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This is a public forum to share ideas, ask questions, and reflect on being a pastor in the CRC.
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Roger, thanks for the thoughtful response. What prompted my blog was the comments by two separate individuals about two different congregations. These two individuals believed that their congregations began to decline after attempts by congregational leadership to control the Holy Spirit. I believe it accurate to conclude that the leadership for both congregations was wrestling with the place in the life of the church of the so-called "extraordinary gifts" of the Holy Spirit.
You ask what I mean by controlling the Holy Spirit. Good question. Perhaps we could agree that attempts to control the Holy Spirit (resist the Holy Spirit) involves attempts to reduce the influence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the local congregation. Add to that definition this presupposition: Jesus Christ seeks to exercise lordship over the church by his Word and Spirit.
If that be the case, one of the most effective ways to control the Spirit is to disobey (or simply neglect) portions of the Holy Spirit inspired Word of God. Another method would be to suppress or ignore the manifestation of the Spirit given to the church for common good (I Corinthians 12:7-11). Also, since the work of the Spirit is to glorify Christ, we hinder the work of the Spirit when we fail to glorify Christ.
While the two aforementioned individuals connected congregational decline to specific responses to the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit, surely there is no end of ways by which local congregation resist or attempt to the control the Holy Spirit. I think it best for congregational leaders to assume that they have done so in one form or another - and then move on to remember, repent, and resume.
Not sure I answered all your questions. Come back at me if I have fallen short. I appreciate the conversation.
Thank you for this article; may we more and more rejoice in the presence and healing power of our Lord through his Spirit. And many thanks to Dunamis and their excellent and practical workshops.
Thanks, Sam, for your thought provoking article on your experience of a dying church from your past. I take it that you think that many other churches that are declining are experiencing the same conundrum as your church, which is when the church leadership attempts to control the Holy Spirit.
But I’m not sure what you are getting at when you talk about controlling the Holy Spirit. Are you talking about losing a Christ centered priority? That seems to be what you are suggesting when you explain the Revelation passage, “Remember our first love - Jesus Christ.” Practically that could entail a lot of things. But when you speak of your personal experience, it seems to be a matter of speaking in tongues which may or may not be a matter of giving Christ the priority he deserves, or for other churches your concern may be a matter of not using or recognizing the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit. I’m not sure what you are getting at in your article? Are you suggesting that churches that are not pushing in the direction of third wave theology or Pentecostal thinking are trying to control the Holy Spirit?
You realize that most churches from the time of their inception were growing and robust churches, and if they were mainline churches or CRC churches that growth took place without an emphasis on third wave or Pentecostal thinking. So to put the blame of trying to control the Holy Spirit, or the blame for declining membership, in the realm of resisting the third wave movement or wanting to remain traditional may be faulty thinking. Maybe along the lines of advice given to the church at Ephesus, churches need to get back to what they were doing earlier when they were experiencing growth. They need to, “Turn back to me and do the works you did at first.” Maybe Christ’s advice had nothing to do with the miraculous gifts. Depending on what you are saying, there may or may not be some fuzzy logic in your article. I guess it depends on what you mean by trying to control the Holy Spirit.
I have read your article, Sam, and Andrew Beunk’s corresponding article, and I’m left wondering what you conceive of as the power of the Holy Spirit or trying to control the Holy Spirit. What specifically is a Spirit filled church? Is a traditional and conservative CRC church any less Spirit filled than a charismatic Pentecostal leaning CRC church? And if Jesus advice to the church was a matter of getting back to their starting emphasis, then that likely had nothing to do with getting on the third wave train that a lot of our churches are getting on as of recent. So a little clarity would be helpful.
Thanks so much for your explanation as how the "tools" criteria has been expanded within the Canadian context.
One thing that should be noted when considering the employee versus independent contractor for Canadian tax purposes is an expansion on the use of "tools". In many situations, where the individual has a particular set of skills that is not otherwise easily obtainable (doctors, lawyers and other such professionals being some of the prominent examples) this can lend a lot of weight toward the individual being considered and independent contractor. You might surmise that the same could be possible for musicians - I have yet to meet someone who picks up an instrument and is able to play it skillfully without having played any other instrument before.
