Thursday, November 17, 2005

Problem In Seminaries: Follow-Up

To gauge from the amount of discussion around the blogosphere, the Internet Monk really touched a nerve with his recent piece on questionable methods of recruiting pastors and the harm to the pastors' families, their churches, and themselves. I promised I'd follow up with some thoughts on how to improve the situation.

Even churches founded on the Reformation often have a mistaken idea that "Reform" (in any major sense) is something that only the Roman Catholics need to do. But given Murphy's Law, reform is for everyone, and must be continuous. Humility, confession, and repentance are spiritual basics for churches and church bodies, not just for individual Christians.

When it comes to Christian ministry, I have to wonder, in general:

  • Was the person's maturity really evaluated when they sought to come into the ministry?
  • Has the shortage of ministers made us ask fewer screen-out questions, even if they are important ones?
  • How do you remove a well-intentioned person who lacks the ability without humiliating them? Without stigmatizing them when it comes to finding a different line of service?
  • How perfect does a pastor have to be? Are we setting standards that nobody can meet?
  • Which flaws should we bear with patiently, and which are over the line?
  • Are there more ministry options than full-time for life, overworked for life, or marginalized for life?

Without claiming to have answers for all of those, I'd like to suggest a few things as a place to begin:

  1. Churches should ask for a commitment from the pastor that their first ministry is to their own family. Pastors should expect the churches to respect that.
  2. Churches should support their pastors in their family time (and spiritual wellbeing) by designating regular days off for their pastors. No Bible studies, no prayer meetings, no special services, no council meetings. Genuine rest. An elder or spiritually mature member should be able to handle most emergencies -- and should have the "church emergency" cell phone for the day.
  3. A church cannot be a one-man show. The Bible speaks of a variety of offices or positions in the church. There should be those who help visit the sick, those who teach, those who help the needy with material needs, even those who can preach.
  4. The pastor should seek out and encourage spiritually mature members to consider a sort of apprentice pastorship in their area of interest. This would build the congregation's strength, allow those who are not fully-fledged pastors a wider range of opportunities to serve, and provide a rest for the pastor when needed. Jesus sent out people two by two, and I think the pastor should question himself if he finds himself performing many of his duties alone instead of with a fellow-worker.

This just scratches the surface -- but I think scratching the surface is exactly the right place to start. Grand sweeping changes take an entire reorganization (such as the Reformation, or the new "Emergent" scheme) before they work. Churches that don't reform when needed find themselves splintering -- but so do churches that change too drastically. As small as these changes are, as obviously incomplete as they are, they are also one more thing: workable. That makes them a candidate for "where to start". The time to take the next step is after we take the first one.


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Swan said...

"Humility, confession, and repentance are spiritual basics for churches and church bodies, not just for individual Christians."

We are definitely learning that in the current transitional phase our church is in right now.

BTW, I came here because I read your comments on connexions...