When you put your opinions into a blog, you can expect some critique. Occasionally, a reader will suggest that my ideas about the work of ministry are too business or market-oriented and leave out the spiritual or pastoral concerns about being a minister. Guess what? This is the same conversation that is going on among lay leaders, seminary professors, denominational leaders, and clergy in many forums today.
In an address to new theological faculty last year, Daniel Aleshire, who is executive director of the Association of Theological Schools, provided not only an overview of the history of American theological education but also discussed an emerging model of ministry based on being humanly authentic and how theological educators might address it.
Aleshire cited a quote from Henri Nouwen where the Catholic priest and writer argued that “The minister is the one who can make this search for authenticity possible, not by standing to the side as a neutral screen or impartial observer, but as an articulate witness to Christ, who puts his [sic] own search at the disposal of others.”
In reflecting on this statement, Aleshire points out that this idea “has been critiqued as overly therapeutic—especially the image of the ‘wounded healer’—and as a model of ministry that does not serve the entrepreneurial leadership needed by struggling churches.” He rejects this thinking and suggests that “this image of ministry may have been ahead of its time.”
Although I embrace the idea of entrepreneurial leadership, I agree with Aleshire for several reasons.
First, if the pastor or minister is a leader (and I believe that one should be), then the current emphasis on relational as opposed to positional leadership impacts his or her role. Earlier generations might not have always agreed with or accepted their pastor, but there was usually some level of respect due to the position that the person held, especially if that position was filled by judicatory appointment. Today, real leadership is earned by one’s involvement, commitment, and investment in the group being led. Such a leader is immersed in the action and not a bystander.
Second, although we talk in family systems theory about the minister being a “non-anxious presence” this does not mean that he or she is simply an observer. Once a pastor enters into the system, he or she is a part of that system, both responding to and influencing the system. The “non-anxious presence” idea is meant to communicate some level of impartiality, but every pastor knows that she or he has a stake in every conflict, decision, and relationship in the congregation. He or she is a participant and should own that role.
Third, the greatest gift that any minister can provide to the people of God is authenticity. As someone said, “You can’s fake authenticity.” I was impressed by the comments by Amy Butler, recently called as pastor of Riverside Church in New York City, who commented in an interview, “I think traditionally people have expected clergy to be the ones that have all of the answers. Here’s the truth: nobody has all of the answers.” Just because one does not have all the answers, does not mean that they are not a person of faith. The minister can be an example of that fact.
Fourth, one of the greatest resources that a minister has is his or her own story. The struggles that we have faced, the failures and well as successes, are part of who we are as human beings and believers. By owning those experiences, we can share more completely in the lives of our church members.
Part of the mission statement of Central Baptist Theological Seminary is to form women and men “who are biblically knowledgeable, theologically articulate, spiritually healthy, humanly sensitive, and professionally competent.” Only one who embraces his or her own wounded humanity can really be “humanly sensitive.” We need that in our ministers.