We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

It Used to be Enough

Now what do I do?
In 1972, it was thought to be enough when a Presbyterian pastor preached and led worship with reasonable facility, had a modicum of organizational & management skills, devoted several hours a week to calling on parishioners, and was basically a friendly person who represented  his or her church in the community and in the "higher judicatories" of the denomination.  Generally, all a pastor had to do to be reasonably successful was to do worship as it had always been done, do weddings and funerals "by the book," and carry out the usual duties of pastoral ministry.  In the early 1970s, however, there were already troubling signs and tremors that there was more to pastoral ministry than this.  And as it became increasingly and alarmingly evident that there was something more to pastoral ministry in the late 20th century, most pastors, churches, and agencies of the church buried their heads in the sands of what used to be enough.  Yes, a new literature on "church renewal" emerged, a major publishing industry of "how I did it" books written by pastors who claimed they had turned "their church" around.  The rest of us quickly discovered that their remedies generally didn't work in "our" churches.  Meanwhile, Presbyterian seminaries continued to teach the curriculum they had always taught and continued to be staffed mostly by those who came up through the ranks of academia rather than local church ministry.

Now, forty years later, it is most definitely not enough to have mastered the fundamentals of pastoral ministry including preaching & worship, pastoral care & counseling, church administration, Christian education, and acquiring a friendly personality.  It is not enough to be a spiritual person or even to have gained the wisdom of years of life experience.  In addition to all of these still necessary skills and qualities, Presbyterian pastors have to be adept at leading congregations in an era that by its very nature is inimical to traditional mainline churches.  They have to be skillful at initiating change and working through the conflict and trauma churches facing change often experience.  This means being able to think outside of the proverbial box, but it means still more than that.  One has to be able to address issues of church decline and institutional drift in ways that will prove most effective in the particular church that the pastor is serving.

Being a mainline Presbyterian pastor in 2012 is daunting.

But here's the thing: it also means that the Holy Spirit is emerging from the cocoon of the church of "we've always done it this way" in new forms and with new power.  New ministries are growing out of churches that have shut their doors, and committed members of churches are discovering new depths of spirituality in other churches.  Our attention as pastors and as churches is being drawn to ways we can nurture new life—sometimes in the transformation of existing congregations, sometimes in the birth of new churches and ministries.  The bad news is that a whole lot of pastors, lay leaders, and churches don't want to be "born from above" in the ways we're being compelled to by the realities of our times.  The Good News is that growing numbers do seek to be born from above and ready (sometimes even eager) to move beyond what used to be enough.  Amen!