world so that as many people as possible might grow to full maturity in Christ.  This is the end to which I endeavor.  This is the calling which I must seek to live out.

So, as I continue in this seminary journey I am trying to keep this in mind.  My driving question must be: How can what I’m learning be used to help people grow to maturity in Christ?  And it is my prayer that those under my care, whether in my field education church or at my home church, would daily grow up in Christ, to the glory of God.  Amen.

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A Time Apart

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“The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught.  Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.'”
~Mark 6:30-31

With the busyness of moving winding down and a month still before the start of the Fall quarter, I’ve been spending more and more time reflecting on this current season of life.  When I first learned, back in April, that I was being let go from my position at Trinity my mind immediately flooded with questions:  “Why would God call me to this church only to call me away after a year?  What will my next steps be?  What does this mean for my future in ministry?”  It was a time of turmoil, confusion, heartache, and deep soul searching.

The weeks that followed were filled with a lot of conversations and discernment.  That process ultimately led me to St. Louis and Concordia Seminary.  At first this was a decision that was made, admittedly, with a bit of frustration.  In many ways I’ve approached this season of full-time graduate work as just another hoop to jump through.  I have felt called to pastoral ministry for a long time, been actively involved in vocational ministry for 7 years, and had already been working toward my M.Div when this change was made.  Concordia seemed like just another barrier to overcome.

However, as I’ve reflected on where we have landed I have increasingly had a sense of peace about where we are.  The truth is that taking a break from vocational ministry may actually be healthier for me in the long run.  Here’s why.

When I first started working in vocational ministry several people warned me about the dangers of attrition.  Attrition is what happens when, suddenly, all of those things that were so refreshing and nourishing as a church member begin to lose their luster and your own spiritual life begins to diminish.  You begin to notice it as you’re sitting in worship services. Rather than just soaking it all in, you find that you’re analyzing the sermons, evaluating the theology behind the songs and hymns, and taking note of the overall flow of the service.  It creeps into the small groups that you lead as you begin to focus more on group dynamics, facilitating discussion, next steps, follow-up, solid application, and fielding questions rather than discovering Scripture for the pure joy of it.

Attrition is what many people who are called to vocational ministry encounter once they begin their work.  It happens when doing ministry becomes separated from your own spiritual growth as a leader.  Attrition is what takes place when your personal times of Scripture study are replaced by sermon prep, when worship becomes nothing more than something to arrange for the weekend, and when prayer is squeezed out by hectic schedules and ministry demands.  Slowly but surely the work of God becomes more about the work and less about God.  And, for too many of us, myself included, attrition creeps up on us without even realizing it.

With this calm between the end of my ministry position at Trinity and the start of seminary, I’m beginning to see just what a toll attrition has had on me.  In the empty hours of the day I’ve begun to realize how much I’ve missed reading Scripture for the sheer pleasure of it, attending worship just to be with fellow believers and receive the gift of worship, and just talking with God in prayer.  Furthermore, I’ve seen the negative effects as well:  a shorter temper, greater impatience, and a spirit of discontent.  After 7 years of ministry, I think it is safe to say that I’m a little more burnt out than I thought.

Which is why these past several days have been so nourishing.  I’ve been spending time reading through the gospel of John and, as I’ve walked with Jesus through these pages, several passages have struck a chord.

“Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
~John 4:14

“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life.  These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”
~John 5:39-40

“Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.  Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”
~John 6:26-27

Over and over again Jesus has been issuing an invitation to me; an invitation to come, rest, and be fed by him.  I think this is the reason why, after abundant times of ministry, he would beckon his disciples to come away with him and be restored (Mark 6:30-31).  Too often it is easy for leaders in ministry to focus so much on what needs to be done that they forget that, first and foremost, they are called to be fed, nurtured, and formed by Christ.  It is from the overflow of that relationship that all other ministry comes.

As I wait for the school year to start, I think Jesus has been using these crucial weeks to reframe my understanding of who I am and what it means to be called into pastoral ministry.  Before I am bombarded by readings, papers, quizzes and exams, Jesus is taking this time to remind me that all of this study, all of this preparation, is nothing if done without Him at the center.  This is a time to rest, to be fed, and to grow in my walk with Jesus.  Anything else is just the overflow.

