Mission & Ministry Blog

Monday, February 6, 2012

Alban - Building Up Congregations and Their Leaders

Alban - Building Up Congregations and Their Leaders


  1. In an interview on this same theme, Walter Brueggemann says: “I heard a rabbi say not long ago that Christian pastors have ruined the life of the rabbi, because a rabbi is a scholar and a preacher, but Christian pastors are social workers and therapists and budget managers, and now, he said, people in his synagogue expect him to do all that... I think it's exceedingly difficult but I think pastors have to decide what the main tasks are, and practice enormous self-discipline about not being drawn away to do other things that do not properly belong to the ministry of Word & Sacrament. You can't do that completely, but... many pastors finally get around to their sermon in their fatigue from everything else, and if imagination is the key to good preaching, you cannot be imaginative when you are exhausted.. So I think it has to do with ordering one's priorities for the sake of one's best energy. … and that means really deciding that this is the main task. ...if you want the congregation to have 'missional energy' and all of that, preaching is the pivot point for all of it. If a pastor decides that, then he or she is going to make more time for reading, and study, and prayer, which are the disciplines that cause the pastor to live to some extent in a different 'zone'. And if we are to bring a Word from 'elsewhere', then we have to live to some extent 'elsewhere'. And I don't think that's very easy given the huge demands and expectations on most pastors.”

    In the Alban article, I suspect that Robinson is coming from much the same place as Brueggemann. But he does make an important additional point from an organizational leadership perspective: “While pastors and congregations must make choices among the array of possible priorities before them, my argument is not so much that the pastoral role of teacher and theologian and the congregational one of a teaching and learning community are to be preferred to others. Rather, my argument is that such an understanding gives order and coherence to the many functions and activities of clergy and congregations.” What I like more about Brueggemann's view, on the other hand, is the devotional tone that he is speaking about these issues in. The ministry of the Word is not just applied theology but the transmission between people of God enfleshed.

    It's good news for me to find myself situated in a Diocese that is reflecting in these ways. But realizing what these reflections promise doesn't come easy. It's so much easier to just be busy and frazzled.

    God, be with us.

  2. One important issue that is really beyond the scope of what Robinson is focusing on is that what church is "all about" and what makes it worth being a part of might be quite different for parishioners than for clergy.

    The following is an excerpt from an interesting 2010 research project at Drew University by the Rev. Dr. W. Allen Buck. Based on the findings of the study, Rev. Buck, together with parishioners, developed a six-week program of “friendship ministry,” which focused on understanding, appreciating, developing, and strengthening friendships, both within the church and in the surrounding community. Their becoming an intentional “befriending community” turned out to be the key to both revitalizing parish life and increasing membership.

    "Three years ago our congregation made a video presentation as part of a stewardship campaign. The intention was to simply ask people why they attend church here, record their answers, and produce a short movie for the congregation to watch. Our hope was that, by documenting the personal sharing about the mission and ministries which we were sure they would lift up; the resource would then help motivate the viewers in their financial pledging for the following year. We wanted to put a face on the ministries to help make more real the mission of the church so people would then support these ministries."

    "When I saw the video, I was initially surprised and somewhat disappointed. Ninety-five percent of the people we talked to said that they attend church here essentially because this is where their 'friends' worship. I can only think of three people who mentioned God, Jesus, growing spiritually, or any of the 'answers' that I, as the pastor, was hoping to hear from them. At the time, I confess, it was discouraging. At first, I really wrestled with thoughts that maybe I had let them down as their pastor in some way."

    "They did not say they loved the spirit filled in-depth bible studies, or the new intercessory prayer group, or the mission trips, or all of the ministries for families and children in need. They did not say they love this church because God is so real through the teaching and preaching. They did not say that they gain insights for their lives and are challenged to be maturing in their discipleship. They said they come here because this is where their friends attend church. I figured our youth group might say something similar, but not the church's adults!"

    "I have been in pastoral ministry for only twelve years, but somewhere along the way I picked up an idea that the 'relational' parts of our shared community and my leadership were secondary. I lumped 'friendship' together with 'social' events, like the fellowship dinners after worship. Yes, I knew they were necessary and even important, but for basically everyone to say they come to church because they find their friends here... I was shocked."

  3. Bishop Terry Buckle did a workshop in the early 1990s for the Glencoe Ministerial based Eugene H. Peterson's book, "Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity". The book considers the angles of the triangle the essential acts of ministry. The visible lines of pastoral work are preaching, teaching and administration but the angles that turn the lines into a triangle are prayer, scripture and spiritual direction. In the book Peterson said if you call the place where you work an office then you consider your work a business. Clergy should make it very clear that they are in their study. My husband would get up at 4 a.m. to be with God, his Bible and Barth so he could have 4 uninterrupted, peaceful hours before the phone would ring or the family would be up.



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