While I would highly recommend you seek out a professional opinion before making any determination on your own (and I would note that in my post I am NOT providing an opinion on your situation) this is something to consider as being self-employed has many tax advantages even if there are some shortcomings.
I've been helped by writers like Edwin Friedman and Peter Steinke to properly appreciate just how much the congregation is an emotional system. One factor that they mention is that a highly anxious system breeds secrecy-- secret unofficial meetings about an issue may initially have good intentions behind them but almost always lead to negative reactions. If it needs to be discussed it needs to be discussed above board and this transparency has to be pushed as a congregational value.
Further note: I plan to take any comments and combine them with my own thoughts and post a compilation in about a month.
Thank you, Larry, for this important article.
It's encouraging to me to read these "real" stories of the Bible - It gives me hope that the Lord can use even the likes of me.
Regarding 2 Samuel 13; it's a passage that is dear to my heart for many reasons. One is the nobleness of Tamar. Another is the time that I was asked, as an InterVarsity campus staff member, to give a presentation in which several members of the MI State University Counseling Center were present. They were curious to know how a Christian talks about sexual assault. They wanted to improve their service to Christian students on campus (there are lots of Christian students at MSU). They recognized that the experience of sexual assault often became an issue of faith for Christian students. So with a primarily secular audience I opened my Bible to 2 Samuel 13. They were amazed that this story was in the Bible. They said, "this is the same story we hear every day" in our work with those who have been victimized by sexual assault. From the unsuspecting one who was overpowered, to the responses of others, to Tamar's grief and desolation - it was a familiar story to them. And they appreciated hearing why this experience impacts faith. Christians need a safe space to explore questions that arise, such as "Where was God?" Or, "how can an all-powerful God allow this to happen to a child he loves?", etc. It was a wonderful, God-blessed, discussion all around. On the Safe Church website there is a discussion guide for this passage; you can find it here under group discussion resources. I think there is a reason that this passage is in the Bible, and it shouldn't be ignored.
I would answer, yes, this does apply and have implications for the CRC in 2015. Healthy boundaries are needed, all kinds, boundaries that protect family time, and allow for good self-care practices, etc. In many denominations, clergy are required to attend a boundary training workshop, every three years or every five years. Here they are reminded of the importance of self-care and setting good boundaries. They have opportunity to discuss issues of concern with other pastors and church leaders in a helpful, facilitated process. Healthy boundaries are key for making work more effective and satisfying. Clergy also need to have "safe spaces" where they can honestly and confidentially address issues and concerns in their lives. Where can clergy go when they are struggling? If we don't have a good answer to that question, then we're in trouble.
It's a scary thought that clergy act as "primary mental health counselors for tens of millions of Americans". That's a dual relationship that's bound to lead to problems. In some denominations a pastor may only see a church member up to three times for counseling, and then is required to refer to a mental health professional. That seems a good boundary; if the issue can't be adequately handled after three sessions, perhaps it's serious enough that a referral to a trained professional is a good idea. It makes me think of how many difficult congregational situations could have been avoided if that healthy boundary had been maintained. And it also makes me wonder how much of clergy stress results from the expectations of others, and how much is the result of clergy who put it on themselves, believing that they must be the one to handle this or to do that. Perhaps clergy have a role in setting those unhelpful expectations and can also have a role reducing them to a more manageable level. Referring to others, and empowering others, must be a significant role for clergy. That and remembering that this is God's work, not ours.
There are some wonderful organizations that provide mental health help for clergy and for congregations. No reason to re-invent the wheel, or keep this only within the CRC. One helpful organization is Shalem Mental Health Network, in Canada - http://shalemnetwork.org/. Another is The Samaritan Network, with centers all over the US offering various options for mental health care for congregations - http://www.samaritaninstitute.org/
Thank you for this post. It is helpful and timely!
I believe that Edwards sought in his sermon to encourage pastors to be faithful in sharing the Gospel by noting the fact that the Gospels offer but one citation of Christ rejoicing - that when the 72 returned and reported to Jesus about their successful missionary journey.
