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Wounded healer rather that walking wounded ? Of course! I needed no explanation for that one. The walking wounded are in such bad shape they can't help anyone else. This fate may await caregivers who don't or can't take time off to attend to their own needs and become so drained that they eventually fall apart. Relatives of people afflicted with degenerative diseases such as Parkinson's or Alzheimer's often experience that because private nursing care is expensive, and governments often cut costs at their expense, so they shoulder most of the care themselves unless they can--and are willing to--place the loved one in a nursing home. Caregivers of psychiatric patients can suffer this also, and maybe even more than the caregivers of Alzheimer's because it is acknowledged whereas many Christians still harbor the ill-conceived notion that mental illnesses are merely a spiritual problem that goes away if people confess their sins. At the outset of my illness I confessed all the sins i could think of, both real and imagined, and the illness never went away. I hope that those who still hold this notion will snap out of it because they're being a burden for those who suffer as well as their caregivers.
For more information on CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) and its counterpoint in Canada SPE (Supervised Pastoral Education) go here: http://www.spiritualcare.ca/page.asp?ID=7 (for Canada)
here: http://www.acpe.edu/imis_prod/ACPE/Directory/Accredited_CPE_Centers/ACPE/Directory/Accredited_Centers.aspx?hkey=5a6b2282-b31e-4494-b172-4452e69b0d2d (for U.S.)
Thanks for re-publishing this from another source and thereby drawing attention to both Chaplaincy and Advent. As a cancer survivor can speak better than anyone else to a newly diagnosed cancer patient, so those who have fully felt the brokenness of sin and the healing grace of God can speak best to others feeling trapped in that brokenness.
During the years from 1995-2007 I served as NY State Certified Umpire. Looking back on those years,I can see how some of the best training I had for the ministry happened on the baseball diamond. I had good mentors then, as well as in my earlier years of ministry. I learned something vey valuable: Let people have their say, even if they are spitting mad. DO NOT RESPOND IN ANGER! Wait a few days and go visit the person and you will likely diffuse future situations as well. If someone can get under your skin, they win. If you can hold your tongue and perhaps try to see them as God sees them, it is easier to deal with. Yes, there will be some that you cannot please (ever), but most often, people will back down and often apologize. I try to let the elders handle those with consistent negativity. Thanks Josh, Joy and Arnold for the your posts on this subject!
Soak in the complaints. Good Advice! But I think we also should be aware of the fact that even in the Christian Reformed Church, there are psychopaths, or to use the more modern word, sociopaths. Dr. Martha Stout in her book, "THE SOCIOPATH NEXT DOOR", maintains that on the average there is one sociopath in every twenty- five people. They are found in every profession, including the ministry. Sociopaths lack empathy, they only love themselves and they hardly ever change. Even one sociopath in a congregation can make the life of a pastor very miserable. Of course, by the same token, there are also be pastors who are sociopaths who can cause lots of trouble in their congregations. No doubt, a number of pastors who were dismissed from the ministry were sociopaths. Would it not be useful to write an article about this 'anti-social personality disorder' in The Banner? Or would it open up a can of worms?
Ref, Martha Stout, Ph.D., THE SOCIOPATH NEXT DOOR, 1 in 25 ordinary Americans secretly has no conscience and can do anything at all without feeling guilty. Who is the devi; you know? (Broadway Books, 2005).
I would love to see these files re-posted. This issue is as relevant today as ever. I just met with a group of church planters at a recent conference, and they are resonating with Jamie Smith's call to cease treating our greatest assets as liabilities, and to provide theological leadership to our church and the broader Reformed tradition--but in a way that is distinctly different from the often one-sided, harsh, overly pugnacious, and reductionist picture of "Calvinism" presented by the "Young, Restless, and Reformed."
You have some great stuff here and I wholeheartedly agree with you that those who perpetually complain and bring up issues need to be dealt with accordingly and pastorally in the love of Christ (maybe another post? or I might even just copy and paste what ya got here). Unfortunately, there's only so much you can say in a 750+ word post (I edited it down from 900 words to like 770ish). I think the biggest issues in church conflict are the triangulators and vague curmudgeons--these are the perpetuals in church conflict for the most part (of course, there is probably a larger list somewhere that is more nuanced and exhaustive than the one I put up). These you cannot just ignore but instead work pastorally with the council in handling the issue. And sometimes the issue goes away when they do...but the damage left in their wake takes years to clean up. It is the balance pastors walk in ministry.
And I didn't even talk about those who enact conflict and try to use power in church to control... that's a whole 'nother post in itself too.
Thanks again for your thoughts and comment.