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Decision: St. Louis

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The LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you…”
~Genesis 12:1 (NIV)

Since my post about leaving Trinity many people have asked me what our next steps will be.  After many conversations, deliberations, and prayer we’ve arrived at our decision:  we’re heading to St. Louis to attend Concordia Seminary.  While it’s a fairly simple thing to write, the journey to that decision has not been an easy or straightforward one.  So, I wanted to take some time to explain our decision, but also to give you some insight into what the process has been like for us as a family.

The Opportunity

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Back when we first knew that my job was being eliminated, one of the options that our church extended to us was to attend Concordia Seminary, with the hope that this would help fast-track my path to ordination, provide me with solid theological grounding in the Lutheran tradition, and leave the door open to returning to Trinity for my pastoral internship and, God willing, an eventual call back to full-time pastoral ministry in our home congregation.

But there was a huge lingering question:  do we feel called to the Lutheran church?  After all, I had served in an interdenominational college ministry for six years and have been studying at a seminary affiliated with the Evangelical Free Church.  As such, we’ve been exposed to a variety of Christian traditions.  It only made sense to ask the question, “Are we ready to be tied to this denomination and to this theological tradition?”  Furthermore, this was a question that many people around us have been asking.  There are some in our denomination, and some looking in from the outside, who are disillusioned with the level of infighting that has taken place in recent years and who urged us to consider getting out.  Others, however, believe deeply in the theological convictions that undergird the Lutheran tradition and urged us to stay even in the face of such struggles.

stl windowAt the end of the day, I have to say that there are a variety of reasons that we’ve decided to say “Yes” to this calling to the Lutheran church.  First, I love the Lutheran commitment to the solae of the Reformation:  sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus, soli Deo gloria.  Their high view of scripture and justification through faith in Christ alone are convictions that we, as evangelicals, share with our Lutheran brothers and sisters.  But beyond this, I love the acknowledgement of mystery, the commitment to the sacraments, and the thoroughly biblical way in which they articulate and ground their confessions.  If the basis on which we take part in a denomination is to be grounded in the theological confessions of that denomination, then the Lutheran church has a lot going for it.

But beyond this, there is a wonderful community of visionaries, reformers, pioneers, activists, missionaries, and shepherds within this faith tradition who inspire and encourage us.  Yes, our denomination has its conflicts, its infighting, its politics, but what denomination doesn’t?  No denomination is perfect.  And yet, the Lutheran church also has a rich community of those who are committed to advancing the Gospel and helping people grow as disciples of Jesus Christ.  Furthermore, Concordia Seminary itself is committed to equipping pastors for the harvest.  I’m excited to see programs like MissionShift taking off as the Seminary partners with church leaders, activists, and social justice practitioners to train up-and-coming pastors on how to reach the world next door.

As such, I want to be a part of this growing community.  But I’ve also learned that it is easiest to build bridges from the inside.  If I desire to be the change that I wish to see in the denomination, I need to do so as one who has expressed, in both word and deed, a commitment to it.  I can think of no greater commitment than submitting to its authority, teaching, and formation by attending seminary.  True change happens in the context of relationship.  Going to Concordia, in my mind, will solidify that relationship and help shape me as a pastor within this tradition.

Finally, and most personally, we have the support and prayers of our home congregation in sending us.  If ever there were ever a reason for a person to enter seminary, my hope would be that it is because his or her home church is commissioning, blessing, and sending him/her to do so.  We have that.  I’m honored that Trinity sees itself as a sending congregation that equips workers for the harvest.  The fact that our church desires to send us, financially support us, pray for us, and maintain an ongoing relationship with us means more to me than any other factor.  Rarely do I see churches taking such an active role in the formation of their leaders, much less investing such care and support in them as they go.  I’m excited to see how our partnership and relationship will develop in the years to come, and my ultimate hope is to return to our home congregation so that we might continue to bless them through our service and leadership.