Bonnie, thank you for your response. I hope that what you assert is true.
I disagree with the statement, "what we do as ministers of the Gospel causes Christ to rejoice – and not many people can say the same". Not that those called to be ministers of the Gospel don't cause Christ to rejoice - may it be ever more true! But this is not only the work of professional ministers. The daily lives of all Christians have potential to bring joy to our Lord, and it would help all of us to think of our lives in those terms. In the words of Hildegard of Bingen, “The best possible life is this: to do our utmost to content God with love and above all to trust in him." We are to be considering how we "content God" not the other way around. Our conscience awareness of his presence with us in the numerous choices we make every day, choices to deny ourselves to love someone else, to follow in obedience though it's not the easiest road, to share the reason for the hope we have, etc. - this brings joy to Christ and allows him to work through us. We are the body of Christ together, each part has a role to play, and each part in its own calling, has equal capacity to cause Christ to rejoice.
The line in seminary was that it was OK to raise hands as a student long "as you didn't do it above your shoulders." :) When I was ordained and installed and everything was kosher, we came to the end of that service, and I raised 'em so high I probably hit the ceiling.
The blessing is one of those parts of the service that our pragmatic "doing" culture doesn't always seem to connect with, and probably thinks the service can do without. Yet as I continue to pastor, I find myself remembering blessings more often...giving the last one to a congregation you're departing, after caring for them for years, or giving one to someone hours before they pass away. It's closer to the heart of what we do as pastors then we often realize.
I have good memories of my oral comp - it was challenging but also supportive. I would respond that the government has a responsibility to use violence according to Romans 13 to protect civil society and in the case of ISIS religious minorities and other populations. But I think the sermon of the mount applies more individually as we relate to Muslims in our daily lives. We need to respond in love rather than in fear and suspicion. This may involve turning the other cheek and for sure walking the extra mile. I think that the church can respond in this way as well to increasing numbers of Muslims in our communities. So I can support the states right to use violence and at the same time respond in love to my neighbor. Having said that, I am concerned with the increasing loss of individual freedom in western societies in the name of protecting us from terrorism and the many incursions in the middle east in the name of foreign policy (not just by the USA and Canada but by other western nations since colonial days). We can support just war theory if we acknowledge our poor track record in restraining ourselves from violent intervention - which only seems to lead to more extremism and instability in the middle east. Libya is a good example where western nations intervened to remove a dictator but had no long term plan to provide a functioning democratic and civil society.
Because of our fallen nature, we can only grasp what it means for God to be 'perfect in love' AND equally 'perfect in justice'. We tend to gravitate to either end of the spectrum and find it difficult to appreciate or even contemplate the requirement to be both.
Perhaps the best and most faithful thing we might do in such a situation is to acknowledge the chaos and complexities, lament violence and loss of life, lament hawkish exploitation of the bravery and loyalty of the young on all sides of armed conflict, and pray as much like Jesus as we can, recognizing that we all need mercy now. Maybe acknowledge openly the temptation to do 'balancing acts'.
Happy conversations to you!
"It is my position that God speaks to me perfectly, by my hearing (and understanding) is not always so good! "
This must also be the case with Scripture, which Reformed say is the only way God speaks. See my point?
There are how many denominations with different doctrinal views? As the lyrics go, "someone must be wrong we cant all be right", hence someone isnt hearing God quite right from the ultimate arbitrator of truth, the Scriptures.. Of course they are the ones who are hearing right, right?
That always amazed me how we are corrupt sinners, saved by grace, unable to save ourselves, with hearts wicked above all else, but some how when it comes to interpreting Scripture they are as infallible as the Holy Writ. Right about now someone would burn me at the stake.
I have been a Charismatic Christian for 35 years and I can tell you a great way to hear from God, obey the truth you have from Scripture, because the Spirit always agrees with the Word.
Good place to start the ten commandments, then the two commandments. Okay we can agree on the ten commandments. right??? The two commandments love God love others as yourself. Now, Sermon on the Mount, gets a little tougher. Dont lust with your heart. Dont be angry with your brother. Forgive and pray for your enemies, those pesky Arminians,
When we obey the "obvious" truth from the Word, we are following the Spirit, then when we need real detail, we have a "track record", so to speak, and the Spirit steps up and gives us a good nudge or word or whatever is needed.