Josh, I so appreciate your advice to take a breath and “soak it in” instead of reacting quickly to these situations. I do believe there is a time and place for us to cover the sins of others as an act of mercy. As you note, this is a good beginning for dealing pastorally with these situations.
However, you also pointed out that there are some individuals who complain as an ongoing habit. It seems the 9th commandment applies here. Perpetual complainers fail to “guard their neighbour’s good name.”
We would/should be deeply concerned about a parishioner who perpetually lies, steals, commits adultery, etc. Should we not have the same concern for someone who perpetually notices and announces unintended mistakes—especially when their “noticing” is voiced in ways that impugns the character of others?
Yes, we can make corrections in ourselves and in church programs when others note need for improvement. And we can learn patience, grace and humility when dealing with those who repeatedly bring complaint. But there’s more at stake. Perpetual complainers need to come to grips with the “grievous wounds” they cause by “scurrilous affected urbanity…by which the failings of others…are bitterly assailed…”
John Calvin, Institutes, Book 2, Chapter 8:
Though the commandment is only directed against falsehood, it intimates that the preservation of our neighbour's good name is recommended. It ought to be a sufficient inducement to us to guard our neighbour's good name, that God takes an interest in it. Wherefore, evil-speaking in general is undoubtedly condemned. Moreover, by evil-speaking, we understand not the rebuke which is administered with a view of correcting; not accusation or judicial decision, by which evil is sought to be remedied; not public censure, which tends to strike terror into other offenders; not the disclosure made to those whose safety depends on being forewarned, lest unawares they should be brought into danger, but the odious crimination which springs from a malicious and petulant love of slander. Nay, the commandment extends so far as to include that scurrilous affected urbanity, instinct with invective, by which the failings of others, under an appearance of sportiveness, are bitterly assailed, as some are wont to do, who court the praise of wit, though it should call forth a blush, or inflict a bitter pang. By petulance of this description, our brethren are sometimes grievously wounded. But if we turn our eye to the Lawgiver, whose just authority extends over the ears and the mind, as well as the tongue, we cannot fail to perceive that eagerness to listen to slander, and an unbecoming proneness to censorious judgments are here forbidden. It were absurd to suppose that God hates the disease of evil-speaking in the tongue, and yet disapproves not of its malignity in the mind. Wherefore, if the true fear and love of God dwell in us, we must endeavour, as far as is lawful and expedient, and as far as charity admits, neither to listen nor give utterance to bitter and acrimonious charges, nor rashly entertain sinister suspicions. As just interpreters of the words and the actions of other men, let us candidly maintain the honour due to them by our judgment, our ear, and our tongue.
If you look under Church Admin & Finance, Ministry Organization and look at the resources, you will find a sample mandate for an Administration Team. The Finance Team is a subset of this team that meets when needed for budget and stewardship related matters.
The Building and Grounds Team is also a subset of this team in this model and usually meets monthly, often working on projects for part or all of their scheduled time. A member of the Administration Team serves on the Finance Team (a sample mandate also on the site under Finance resources) and a member serves on the Building and Grounds Team in addition to a member serving on the Personnel Team in this model. The Administration Team is a subset of Council so you have a council connect for both of your teams.
When it's pastor appreciation week, I look forward to encouraging not only the pastor but his family as well. So often we forget about the sacrifices the family is making by allowing their dad/husband to serve us. It's a great time to say thank you!
Thanks for this post Staci and drawing attention to recognizing and thanking those involved in various ministry capacities. This is an area that often gets overlooked in churches - or where there's maybe only one day when some recognition is given. ServiceLink has a document posted on their website with 10 Tips for Recognizing volunteers which provides ideas for showing thankfulness outside the giving of gifts. We have other ideas as well, but thought to share this one for now. I look forward to hearing other people's ideas.
May I be a bit presumptuous and give a stab at the questions you ask?
a. To be passionate about something actually requires propositional knowledge. That is to say the more in-depth knowledge that I have of the ways, likes, attitudes, of my wife, the more I can be passionate about her. That is to say my heart can be warmed by what I know of her in an intimate way. In a similar way, the more we know of Christ--and this is not just individually, but also corporately, the more passionate we can be about Him. This is what I would define as heart-knowledge.
b. A cultural trend. Well, I think that the critical thinking apparatus has been dumbed down without teaching in logic, rhetoric, critical analysis, but more on "well how do you feel about that?" That later question is everywhere these days. But I think this is where myticism can walk right in the door, and to my mind it is not only Pentacostalism---since some of the sharpest and most analytical minds I know are Pentacostals--but also the effects of a therapeutic Gospel which responds to "how can we make these people feel good?" rather than a Gospel which asks "how can we help these people to think rightly and feel accordingly."
