Pastoral Survival Guide:  by Rowland Croucher.

The Characteristics of Pastors who make the Distance.

After listening to hundreds of their stories, I believe that there are the ten characteristics of pastors – women and men – who ‘make the distance’.  Here are three of them.

1.. RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD.

1-1 JESUS OUR MODEL

Christian ministry – of any kind – is simply doing in our world what Jesus did in his. Jesus is our pattern for ministry – to God and for the world. Close communion with the Father was at the heart of all he was and did. As his disciples saw this reality they wanted to be part of it (why don’t more people ask us to teach them to pray?). His prayer-life was disciplined and ordered, although he too, was busy. It began with a contemplation of God – ‘Our Father’ – before moving to human need.

He prayed hard before important decisions, like choosing the twelve. His meditation on Scripture gave strength in times of testing, particularly when the devil wanted him to do ministry another way. Time was found for prayer – 40 days, a whole night, very early in the morning. Hurry is the death of prayer. (When did you last take a retreat?) Nowhere did Jesus pray ‘to feel good’: for him, and for us, the key imperative is obedience.

1-2 SPIRITUAL FORMATION is the process whereby the Word of God is applied by the Spirit of God to the heart and mind of the child of God so that she or he becomes more and more like the Son of God. It’s ‘growing firm in power with regard to your inner self’ (Ephesians 3:16). It’s the maturing of the Christian towards union with Christ.

Assumptions of spirituality include

* God is doing something before I know it

* Love and prayer are gifts

* The aim of spiritual formation is not happiness, but love, joy, peace – and courage and hope

* Prayer is friendship with God, a response to his love

* Prayer is subversive: it’s an act of defiance against the ultimacy of anything other than God

* We are always beginners in the life of prayer: pray as you can, not as you can’t (‘to seek to pray is to pray’).

1-3 IMAGES OF MINISTRY

The minister – whether pastor or other – serves by introducing persons to Jesus, our only antidote for alienation. Alienation (sin) is the severing of self from self, self from others, self from God; and all these are connected (if I’m alienated from self I won’t be OK with others). The opposite of alienation is belonging: the process is called metanoia (‘turning’ from blaming to owning one’s alienation and being ‘converted’). Truly ‘converted’ people are eucharistic, thankful, grateful.

# Wounded Healer: The minister of Christ expects trouble (as Jesus promised) in a world tempting us with clean sorrow and clean joy. The Lord is closer when we are vulnerable, when we stop pretending to be powerful, and admit how wounded we are. Personal spiritual renewal comes only through brokenness, dying (Psalm 51:10-12,17, John 12:20-28). The Christian life begins and continues as a via crucis.

We recognise Judas and Peter in ourselves – we’re both wicked and weak. And yet, in our despair, when resurrection seems unlikely we hear him in the garden or on the sea-shore, alive, calling us by name. Because we are identified with a dying/risen Christ, our ministry is a ‘living reminder’ of this oneness. So we will avoid crucifixion-only spiritual masochism or resurrection-only triumphalism. And our pastoral task is to prevent others suffering for the wrong reasons.

Collage with sacred images

# Servant Leader: Ministry is the translation of the Good News into human relationships. It’s having authority to empower others to live in the Kingdom.

‘Authority’ = a firm basis for knowing and acting; ‘authorities’ maintain their position after knowing/acting have finished, and ‘lord’ it over others (which is why people who climb institutions often have difficulty maintaining a spiritual life).

Jesus, in contrast to the authorities, was a servant, identifying with us in our ordinariness (the Suffering Servant wasn’t good-looking, Isaiah 52:13). So ministry has to do with ‘the quiet homely joys of humdrum days’ (Sangster), the sheer Mondayness of things. Such servanthood is indiscriminate (if I cannot embrace someone, it is because he or she reminds me of some fear in myself). But let us remember: if we live to please people, we become slaves of those people. Instead of one master (Jesus, whose yoke is easy), we end up with numerous Pharaohs who are never satisfied with our performance no matter how much we do.

Our servant role is well expressed in Colossians 1:24-29 and Acts 20:28 (‘Take heed, therefore, to yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood.’). As we are called to be servants of the church, we also affirm that the church is not our master – Christ is.

Opened old book in warm tint

During the installation of a pastor, the congregation is asked two questions phrased something like this: ‘And you, people of God, will you receive this messenger of Jesus Christ, sent by God to serve God’s people with the Gospel of hope and salvation? Will you regard him/her as a servant of Christ and a steward of the mysteries of God?’

# The Scholar Teacher (Latin schola = free time): Henri Nouwen (Creative Ministry) contrasts violent and redemptive teaching models. ‘Violent’ teaching is competitive (knowledge is property to be defended rather than a gift to be shared), unilateral (the teacher is strong/competent, the pupil weak/ ignorant), and alienating (students and teachers belong to different worlds). ‘Redemptive’ teaching is evocative (drawing out potentials), bilateral (teachers are free to learn from students), actualising (offering alternative life-styles in a violent world).

Coaching Concept

# Coach/Empowerer. The Protestant Reformation put the Bible into the hands of ordinary people, and just about everybody agrees we now need a new Reformation to put ministry into the hands of the laos – but many/most clergy will resist it. (Why do we persist in using the word ‘minister’ in the singular?) The clergy are part of the laity, equipping us all towards spiritual growth and maturity (Colossians 1, Ephesians 4).

 

Pastors are the churches’ resident spiritual directors (see Eugene Peterson’s excellent writings on that subject), theologians (see Elton Trueblood), and prophets (Walter Brueggemann).

Shalom!

Rowland Croucher

Featured Images by Attila Shia: 

You can view his work on https://www.flickr.com/photos/77967821@N00/sets/

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