If you need any more help let me know.
What are you missing? Baptism in the Holy Spirit. According to Scripture there is absolutely "two" baptisms. One into Christ at regeneration, born again, and two the baptism in the person of the Holy Spirit. This is plainly evidence in that we are saved when we believe Jesus is raised from the dead or resurrection faith, which we see both the 120 in the upper room had and also the Apostle Paul had before the subsequent baptism in the Holy Spirit. This is so evident its elementary and continually denied and missed by eminent scholars, at least that what their bio says. WAIT. Are you saying I dont have the Holy Spirit. No. We are born of the word by the Spirit. God is one. Word, Spirit, Father. Can not be separated, yet are separate. So the "person of Christ dwells in us, as in Christ within us the hope of glory, when we are "born again", but we need subsequent baptism in the Holy Spirit, as did Christ when the Spirit descended as a dove.. I have typed this explanation in blogs so many times I should have a form explanation. The better debate should be after the second subsequent baptism in the person of the Holy Spirit, is the evidence of this "baptism" speaking in tongues. This is a little more ambiguous and is beyond the scope of this answer. Frankly, Pastor you are clueless when it comes to the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the meaning of charismatic. stick to the five points,. Hope that clears things up.
GUARANTEED: Truth spoken in love
Well said. Too bad that we humans cover up our mental illness like Adam and Eve covered up their nakedness. In the church we created the climate for this to happen. Would that we had more Pastor Phillips'.
My mental pain was described best by William Styron in his book Darkness Visible. " If the pain were readily describable most of the countless sufferers from this ancient affliction would have been able to confidently depict for their friends and loved ones (even their physicians) some of the actual dimensions of their torment, and perhaps elicit a comprehension that has been generally lacking; such incomprehension has usually been due not to failure of sympathy but to the basic inability of healthy people to imagine a form of torment so alien to everyday experience."
I tried to describe the pain I experienced from mental illness in my book, This Poison Called Depression.
Pastor Larry Van Essen
Bev, thanks for your thoughtful response. I affirm your points. I have found each affirmed in my study of pastoral theologies, but each categorized differently. Typically, those who write on these subjects like to distinguish between functions and qualifications - and a major qualification is that the pastor be a person of prayer! Richard Baxter is one of many who give considerable attention to this.
I like your emphasis on the prophetic. Right or wrong, I have found that many authors discuss this subject within the context of the function of preaching, calling for prophetic sermons. And I think you are right in stating that these same authors fail to discuss the prophetic outside of the function of preaching. As a result, many neglect the gifted prophet in their midst when that person is not an ordained pastor.
several thoughts... agree with Frank on the prayer... it seems we have mostly missed the prayer side of Acts 6:4 and they devoted themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word. One person shared how in a pastor search survey, 85 qualifications were listed and not one of them was a person of prayer...
and agree on focus on youth... somewhere is a statistic that 85% of believers made a commitment to Jesus by the age of 17... they are the biggest mission field... let's not miss the opportunity that is right in front of us...
and then a generally unaddressed area that i question... the prophetic... it seems historically, we/crc have indirectly and quietly married the office of pastor and prophet through preaching... our forms for ordination indicate this when in the form for pastor ordination in an established congregation it mentions that "through the pastor God Himself speaks"... and that when we "receive this man as a prophet we will receive a prophet's reward"... sometimes that's the case, but interestingly, this same language is NOT used for the missionary, evangelist, or elders and deacons... it seems historically we have been fairly exclusive and unbiblical in assigning the gift of prophecy essentially solely to the pastor (and i have heard comments from crc members/leaders to this effect)... this gift is for ALL flesh per Acts 2/Joel 2 which includes the missionary, evangelist, elders, deacons AND everyone else... not saying pastors don't have this gift, but it is NOT exclusive to them as it seems from the ordination forms... since this type of language is not mentioned anywhere else as far as I can tell, it seems there is a CRC perception that the pastor is the only one who can "hear" God and speak prophetically. Not true, and I think this is limiting/quenching the Spirit in ways that we don't intend to. So on the one hand, i hear the crc saying... prophet = ordained pastor + pulpit... a man made equation... being an ordained pastor does not give anyone a blanket covering for being a prophet too, scripture mentions them as 2 different ministries, just like teachers and evangelists - we don't do this with any of the other callings mentioned in Eph 4...
on the other hand, being a pastor does not exclude pastors from the prophetic gift either, but it definitely is NOT limited to ordained pastors only or even primarily.