This is a good and healthy discussion to have. Two questions come to mind right away:
1. How would you define "heart-knowledge"?
2. To what extent is this anti-intellectualism part of a broader cultural trend? Is it really an infiltration from Pentecostalism or is it just a reflection of where the culture is heading?
I think you have latched on to something. Where do you think ideas such as Lectio Divina recently popularized by those involved in Youth ministiries, spiritual directors who help to get in touch with inner feelings, and the widespread popularity of Richard Foster's the Celebration of Discipline come from?
I would say these are a pendulum swing towards mysticism that is likely a reaction against hyper-intellectualism. But the pendulum has swung way too far, in my opinion. Without a critical thought, supposedly thinking, reading, analyzing Christian Reformed folk ditch their critical thinking and testing of the spirits capacity and jump on to what is clearly Roman Catholic/Quaker/Buddhist mysticism.
It would appear that we continue to need "theology on fire." Nothing more and nothing less, or as even the motto of Calvin Seminary states, reflecting John Calvin "My heart I offer to you Lord: Promptly and Sincerely."
Amen and amen!
Roger, yes, real world application is important, thank you for bringing that focus in. Pastors though are more than just a lawyer, mechanic, maintenance worker, etc. A pastor is one who is called to be the spiritual leader of God's people. A pastor is called to lead God's people, to be the shepherd of Christ's flock. There are many ways one might live in reckless abandonment for Jesus in being kingdom driven. I think of my wife's grandfather who passed away in 2002. Decades ago, he was serving in his church and felt a call to move forward to serve full time. He sold his business (some of the story says he actually gave it away to a returning war veteran) and started planting churches in the Chicago area. He planted them in numerous areas, two of them are still around today--Immanuel CRC in Burbank, IL and Hammond CRC in Hammond, IN. His kingdom driven focus in preaching the gospel led to many people coming to faith. He wasn't a person driven by a paycheck but rather driven by a vision to see people come into the kingdom. Both his sons became pastors both with a kingdom focus. Reckless abandonment in serving Jesus can manifest itself in so many different ways. Many pastors try to live their own reckless abandonment, and get shut down because it's different, or it's not how the church has always done things, or it's not what they've paid the pastor to do. I understand the need to exercise caution at times. This blog post more so wants to focus on burn out in pastors and how to help pastors retrieve that kingdom vision they once had. It is also to encourage the church to look past roadblocks and to dream together with the pastor into new ways of doing ministry in serving God's kingdom. The real world is that too many times people act in fear rather than in faith in kingdom work. I wonder if my wife's grandfather used caution instead would the churches he planted and the people God reached through him would be around today? It's amazing how many lives one person touches when they focus on the kingdom of God... Pastors get brought down many times and told to just do the work rather than look forward towards the kingdom. Pray for your pastor and your church that the kingdom of God might be preached and lived. Pray that your pastor continues to be driven by a desire to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ in reckless abandonment because that's how Jesus did it for us.
Christy, thank you for your reflections. I think the same is true for the mega-church pastor to the small rural pastor, from one who pastors a 2,000 member congregation with multiple staff to one who does it all (including the bulletin) in a small church. I think you are right in that it is personal for each pastor. My concern is more for the burnout of pastors more so than the pay for pastors. As I wrote, I've never met a pastor who went into it for the money. To expand on that, I've met people who've left lucrative businesses and jobs in order to be paid far less in order to serve God. Burn out in pastors can lead to a loss of kingdom focus as the spiritual leader of God's people. Please continue to keep pastors in your prayers, from the mega church to the small church, that they still keep the focus on serving God where they are at. Thanks again.
Come on, Joshua. Give us readers a break. It sounds to me like you are living in a fantasy world. I think you are a little bit (maybe more than a little bit) out of touch with reality. What you say about the pastor could be said about all Christians working in any occupation whether a doctor, lawyer, biologist, veterinarian, press operator, maintenance worker, etc. etc.. As Christians, should anyone be driven by the pay check? Living in “reckless abandonment in serving Jesus” is likely to get you fired whether in ministry or in the hospital or in the manufacturing plant. If you are living in the real world, you know that church members are all over the map as to how Christian commitment and service takes shape. Recklessly serving Christ in a way that inspires you may be completely different from 3/4 of your congregation. But go ahead and throw caution to the wind. You’ll likely be out of work next week, though. There are countless things that cause a pastor (or any Christian) to exercise caution, such as a wife and children, as well as the countless people that we all rub shoulders with daily. Your reckless abandonment attitude may work in a fantasy world, but most of our lives are lived out in the real world.