The Challenge

But even with all of these wonderful reasons for going to Concordia, the decision has not been easy and there has been no small amount of pain as we’ve moved forward.  The truth is that this change happened far more quickly and unexpectedly than we were prepared for.  When we first learned of this staffing change we were preparing to fulfill the dream of purchasing our first home.  We were also putting down roots in our community, preparing our eldest child for preschool, and enjoying our growing relationships with people in our church.  I was enjoying my graduate work at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Jenny was looking forward to pursuing her own personal professional goals of tutoring, volunteering with InterVarsity, and becoming a Master Gardener.

iStock-10376306_close-up-tree-pruning_s3x4_leadThis change, in many ways, is an uprooting, a pruning.  We will be leaving behind family, friends, and colleagues.  There are many plans and hopes which, once again, are being put on hold for the sake of ministry, and while the calling is a good one, there is heartache as well.  As Jenny and I reflected on this a bit last night we realized that our daughter will be leaving behind the friends she has had since birth and that our son will return to the area without the connections that his sister was able to develop as she grew.  Jenny, while always a pillar of support to me, is once again putting her own hopes and dreams on hold for the sake of her husband’s call to ministry, a reality of which I am painfully aware.  One of the greatest struggles in this has been the reality that many people have expressed direct support to me while Jenny has, at times, been left feeling isolated and out of the loop on this leg of the journey, not sure what to share or whom to share it with.  I’m reminded, again, that the calling of a pastor is also the calling of his spouse, and just as a pastor can oftentimes feel isolated and alone, so too can his wife.  It has been sinking in more and more just how hard this transition will be for Jenny and the kids, and so I ask not only for prayers, but visible and direct expressions of support for them as they make this transition with me.

Furthermore, we are moving to a new city without jobs, without housing, and without financial stability.  There are still many unknowns and unanswered questions about what our life will look like and how we will make ends meet, even with the support of our home congregation.  These are daunting questions which, for a young family, are difficult to answer.

IMGOne of the themes that seems to come back to us, again and again, is this image of the nomad.  In very real ways, because of finances, jobs, and life transitions, we have always been on the move, and while it is one thing to say, “this world is not our home” it is another to be reminded of it year in and year out.  The reality is that we are beginning to feel it.  On the intellectual level we know that God has and always will take care of us, but that has not lessened the emotional reality and weight of this change.  Never before have I longed more for a sense of “place” than I do now, just as we are preparing to leave one place behind in exchange for another.

So, it is with this in mind that I ask for your support and prayers, not just for me and my studies, but for my wife, my children, my family.  Specifically, I would ask for the following things:

  • Please pray that Jenny and I would find both housing and jobs quickly.  We are looking to move in mid-July, but we need to have a home and some possibilities for income shortly thereafter.
  • Please offer support and encouragement to our family.  This is a transition for all of us, and so my wife and my kids are going to need just as much love and support as I do.  We need your help and support emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and, yes, physically (hugs are always appreciated).
  • Please pray for our preparation.  We have a lot of packing to do and paperwork to file.  Furthermore, I need to prepare for my entrance exams and the GRE.  This will be a stressful time for us, so please understand if we don’t answer emails and phone calls immediately.  We love you.  We just need time to get reoriented.
  • Pray for our times together as a family.  In the midst of the busyness of a move it is easy to allow our personal times together to slip.  Pray for us and encourage us to take time for ourselves in the midst of this transition.

Again, in all of this we are confident that this is God’s next step for us, but we are also wrestling with the challenges of this change.  We appreciate all of the support and encouragement that has been extended thus far and we are grateful to God, our family, our church, and our friends.

Stay tuned for further updates 🙂

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My First Church Nightmare

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Well, it’s official.  After six months of working at Trinity, I’ve finally had my first church nightmare.  It was the most bizarre experience ever.  So…I thought I would recount it here for fun:)

Here it goes…

I was leading one of our traditional services.  And yet, the whole thing was a mess.  People in the congregation kept getting up and just walking around and talking.  There were people walking all over the altar area, up and down the aisles, through the pews.  They were treating the sanctuary like it was some kind of tourist attraction, laughing and pointing at things; talking loudly and taking pictures.  And the more I tried to get things under control, the worse it got.

30 minutes passed and we still hadn’t gotten through the prayer of invocation.  I was fed up and angry.  Finally I just said, “I give up.  Leave!  Everybody, just go!  I’m done with this.”  At that point, everybody stopped and looked confused.  Eventually one person turned to me and said, “Well…could we at least have communion?”  In exasperation I threw up my hands and said, “No!  No you can’t!”  “But it’s important,” he replied.  “Alright, ” I responded, “But then you all have to leave.”

And that’s it.  That was the end of my dream.

Okay, so it’s not really a nightmare on the scale of other nightmares I’ve had, but it was definitely my first dream about “work”.  So what does it mean?  Well, I have my theories, but I thought I would toss this one out to you all first.  Sound off on the comments below and offer up your “interpretation” or on my Facebook page😉

Sweet dreams…

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