The prophetic is something hardly recognized in the crc for various reasons, but when it seems it is almost exclusive to the office of ordained pastor, whether intentional or not, it is something that's needs to be addressed and understood further.
First, mental illness has nothing to do with merit, so to imply that other people deserve to suffer from depression because they aren't as helpful as he was is cruel and adds a burden that they don't need.
Second, the reason he was able to help so many people is probably BECAUSE he suffered from depression himself. The pain of mental illness has spurred many sufferers to help others in a way physical pain may not have. There is something about mental anguish only those who have been through it can understand in a world where stigma still holds people back from seeking help. So many people who don't know what it's like to suffer from a mental illness still heap shame on those who do. So if people like this pastor came out and spoke about their pain more willingly, they would help even more people than he did by keeping it a secret.
Thank you for your article. I miss one aspect of pastoral ministry or function in your article, and that is to pray. Prayer for the congregation and community. Although much may be changing, I hope this aspect of pastoral function never changes.
Very good post. Mother Theresa had a similar experience; and many pastors probably suffer in secret. And I think of our colleague who suffered from severe depression and disappeared a year and a half ago. Wounded healers.
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I have addressed this question on pages 119, 120 and 294, 295 of Christian Reformed Church Order Commentary. Perhaps someone in your church has one or you can order it from Faith Alive Resources. Hope it helps.
We know things are either really really good, or really really bad, when we worry about handraising by leaders in church. Really really good because we have nothing serious to worry about, or really really bad when we make rules about such things as qualifications for raising hands by someone who has already been deemed qualified to lead a service. Compared to leading or reading or presenting a service/sermon, .... shouldn't we be blessing each other anyway? Does the raising of a hand or two make the blessing more legitimate? May God bless us all.
Great post! It made me think of Job, when his three friends first saw what had happened to him they, "began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was." Later on in the book, when they tried all their words, things didn't go so well. There is much to be said for a "ministry of presence" without words.
Well put. Thank you for saying that.
AMEN! I did not have the privilege of knowing Pastor Case Admiraal as you did, Jul, but I appreciate the reminder to give thanks to God for many pastors in my life.
I wonder if we come from a tradition of not asking enough questions, and for that reason, sometimes do not know how to respond to questions. I've often seen questions not as questions, but as someone's challenge to scripture, or challenging God, or challenging authority. Questions truly asked, vs rhetorical questions asked in anger are different.
When asked questions, perhaps it would be good for us to ask questions in return?
But I don't think you should say you are not sure about the answer unless you are really not sure. Lying about that will not give you your internal credibility in trying to understand another.
This certainly resonates. I do get the impression that some people think being reformed means to do what the world does, and then color it christian. I don't think that's what the reformation was about.
A position with this job description applies to a very, very large church. To put context to a job description like this you need to supply the context (number of other employees this person is expected to work with). The average church in the CRCNA has only 225 members (1103/282500 source 2013 year book). A church that size would not have a function you outlined. But publishing these job descriptions is a good idea.
From someone who likes to ask questions, and who tends to see lots of gray rather that black and white, I want to thank you for posting this. I especially love the last paragraph. Jesus has prayed that his followers live together in unity (see John 17). That does not mean that we will all think the same way, or come to the same conclusions. In this world of seemingly greater and greater polarization, and the disrespectful dialog that accompanies that, I believe that we, as the church, have a chance to shine in the darkness by the way we respect and honor one another, even those who think differently from ourselves. Asking questions is an important way to gain understanding; so glad to see it's being encouraged.