I think this issue is particularly prominent in so-called "mega" churches.
Mega-church pastors tend to make a lot of money. And why not? After all, the sheer size of their congregations means the giving totals are huge. They often write devotionals and life books. Their worship leaders write music we all sing each week. And, really, there are relatively very few people qualified to lead and sustain those types of organizations. Rare talent commands exceptional remuneration. There's nothing wrong with that. Furthermore, we don't worry about whether other successful Christians are paycheck-driven. Why should it be so different for pastors (or worship leaders)?
Still, how does one hear the call of God through all that? How can one keep the heart open to missions serving the poor or marginalized, if that mission means giving up the highly-paid position one had worked so hard for? It's tough for a mega-church pastor to feel led to serve at a small church or in a third world nation.
The question is definitely personal. Each of us has to decide how much is enough. I pray that every highly-paid pastor is always able to hear God's voice. And I pray that every not-so-well-paid pastor has the strength and means to keep serving God's people. Either way, it's going to be a struggle.
Todd, it is definitely a thing. I finally remembered where it comes from. The letter of call.
"We also promise and oblige ourselves to review with you annually in the light of the synodical Ministers’ Compensation Guidelines the adequacy of this compensation prior to the adoption of the church budget."
Thank you for prescribing spiritual discernment regarding this issue. It can be a tricky one! For some reason, some people seem to equate office hours with the number of hours the pastor actually works, not realizing that often he/she does his/her best work away from the "office." But I agree, balance is needed. One thing I've done recently with council approval is to spend some of my "office hours" at the local Tim Horton's. So, I spend most Tuesday afternoons there, so I call it "Timmy Tuesday." I've found that more people (church and community) are willing to visit me at the local Timmy's than drop by the church "office." I would encourage other pastors to try it!--Leon
Good advice! One of the distinct observations I made in transitioning from the parish ministry to chaplaincy was that I suddenly felt less stressed. In analyzing why, I observed that it probably related to suddenly having boundaries I had failed to create for myself in the parish. I suddenly had working hours and non-working hours (not to mention a more defined list of responsibilities). I had weekends that I was committed to preach or be on-call and weekends that I felt fairly free. I was struck by how much healthier this was. My advice to pastors since that time is to give yourself permission to communicate to your congregation (over and over, if necessary) that you have and need boundaries and schedules. Know that it is ok to focus on what you are good at and delegate other things that are not your forte. Commit to sermon prep time, visiting time, administrative time, etc. and time to be "off the clock" (Sabbath). You will be healthier, your work will be more focused, and your congregation will come to appreciate you as a well organized professional.
As for your retirement pension. Good advice to save more. I certainly don't see the current CRC pension plan being sufficient in coming decades. I would like to see us move away from a defined benefit pension towards a defined contribution pension system (Like the RCA) to encourage pastors to know more about our own (and our church's) financial matters.
May you continue to experience God's provision in this new phase of life.
As for the annual conversation about finances. I've never had it with either of my congregations. I didn't know it was a thing. When needed I've broached the topic and we've discussed it well, but I think this would be a good thing to implement here. If I had it to do over again, I would negotiate an annual cost of living increase as part of my call. Something to the effect, "Ordinarily the pastor will receive an annual cost of living increase to his total salary (cash and housing). When mutually agreed upon that annual increase may be suspended for up to one year or increased as God leads."
That language helps when there is a significant turnover in council during a pastor's tenure.
Thanks for writing about this. Being retired it does not affect me in the same way except to say that my 1600 /mo pension is considerably less than fellow Christian school teachers, RCA pastors,and the members of my church employed at Ibm, Savemart, and gov. Employees.
Should not local salary be based mostly on local cost of living?
My meeting went quite well, by the way. The expectations in my post reflect what I have often felt, but I was heard and understood in this meeting, and while some measures were below what I expected, others were above the classical average, and I was satisfied that we were at the right place. The important thing for me is that there was some communication, and the respect and understanding that comes from that communication. Also, when I wrote this post rather quickly, I did not specify that what the finance committee thinks is actually my fear or my past perception of what they think, which thankfully did not turn out to be the case... so, if there's a way to edit that, I would like to do that.
Thanks, Randy. Quite frankly, I am much relieved not to have that annual conversation any more. In my second to last year of pastoring full-time (and more?), there was no conversation, in fact. Rather the Chair of Finance made a an off-hand comment to me on the way out of another meeting that support staff would be getting a 1% raise, but the pastor none. Budget contributions were down at that point in the year, blah, blah, blah. I was so stunned I couldn't even think bad words.
