Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Report to Presbytery Dec. 4, 2012

Theological Community

            Being a pastor today is an exhilarating, joyful calling and a stressful, confusing job.  Yes, being a pastor is an exhilarating, joyful calling. I borrowed those words from Eugene Peterson. He writes, “There’s a kind of exhilaration because God is doing something, and even in a little way, it’s enough at the moment.” I believe it is a blessing and great fun to live at this time which is truly an era of Reformation for the Christian Church in the world. The foundations are trembling, some old things are crashing down and some new things are growing up. God is at work in our world. Thanks be to God.

There is a particular piece of this great era of Reformation which I would like us to ponder, the vocation of the pastor. Eugene Peterson may be one of the best guides to this new territory of pastoral life today. Peterson has now written a whole stack of books pondering the question of the pastor’s vocation. These sentences from Peterson’s old book, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, copyright 1989, may be one of his earliest explorations of this terrain. “The essence of being a pastor begs for redefinition. But one by one, pastors are rejecting the job description that has been handed to them and are taking on this new one or, as it turns out, this old one that has been in use for most of the Christian centuries.”

Being a pastor is an exhilarating calling and a confusing job:
We live with almost complete vocational uncertainty. What does it mean to be a pastor? How should pastors be prepared for this work? Today the academic preparation of pastors in our seminaries is separated from the life of the church. What should pastors learn? How should we define a faithful career path for a healthy pastor?

Being a pastor is an exhilarating calling and a confusing job:
There is confusion about the professional boundaries of the pastoral vocation. Pastors, in our church, are skilled professional people usually with full time salaries and benefits. Any yet many of the people we work side by side with in the Church – Ruling Elders and Deacons – are, in fact, volunteers. Can Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders be professional colleagues? Can they be friends? Is that allowed? Who can be the pastor’s friends? Does your pastor have any friends in your Church? What does that mean? Is it possible to be a pastor and a friend?

Being a pastor is an exhilarating calling and a confusing job:
What exactly is a pastor supposed to do with their time? How much should pastors read and study during their work week? Are pastors today perceived as working too much? Or are pastors perceived as not working enough? What is the difference, and who decides?

Being a pastor is an exhilarating calling and a confusing job:
We now live in a fully disestablished Church. I believe this is a good thing. But it raises some difficult questions for pastors. Pastors in a fully disestablished Church have no social clout, no cultural status and no innate, cultural authority. So where does the authority of the pastor come from? What is the authority of the pastoral office? Does your pastor have any authority? What does that mean?
I want to support pastors. I want to support all of our Church leaders. In the Presbyterian Church we are all in this together. We will seldom separate off the pastors for special concern, although that fact itself may be an interesting discussion point.

I have three pieces of advice for our pastors, and all our church leaders, as we have fun together in this era of Reformation:

1) Make your spiritual life a high priority. Pray often and immerse yourself in the spiritual life. Prayer is always bigger than us. Prayer is always inviting us, calling us, beckoning us beyond ourselves and back to Christ. Learning  to pray is something we might do every day.

2) Seek accountability: The paid, professional pastors in our midst should, I believe, take the initiative to seek accountability within the congregation. The pastor should invite conversation about the time, the tasks, the goals and objectives of their ministry. There should be common discussion about what the pastor does most and least, where and when. By seeking accountability the joy and challenge of pastoral ministry will be shared throughout the whole community.  

3) Create theological community: We need to do this together. I would like to create avenues, forums and time where we can build theological and spiritual community together. I am not talking about support groups. We are already doing that very well. I am talking about theological community.
Kim, the moderator of our Strengthening our Congregation Committee, put together a wonderful sheet which is in your folders. This describes a series of 24-hour retreats at Camp Krislund. I have been pushing for this. Many people have participated in creating this idea and planning this forward. Let us use our beautiful Camp Krislund. Many of you have told me you have never been to Krislund. You need to visit there; it is not very far, just up the road. It is not like going to Honduras. We have pushed out these plans and ideas which in different ways create theological community. These may be great plans. Maybe you have better ideas. But let’s do it together. Let us connect and talk and get to know each other. Pastors and all Church leaders, let us find ways to talk together about the joys and challenges of this work. Theological community. Let’s do it together.