I wish the article contained some Biblical references to support the position. We know that God placed us in the world to influence the world and not to become like it (John 17:14-16). But when we begin to adopt to the system and practice of the world, we have compromised, weakened and perhaps corrupted our influence. In the language of Jesus, we have lost our saltiness (Matthew 5:13). The bottomline is: As Christians, our faith and practice should be directed by Scripture alone; otherwise we have deviated from "Sola Scriptura" and fallen prey to the trap of "relevance."
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Mario. And no insult to vet's is intended--thank you for serving our country!
Hi Melissa,I am so glad you raised that issue! I am currently coaching an ordained, female, CRC chaplain who gave a sigh and said "Why didn't my husband know about this event?" and I felt guilty as I shared that it was a 'girls only' event. The brief discussion that ensued ended with a commitment on my part to follow up on what kind of support SPE offers to the male spouses of pastors in the CRC. With permission, here is a quote from Lis Van Harten, SPE Program Director:"Pastors' spouses, who are male, are growing in number. In last several years, we've done two surveys of male spouses to determine their interest in getting together in a variety of ways. The first results were basically "thanks but not interested". The second time around there was some interest but not a lot...
There aren't any plans in place at this time for "male spouses". I think it's something we should revisit in 2015. Perhaps another survey would be a good place to start and then see if we can't get something in the works - if, of course, the interest is there...Please assure her that we're not ignoring male spouses."
So, no, there isn't space for them at this particular event. And truly, being a female pastoral spouse is such a unique path to walk, I am not sure that the male spouses would find it as valuable in meeting their unique needs. They face a very different set of expectations and different ways in which those expectations are expressed by church members and society in general. In a strange way, attending an event such as this may leave them feeling more alone, because they don't relate to the experiences being shared by the women.
SPE shared that they have encountered this even amongst the female pastoral spouses, if they aren't involved in parish ministry (so youth pastor, chaplain, etc.). Those spouses have provided feedback along the lines of "I couldn't relate to what was going on. I'm in a different setting." So it really is tough to meet all the diverse needs and in trying to be more generally supportive, there is a risk of losing the impact for any.
I highly recommend that anyone who wishes to see further development of the support offered to male pastoral spouses be in contact with the Sustaining Pastoral Excellence office: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This sounds like it was a wonderful time together, however, it has left me wondering about those pastor's spouses who are husbands - is there a place for them at this type of event? Are there events like this which welcome all the spouses - male or female?
Thank you for how you shared your thoughts on this and how you can use this to share the light of Jesus. I know for myself, my wife and i battled over it for years as our children grew. At our previous church and our current church they have provided alternative options for different reasons, the first being safety and for my current church more of an outreach that brings people onto our campus that typically wouldn't come. We provide information about our church and its programs like Cadet's, Gem's and youth programs along with a great evening of trunk or treats, bouncers and food court. (food court-local cub scout fund raiser) We us this to open ourselves to our local community and share the love of Jesus and invite them to an event that will last for eternity. Great post, i did feel a bit insulted as you would lump Veteran's Day with Halloween as i am a US Army Veteran, blessings to you and may you continue to shine the Light in your community for Jesus.
I was so relieved to see at the end of the article, the awareness of the coincidence (not) with Reformation Day. On almost the cusp now of the 500th Anniversary of that historic happening, we should redouble efforts to both educate the next generation and also figure out how we are going to engage our Roman Catholic neighbors constructively.
Thanks, Shannon! This is really helpful.
George, I don't want to minimize the unity of the church. However, it seems to me that your article is concentrating more on the unity of ministers, and not on unity in the church. I am assuming also that you are referring to crc ministers getting together, although you don't say. Then you refer to only 5 or 6 ministers present from other churches, but again, I assume only crc churches.
John 17 is referring to much more than just ministers. It is referring to much more than just crc. To find unity in diversity is the difficulty we have as christians. To understand the combination of orthodoxy and orthopraxis is also a difficulty. But I would say the issue of attending a funeral or having ministerial meetings is not first of all a matter of unity, but a matter of pastoral care. There is unity in it, yes, but if ministerial meetings only involve one denomination, then there is also a matter of disunity inherent in it. Ironically.