So, come January when expenses were all paid, turned out there was a $20K (OK, it was Canadian $$) surplus. Whoops, too late to reconsider; the budget was already approved for that year.The $20K went to pay down the mortgage. (Btw, how and why a 30+ year-old congregation still had a large mortgage on its original building always escaped me and most folks simply didn't seem concerned, despite the interest charges accruing.) Not conducive to feeling good about Council. And they didn't get it when I brought up the issue civilly; uncivilly would have been worse, I'm sure.
The next year, a new Personnel and Finance Committee had taken over and a new climate was clearly evident. They were stunned, embarrassed when at "the meeting" I said there'd been no meeting the year before, no raise, no consideration of compensation guidelines. That was corrected and I thanked them.
Still, it makes for unpleasant memories plus temptations to cynicism. So, more power to you. You are NOT alone.
The issue of how to work with a pastor regarding standardizing "office hours" at church is indeed complex. Because of the options provided by cell phones, and because of the nature of ministry frequently and appropriately being done away from the church office, it is indeed possible for a pastor to do honest, productive work while not being in the office at church.
Yet, as you suggest, there is something positive to be gained when "office hours" are posted and observed. Among the benefits is the "drop in ministry opportunities" that may occur, to say nothing of the community perception that someone is at the building, and the congregational experience of seeing their pastor function in a disciplined, accountable manner.
In our CRC polity a pastor is accountable to the church council, and it is appropriate for the elders and the pastor to speak openly regarding a policy for office hours, and a format for accountability regarding this. Such a conversation can take into account the personal style of a given pastor, and the need or desire for flexibility of scheduling, yet it also can take into account the positive factors that are gained through what we can call "the public accountability demonstrated through a posted schedule".
A pastor who resists such a conversation and such accountability risks alienation with those with whom he is serving. Elders who resist dealing with this matter risk allowing distrust within a congregation to fester. On the positive side, a ministry and pastor that make themselves physically present on a predictable schedule will open themselves to unknown and significant blessings.
There are some basics here.
The pastor must divide his time three ways:
Can these duties best be done by the pastor being regularly in his study in the church building...??
I could see advantages. Members would feel encouraged to come and see their pastors when needed.But there are other equally valid possibilities. Just over a generation ago, most pastors had their study in the parsonage. I think it should be up to the pastors to make arrangements that would encourage parishioners to visit but that would also leave sufficient time for study and other personal ministerial duties. Pastors may wish to have a study in the parsonage. That would be their choice. But when in the church, parishioners should keep in mind that pastors don't have an office job. Many of their duties must be done in various settings. When they agree with the congregation that they will keep regular hours, those will be of necessity limited. Whatever pastors decide regarding the setting in which they can work best, they must keep one thing in mind: be accessible! The members should be able to reach them, if not directly then by leaving a message. With telephones now being sophisticated there should be no problems on this score. Congregations should remember that pastors need personal time: for reflection, sermon preparation, study, and a goodly part of pastoral work. In situations where pastors are urgently needed, there will be enough ingenuity among the elders and other leaders to locate him at short notice.
Thank you for the question. It is an appropriate one for this day and age where I find it easier - and more economical - to work from my home. I would, however, like to suggest that we offer a parallel question: How many hours shall the pastor be in the study each week? And to that question, I think the answer has been and remains: "as long as it takes to prepare the sermons and lessons required each week."
Any answer to this question has to be framed by the particular context of the congregation. Here are four real life examples:
A rural church where the parsonage is across the parking lot of the church building and most of the congregation lives within 10 miles. This pastor keeps a full schedule of office hours because it’s convenient, it’s a quieter space to study than an office in his home, and he serves as the “church secretary”. He also wants to preserve a distinction between his home life and pastoral duties and prefers that his congregation meets him at the church office. He does let the congregation know what days are his days off and asks that they be respected.
A small urban church where the pastor has a thirty minute commute to the church office and the congregation is widely dispersed throughout the urban area. This pastor does not keep daily office hours, but does maintain a few days of the week when she spends most or part of the day at the office. Cell phone and email keep the congregation and their pastor in 24/7 conversation.
A large urban church where the pastor lives within walking distance of the church building and the congregation is a lively mix of distance and proximity; some members live in the neighborhood and some commute 40 minutes. This pastor tries to spend at least two full week days in the office so that folks can drop in, but also to interact with staff. Those days vary because of other needs in the congregation and involvement in community activities. If someone wants to meet with the pastor, he often suggests meeting at a place closer to where the congregation member lives or works than the church office.
