Cut out for the job?

Over the past couple of years the Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church has invested much time and energy in defining pastoral effectiveness. By the quality of the handouts they distributed, one can tell this was very important.

But is it still relevant?

As presented in “Faithfulness in the Clergy: A Call to Effectiveness,” we see a fairly traditional portrait of what pastors are to be and do. Left out entirely is accountability. We are to “oversee” the ministries of the church. Anyone can do that. Apart from clear standards, many can even do it well.

But times are changing.

I hear that Bishop Huie has been reading Paul Borden’s Hit the Bullseye: How Denominations Can Aim the Congregation At the Mission Field. If she takes Borden seriously and applies what he has to say, we’re in for some big changes.

Borden’s big idea is that the purpose of the church is to make disciples and that the church hierarchy needs to hold pastors and churches accountable to this mission. Nothing new here – except that a denominational leader is saying this and acting on it. For Borden’s region of the American Baptist Church these ideas no longer just get lip service.

From her episcopal address it sounds like Bishop Huie agrees with Borden. She says it is no longer acceptable for a church to

  • have no one join on confession of faith in a year
  • baptize no one
  • have stable or declining attendance when the population is growing

These expressions of discontent are straight out of Borden.

Will Borden’s approach work in the TAC? When a pastor sticks the traditional pastoral model – the pastor is the chaplain who takes care of people – Borden and his leadership team would offer that pastor training to move out of that role to become a leader, or, if the pastor was not willing to make the change, would suggest the pastor needed to find another line of work. The pastor’s chief job is leadership. Not a priestly administrator of the sacraments, not a shepherd tending the sheep, but an apostle out winning people to Christ and growing the church. As long as the United Methodist Church has guaranteed appointments, this will not happen. But if we see our leadership – the Bishop and the cabinet start pursuing accountability on these issues I believe some change will happen.

Are we cut out for the job? I don’t have the spiritual gift of leadership. I’ve been doing tons of study on leadership over the past ten years. It’s hard work. As an academic introvert, it’s not at all close to my nature. I like change. I think my current congregation is like the vast majority of churches I’m familiar with. We NEED change. But when the conflicts arise and I feel my own deficiencies, I wonder if there is any place in leadership for people like me whose leading gifts are in teaching and knowledge. I’ve read numerous books on church leadership that tell me that people like me (the theologian types) are a blight on churches. They need extroverted entrepreneurial type leaders. I’d like to be one of those (at least sometimes), but I’m not.

But then I consider the fruit. I’ve never led the flashiest and most impressive groups. I’ve never been the charismatic leader of the multitudes. But over the course of my ministry I can look back and see fruit that lasts. How do we count that?

As a theologian and scholar, I can see we – the church – have a huge job ahead of us. The entrepreneurial skills of making something out of nothing (or very little) – which lead to numerical growth – need to be married to the theological skills of contextualizing people in the story of God and increasing their articulacy about the faith. Given these goals and our current reality I know two things for sure. First, we have a lot of work to do. Second, I have a lot to learn.

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2 Responses to Cut out for the job?

  1. Guy says:

    I think the teaching and worship-leading offices of the pastor are critical to church health and growth. Without this focus by our clergy, the quality of our discipleship lowers significantly, taking with it the quality of mission and ministry that happens as the Church. We need people who are called, educated and sent forth to equip laity to become disicple-making disciples.

    It seems to me that the PURPOSE of the teaching and worship-leadership offices is the concern in many congregations that will be (and are presently) resistant to a change from chaplain to mission-leader on the part of their pastor. We like the part about being blessed, but forget that it carries with it a purpose–to be a blessing.

    Teaching and worship-leadership must be seen by our pastors and churches through the lens of apostolic ministry. In this vein, the biblical role of pastor-teacher equiping the people for the work of ministry may be recovered.

    Change in Church DNA requires increasing spiritual depth among all the people of God and requires the teaching office of the pastor.

    I think change must happen within the congregations as to their focus on mission vs maintenance (which I heard Bishop Huie speak to in her address). We now have a process for evaluating clergy and transitioning those deemed ineffective out and into a new profession. What about ineffective congregations? How do we establish practical measures for evaluation and accountability for the side of the equation that cannot be held accountable “professionally”?

    Most importantly, how do we do operate from a biblical “Body” and “Community” framework rather than strictly a corporate framework?

  2. Dean Snyder says:

    This is a very thoughtful post. I suspect the role of pastor goes through cycles, and varies some from church to church. I think the UMC is currently lacking visionary leadership. If a church has visionary lay leadership, a theologian pastor is, it seems to me, very much needed.

    Also, I tend to believe we can all lead change if we bring the right team of people together.

    I liked Bullseye , but you do raise important questions. Thanks.

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