On the other hand, unity is an important issue and we must struggle with it. Our desire for unity is at the root of every christian's desire to love one another as Christ loved us.
My own goal for unity would be to have those who believe infant baptism is okay to be united with those who prefer adult baptism. Can you imagine neither one condemning the other, and respecting the unique aspects of each approach? It seems inconceivable....
Of course Jerry, I could not include every detail... thankful for the CRCHM!
Yes Ryan, I agree with Jon, a "beautiful and humbly-told true story of church planting." Many of us are praying with you for a New City 2 and New City 3! And don't forget to add that a supportive denomination provided you with over $15,000.00 that first year with more to follow. I think that makes the story even more beautiful!
" At the level of a council, there are a number of things which can be especially helpful:• View the pastor as a partner in ministry; with the elders, a shepherding team..." This comment made above is particularly relevant. However, the suggestions that followed this comment do not seem to follow from it, since they emphasize how the pastor is different, not how he partners. The heavy reliance on the pastor, such as for preaching on christmas day for 25 years, for example, is caused mostly because of the inability of the partners to carry on the task. In order to have true partnership, the elders should be able to be a true shepherding team, and carry on the task if the pastor has personal desires and obligations. It is for this reason, as well as for enhancing the partnership, that pastors should be training the elders, and elders should be training each other. While the primary role of the pastor is understood, and the function of primary caregiver is known, it should never be thought that others are unable or unwilling to carry out the tasks, roles and responsibilities. This alone would relieve a great deal of stress and pressure from the pastor, and would encourage growth of the entire church.
Here is a response from another blog on the Network by Larry Dornboos. The response was by Norman Sennema on May 10, 2014 I thought the whole thing was very relevant and spoke my thoughts well, so I'm including the whole thing.
"Thanks for sharing this, a great topic, one that I have been personally wrestling with. I would avoid the extremes (no need for shepherds at all, calling people only to be 'self-feeders'), but would encourage a rethink of how we think about shepherding. I would like to add to this discussion, and to hear what your responses to my 'rant' might be.
1) An important qualifier is that we are under-shepherds, working for the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:1-4). My fear is that instead of helping the sheep hear His Voice (John 10:27), we are training people to know our voice. They come to rely on us to interpret scripture for them. Or if they don't like our voice, they look for a shepherd who's voice they prefer. The shepherds need to improve their voice to keep their audience, and compete with others in order to satisfy their sheep... or they look for greener pastures. Somehow we need to teach the sheep to hear His Voice whenever scripture is opened, whether the sermon is good or bad, the speaker is dynamic or bland, ordained or not ordained. For me, the Voice of God (Logos, Jesus) is more important than the mouthpiece (which we need too); whether the mouthpiece is a professor, pastor or pew-sitter, a sunday school teacher, a parent, a youth group leader, or a stranger on the street, God's Voice needs to be heard.
2) I would suggest adding another image to help us explain the shepherding image: a parent (1 Thessalonians 2:7-12). When children are young, they need to be fed. But eventually they need to learn to feed themselves, and eventually even feed others. This does not end the parents role, they still help them get the food, help them prepare it for a time, but the children eat for themselves. And soon they are able to prepare a meal, and maybe even surprise their parents with a meal prepared for them. And one day, they will have opportunity to feed their own children. By feeding themselves, I don't mean 'self-feeding' as you characterized it (independent, individualistic). Eating and feeding should always be communal affairs, but at some point the kids need to grow up and eat... with the support of the community. My experience is that we make 'food preparation' so complicated that you have to have a seminary degree to do it rightly. We not only lead our sheep to the table, we precut the food, we decide on what to eat, when and how, we even make them sit quiet and still while we spoon feed them. This makes sense for babies, but when do they grow up? See Hebrews 5:11-14, where eventually the babes become teachers, who by constant use they have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
3) How many of us have heard those dreaded words, 'I'm not being fed'. They make it sound as if they are deeper than we are, that their maturity level has grown beyond our shepherding skills. But that is not what I hear. I hear baby robbins squawking in the nest, demanding that we give them what they want - feed me, love me, help me, teach me, care for me, comfort me... This is the kind of SELF-feeding that I think we need to address. They have not grown up, they are still in their high chairs, with their clean bibs, waiting for us to spoon feed them. Is this cycnical... maybe? True of everyone... of course not. But it is I fear a common pattern, one that is related to our traditional shepherding/preaching ideas and practices.