Another urban church—the only CRC church in the city—where the pastor lives within a short commute of the church building but the majority of the congregation lives further away. Again, this pastor has flexible office hours based on other demands on his time, but does hold himself to one consistent day a week to be in the office—the day he and church secretary pull together the liturgy and bulletin for the coming Sunday.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to this question. It’s a balance that needs to be worked out between the pastor, the elders, and other church staff. Most pastors would also point out that their participation in and attendance at church events during the week often offer better times for those casual conversations. Pastors who volunteer at the church’s food pantry, help serve the neighborhood dinner, attend the local high school football games, or read a story at the church’s daycare center are creating informal opportunities for interacting with congregational members that can build caring relationships without the need to be “in the office”.
I'm wondering if we are really doing this church planitng in a way which glorifies God, is good stewardship of
church planters gifts and family health when we try t do it on a financial shoe string. Yours is the second writing I read today about church planting in DC and Kansas City/ Both done on a shoestring budget. The one in DC closing before two years had passed and the one in KC still ggoing after four years.
What troubles me who is defining this church planting model? Why so much demanded of the church planter? This sounds like cruel and unusual punishment to me.
Is this really the best model we can come up within the CRCNA?
Joe.. Thank you for your thoughts and comments. With a blog post there is but a limited amount of words that might be used in speaking of one particular opinion on a topic. Yes, I will admit, there are in ways I painted things in broad strokes and things aren't starkly one or the other (as Scott shows eloquently above). Tim Keller's The Prodigal God is the oft quoted source for the interpretation to which I mentioned above concerning the older brother. Because my understanding of Keller's argument and thesis is based solely on the interpretation and telling of those who have used him as their source, I can only take the logical conclusion of their reasoning and evidence concerning focusing on the elder brother in such as way as that they then are identifying with the pharisees. If Keller is correct in his assertion (again, I haven't read his book so I do not know the full thesis) and the target is the Pharisees and teachers of the law, then identifying oneself with the target audience and hence the elder brother gives a bit of legitimacy to being a Pharisee, which, I believe, leads to insular thinking. Again, I have not read Keller's book, I have only seen the fruit of this particular interpretation.
That being said, Luke 15:1-2 does state that the Pharisees and teachers of the law were muttering against Jesus' choice of diner guests, but v1 also states that the tax collectors and sinners were gathering around to hear Jesus. As Scott states above (dude is from the Center for Excellence in Preaching and knows his stuff so I'm deferring to him her eon some things) there are multiple audiences here. We also have to take into account the third audience of this trifecta of parables--the intended audience of Luke. Luke wrote to a gentile, mostly Greek, audience. In understanding it from this different scope, I would say that the emphasis really isn't towards the elder brother as Keller would state but the fact that a gracious God comes running out to greet his lost son. I can't quote chapter and verse, but I remember Phil Yancey had a wonderful discussion about God' grace in the Parable of the Prodigal Son in his book What's so Amazing About Grace.
I would say that in this understanding the fact that, yes, Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees that we are to have a reckless abandon of love for the lost. As well though, we see that here is the statement to us all that we all were once sinners and are welcomed home by a God who has gone forth searching for us, leaving all behind. In this same light though, we need to see this as the Good News preached to those outside of the faith hearing about the grace and forgiveness given by God as would the original intended Gentile/Greek audience.
I lean a bit toward's Joel Green and some others that in the prior parable, the shepherd leaving the 99 behind wasn't so much as leaving the pharisees behind to find the one per se, but the great economical and labor intensive cost the shepherd was willing to pay in order to find that one lost sheep. This same reckless abandon is seen in the celebration by woman when she finds her lost coin. Yes, it was a chunk of money, yet she spends more money to celebrate finding it. And finally, not only did the father go out to meet the younger son as he returned (as did the shepherd go out looking for the lost sheep) he also threw a huge shindig that involved a fatted calf (good eats...and he celebrated like the woman and her lost coin). For Keller's interpretation to work, it then must ignore most of the rest of these parables and the others throughout Luke and the original intended audience.
Again, thank you for your thoughts and comment. Hope this wasn't too long and convoluted of an answer.
(and I think I just wrote another blog post).
Thanks for the corrective, Josh. If people are using the older brother in the way that you describe, I wholeheartedly agree they should stop. However, recent developments of which I am aware, based on the book The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller, cite the older brother as Jesus' target because of Luke 15:1-2, "Now the tax collectors and 'sinners' were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, 'This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.'" Jesus' target is the Pharisees and teachers of the law, who have misunderstood God's love and desire to reach the lost. In light of it, as elder brothers (those like me who were raised in the church, etc.) we are called to join God in His reckless, prodigal love for sinners and the lost. This is how I have understood the use of the elder brother, have you heard that before?
