Wednesday, September 21, 2016


In the wake of the resignation of the pastor of a megachurch in our area, the local paper published an article citing the findings of a survey related to pastoral attrition:

“LifeWay Research also found that 40 percent left pastoral work before age 65 because they had a change in calling, 25 percent cited a conflict in a church, 12 percent left because of personal finances and 12 percent left for family issues. The online survey conducted in 2015 asked questions of 734 former senior pastors who left in four Protestant denominations, and respondents could choose more than one reason.”

In reviewing these results, most of us realize that if a person is continually dealing with conflict, financial concerns, or family issues, he or she will probably consider “a change in calling” for personal well-being and relational health!  We expect too much of our senior leaders and often fail to provide the support they need in setting boundaries.

Most of the challenges cited here relate to boundary issues.  Both lay clergy leadership may have difficulty knowing where one’s responsibilities leave off and another’s begin.  There are often assumptions on both sides that are not only wrong but create an environment that feeds distrust and power struggles.

Of all the work/life balance issues that pastors address, those related to family are most sensitive.  These may range from how much time the clergy person spends with family to how much the church expects from the spouse and children.

Financial concerns, of course, are often left unaddressed by leadership.  Staff members don’t like to address issues of adequate compensation and the lay leadership would rather assume that everything is going well as long as the staff member stays with the church.  When one clergy person of my acquaintance left his former church, he was able to express in the exit interview how poorly he had been compensated.  This did not help him, but it did provide a wakeup call for the personnel committee to address the needs of those who were still on staff.

There are ways to address these concerns, thus improving pastoral satisfaction and tenure.  Church leaders can provide coaches for pastors to support them in setting healthy boundaries.  They can also promote an atmosphere where their clergy leaders can be honest about the pressures that they face, calling upon outside consultants and denominational staff to facilitate such discussions.  They can work to provide the resources—spiritual, professional, and financial—that their clergy leaders require.

The key thing to realize here is that clergy leave the ministry every day; that is not news.  This story only saw the light of day because of the high profile of the minister involved. If lay leaders do not step up and accept this responsibility, stories like the one in our local paper will only multiply. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Formation for Ministry

This is a challenging time for theological education.  Alumni and friends sometimes express concern about what is happening with “their” seminary and theological education in general.  Professor David Kelsey of Yale Divinity School was recently interviewed about how theological education is dealing with the changes in society.  In response to a question about “the defining goal of theological education today,” he responded:
“[T]heological education ought to be aimed at developing people with a range of special capacities for theological wisdom. [Ed Farley] calls it “theologia” – we should be educating people who have a take on the world that is shaped by an understanding of God. . .. The schools need to focus on helping students to focus on developing a personal core of abilities that enables them to size up the world as they come to know God more truly. . ..  [C]lerical skills should also be a by-product of theological education instead of its focal, overarching academic goal.”
For the past several years, I have had the opportunity to be a participant-observer of the internal workings of one seminary--Central Baptist Theological Seminary.  I have served as supplemental faculty in ministry praxis, site director, consultant, and (for a season) interim director of Doctor of Ministry Studies.  Although we have talked a great deal about and planned for developing skills or competencies for ministry, formation for ministry—acquiring “an understanding of God” -- is still at the core of our work.
What do we mean by “formation”?  We can define the term in a number of ways but consider that, from our birth, we are being formed to see the world in a particular way.  Through genetics, environment, and free choice, we develop a way or ways to perceive and give meaning to the world in which we live.
Whether we see spiritual conversion as a single event in time or a process, coming into a relationship with God provides the impetus for developing a new way of seeing the world.  This ongoing process is the work of Christian formation.  Whether one is a lay believer or an ordained minister, as one grows in the faith new ways of seeing the world and God’s interaction with the world emerge within the individual.
From the standpoint of theological education, formation is essential.  One may obtain wonderful skills in pastoral care, exegesis of scripture and proclamation, and organizational practice, but if the person does not have a healthy relationship with God and a unique perspective that arises from that relationship, ministry will be at the best shallow and more likely inadequate.
How does this formation take place?  In several ways.  First, one is immersed in the study of biblical texts, the history of the faith, and the theological systems that have been espoused over the centuries.  Although content must be absorbed and understand, the student should take away from this a better understanding of his or her own faith.  Second, students are engaged in practice.  This may take the form of sermon delivery, hands-on ministry, and spiritual disciplines with the intent to use the knowledge and insight that one has acquired in biblical, historical, and theological studies. Finally, students are involved in relationships with other learners, professors, and often congregants that strengthen, challenge, and enrich their learning.
Formation for Christian ministry does not take place in a vacuum.  A student is engaged—mentally, spiritually, and relationally—in the process of becoming.  Even so, this is only a way station on the journey of continued growth in understanding and service.  For the believer, formation is part of a lifelong relationship with God.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Appropriate Dissent

When the National Anthem is played, I stand, place my hand over my heart, and listen respectfully.  Some athletes have chosen not to do this as a protest against certain conditions in our country—the treatment of African-Americans or LGBTQ people, for example.

Some individuals have charged that this type of action shows disrespect for those who serve in the military. They are wrong.  When the Anthem is played and the flag displayed, we are expressing our allegiance to our country, not any particular part of it.  This is not directed toward any group—the military, police, educators, etc.  An important value of our country is the right to dissent in an orderly and respectful way.   I join other veterans in arguing that this is the reason we served—to guarantee that right.

This is a very personal matter for me. I served in the United States Army during the war in Vietnam.  During that conflict, many protested America’s involvement in the war.  On some occasions, these protesters showed personal disrespect for members of the military.  Although I never experienced this type of dissent, I returned to civilian life to find friends who disparaged my service in an unpopular cause.  Did that hurt?  Yes, it did.  I was not a hero, but I was not a villain either.  I did not serve from a selfish motivation but because of my commitment to serve in the military.

Even during that time, I don’t think that I questioned the right of my fellow Americans to voice dissent from United States policy in Southeast Asia.  In fact, as one who had seen first-hand what was taking place, I saw the short-comings in our strategy and spoke about them as a civilian. 

In our present situation, we should honor our service members for their willingness to make the sacrifices to serve.  We should argue with our politicians and dissent when we think they are following the wrong course of action.  I think I can do the latter without compromising on the former.

Appropriate dissent is good and promotes dialogue about significant issues.  Such dissent, in fact, may be the ultimate testimony to one’s love of country.