4) I am presently serving in a long time 'church plant' setting. We have lots of babes in Christ, and they do not know how to hear God's Voice. But they have learned enough of churchianity to know that some shepherds provide better sermons than others. I have felt the pressure to perform better, to compete with the mega-shepherds. But that is not the way I want to go. I am who I am, and I do the best I can. I need to instill in them a love for God's Voice in scripture, and an ability to feed themselves in community, to grow up and eventually become teachers, who by constant use of Scripture have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. My sermons are not all great, and some of them are pretty bad, but the scripture is always great, and God's Voice can always be heard.
5) So I am trying something, and praying that it will help. I've adopted a three year bible-reading schedule. I hand out the readings each week, and highlight which reading from that list I will be preaching on next Sunday. The handout has open space for them to answer the question beneath each reading, 'what do you hear God saying?'. I blog my own reflections for each reading, each day, and ask them to post their own thoughts. I email 5-10 members each week and ask them to share their responses to the upcoming Scripture passage, and incorporate their responses into the message (I would love to meet weekly with some, as I've heard other pastors do, but in my busy, commuter culture meeting time is at a premium). On Sunday morning, I attempt a partial 'lectio' by reading the scripture, pausing, then reading it again. Then I ask them to share what they hear God saying in the scripture. Finally, I share some of my own reflections, trying to model how we need to all hear God's Voice in scripture. I am letting them know that one day I may be asking them to publicly share their own reflections in a 'sermon'. So far only two have done so... but in time.
6) I have discouraged them from saying 'good sermon' to me after the service (that was easy, not too many did). Instead I've urged them to share with me if they heard God speaking to them - teaching, rebuking, correcting, training, comforting, blessing, etc. - in the service. Sometimes it was in a prayer, sometimes in a song, sometimes in message. One time a young girl shared with me what God said to her in the passage, and it had nothing to do with my 'sermon'. Thing is, after I heard what she said, I myself heard God differently, through her 'sermon'! I am often surprised and blessed by what others hear God saying in scripture. I realize that all my training and experience gives me tunnel vision, seeing things that others don't see, and missing (obvious) things that others do see. Reading scripture and hearing God is indeed a communal activity - we should stop restricting it to the educated and qualified few.
7) I fear that our emphasis on ordination and the formal 'preaching of the word' has held back the church. We stress the anointing of the pastor, but scripture also stresses the anointing of the disciples, so that they do not need anyone to teach them (1 John 2:26-27). It is the Spirit that teaches us, it is the scripture that is God-breathed and useful, a double-edged sword. Why is it that so many christians do not know how to proclaim (preach, share) Jesus in the marketplace? Because we've hired that task out to a limited few. When the early church was persecuted, the disciples that scattered preached the word wherever they went (Acts 8:1-4); today they just look for another church to preach it to them. Think of the story of the church in China, when the communist government killed the pastors, burned the bibles and books, sent away the missionaries, scattered the churches, closed the seminaries. The west thought for sure the church was toast; but they (and the Chinese government) forgot about the Holy Spirit, the Chief Shepherd, and the power of God's Voice. When the walls in China finally opened a little, the west found a thriving church. Still to this day ordinary people (without seminary training) are being used by God to speak, and be heard. We need to learn from them!!!
Conclusion. Do we still need shepherds? Yes! But do we need to rethink what shepherds do, and how they do it? YES! Reading scripture for yourself is not the self-feeding that concerns me. I feel the bigger problem is the SELF-FEEDING of baby sheep that never seem to grow up and learn to feed others."
And I would add, that it seems sometimes the shepherds only feed, and do not teach others to feed. They give the flock a fish, but never a fishing rod. (mixed metaphor... but you get the idea).
A beautiful, humbly-told true story of church planting. Thank you.