Thanks for your comment and reflections, Scott. You are very correct in that this parable has a number of layers and there is much you can point out with this parable. Sadly, with blogs, there are only a limited amount of space. I think part of what inspired this post for me was recently hearing it preached and then a conversation I had with my wife and others afterwards about how this parable has been interpreted and how it's been used over the years in different ways. Thank you again for your insight.
Good piece, Josh! Of course . . . there are lots of layers here and you yourself point out several of them in your post. Let's not forget that the trio of Luke 15 parables had 2 distinct audiences when the chapter began: the "sinners" gathered around Jesus and the Pharisees who took issue with the company Jesus kept. BOTH audiences had things to hear in the parables. In the Lost Sheep one, the good news for the sinners at table with Jesus was that God seeks them and rejoices over them when they are found. The bad news for the Pharisees is that they fail (a la Ezekiel 34) to do such seeking themselves. The Pharisees may also be represented by the 99 sheep who did not wander, but Jesus' little line about the 99 "who have no need to repent" is surely a bit of sharp irony--EVERYONE needs to repent, as Jesus surely knew. The problem with the 99--and the reason they don't bother to seek the lost--is they have forgotten that they, too, are saved by grace alone issuing in their repentance. So also in the Prodigal Son--the Pharisees are surely the older brother. They don't welcome the prodigal back and complain about the bad company he no doubt kept (prostitutes!) while in the far country. Since the Pharisees are one of the 2 main audiences for this parable, it's not bad to focus on the older brother now and then, NOT because they have no before-and-after conversion story to share but because they forget that EVERYBODY has a before-and-after story in God's eyes and that is what should motivate our joy at the return of the prodigal and our desire to share that joy with others by going out and seeking the lost as in the first two Luke 15 parables.
Maybe . . .
Thanks for the provocative post!
Thanks for sharing this! I have not yet heard the Parable of the Prodigal Son be preached where the focus is more on the older brother. But, I think you hit the nail on the head with many of your points. Despite growing up in the church and Christian schools, I still relate more to the younger brother (as you said, "All of us were once dead in our sins. All of us were at one time lost. All of us were at one time made alive in Christ"). Thanks again!
Thank you for your thoughts and comment. Being in the CRC for just over 20 years, I've come across many people who feel bad that they don't have a Road-to-Damascus story. And in feeling bad, sometimes even look down on themselves as not being good enough Christians or something, like to be good enough they need some awesome story. And I think this is partially why many have been gravitating towards focusing on the older brother more so than anything else. I like the idea of changing the title to the Parable of the Gracious Father. That really shifts the focus. Both sons are offered grace and invited to the party. Both are to be part of the celebration. And we are to join in on this celebration and join in the mission of God.
Thanks again for your comments.
Joshua, thanks for sharing your story! I agree with you that this story is not meant to be a comfort and reassurance to "older brothers" that they are indeed invited to the party too. But, I'll admit, as one of those who don't have a "come to Jesus" story to tell, I've never felt particular resonance with the younger brother either. When our church last studied this passage, one of our pastors helpfully re-framed this parable by calling it the Parable of the Gracious Father. Indeed it is profoundly compelling to see the desire God has to meet all of us where we are at and see even those sheep who have run furthest from the fold He desires to see restored. In light of the Gracious Father, the older brother then becomes a cautionary tale of a hard heart. We know the older brother is invited to the party, but we don't know if he repents of his self-righteousness (just like the younger brother) or if he remains in the field, angry and self-righteous, unwilling to accept the grace of the Father (like the rich young ruler).
In the end, I agree with you--this parable should motivate us to join in God's redeeming and restoring mission!
Thanks for your comment, Ron. I'm one of those in the parenthetical category (preparing for parish ministry). I'm actually seeking ordination in another denomination (The Episcopal Church), and I, along with the majority of my classmates, was required to take one unit of CPE as part of my seminary studies. One of the staff chaplains at the hospital noted that there's a difference in the tenor and attitude of those who are electing to take the unit vs. those who are required, which seems obvious, but still struck me as an interesting observation. We talked a fair amount about introversion/extraversion in my group, and noted how each of us had different areas of comfort/discomfort (for instance, while I had a great deal of discomfort and anxiety around cold-calling, I felt virtually none of that in responding to arrest pages, which in turn caused discomfort and anxiety for others). While there are times I think it would be handy to be a tad more extraverted, I think it's pretty great that the Church is filled with so many people who have so many unique gifts.
Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment, and sorry it took so long for me to reply—it turns out the last couple of weeks of CPE are even more all-consuming than the earlier portion!
In writing about one slice of my CPE experience and my personality, I highlighted and maybe even exaggerated the moments of silence. I like to think that when the time comes to say something, I can (and do). In fact, I actually like engaging people in "crucial conversations" (though I'm new to the book/concept, and look forward to checking it out), and a good conversation can override my exhaustion. What I think is different for me is that I prefer having such a conversation when I've already begun cultivating a relationship. The most difficult—and exhausting—part of CPE for me was that many, even most, of my visits were "cold calls," uninvited visits to patients/families who may or may not want to talk to someone about their spiritual well-being, support networks, etc. The newness and unfamiliarity of the relationship would make me feel anxious, and all those introductions would deplete my energy stores.
I don't have good a solution for how to keep going in that situation—and if you do, I'd love to hear it, because I could sure use something during the introduction phase in a new church. In CPE, I usually responded by doing some work that didn't involve human interaction (e.g. charting, planning a service). If that wasn't an option, I might try to eat something, as I've found that "hangry" is a real emotion for me, and sometimes even a quick snack can move me from grouchy and overwhelmed to at least something approaching stable.
All to say, I think there is a place for conversation and words—I enjoy writing and reading immensely; I'm not about to give up verbal communication. I've also seen the pain that can come when one is not able to communicate verbally and wants to—that is a huge loss. However, I also think there is a place for silence, and I think that silence can be as meaningful as words.
Thanks again for writing!
Amen! Well articulated and a necessary reminder.
Good thoughts, John.
These exercises are helpful not only in an individual context but would stimulate some good reflection in a Peer Learning Group or mentoring relationship.
Thanks for sharing.
Here is the link to the article: https://powerofus.force.com/articles/Resource/NPSP-What-is-an-Account-Model
I hope "Pray Like a Pastor" can be taken positively. My son is a pastor in another state and certainly not the staid, pompous type.
But his sisters and I agree that when we phone him on an important or sensitive issue or talk in person, we get a pastoral response - wise, thoughtful, and just what we need. I'm sure this is what your son meant also!
What a great topic to think about, Norm. And I'm really curious to hear what other pastors (and non-pastors) have to say about this, and whether they can identify. I'm sure we can can all think of ways in which pastors do/don't fit a stereotype, and how that can be a blessing or not, depending on the situation.
I suppose it could have been meant as a compliment (e.g. you're articulate). But either way, the fact that it bugged you says something good about you I think - you're aware and thinking about whether any pastor stereotypes might get in the way of how you connect.
I'm not a pastor, but I'm married to one. One of the advantages of female pastors, perhaps, is that people are less quick to fit you into a stereotype (to achieve a similar stereotype-busting effect, you might consider tattoos, piercings, or growing dreadlocks :-)
Seriously, thanks for raising the topic and inviting feedback. Other thoughts, from pastors and non-pastors alike? What does it mean to pray (or act) like a pastor, and is it a good thing, a bad thing, or can it be both?
Staci (and Alissa),
Thanks for posting this thoughtful reflection on the value of CPE, especially for those who are thinking of preparing for chaplaincy (or the parish ministry, but want to be better prepared to do quality pastoral care). The combination of intense pastoral care exposure and repeated reflection with a supervisor and small group has a remarkable ability to grow one's self-awareness and effectiveness as a pastoral caregiver (aka: agent of God's love in difficult situations). And thanks to John for broadening the perspective from a different personality type. I hope some of our current and/or prospective CRC chaplains see this and comment on their CPE experiences.
Thanks for the thoughtful comment! This post was written by Alissa. I will alert her to your comment and question!
First a question: who is the introverted CPE student, Staci or Alissa? Since that was unclear, my personal response to a very personal post will need to be addressed:
To whom it may concern :)
I really appreciated your candid sharing of the challenge you felt when forced to be outside your comfort zone. My own CPE experience, now almost 40 years ago, was similar in that I, an extrovert, had been placed (deliberately, it turned out) in a wing of the psychiatric hospital occupied with mostly elderly, non-verbal, senile patients, where my excellent verbal skills were of little or no use. My best pastoral presence required quietly holding someone's hand, supporting someone walking down a hospital hallway, or helping to spoon feed someone no longer able to feed himself. You might have felt right at home there, but a full day of this left me "exhausted, anxious, and grouchy".
And therein lies the professional pastor's conundrum. Because it is a rare pastoral position where we always get to decide which type of pastoral interaction we need to be engaged in. In fact, it is a rare personal relationship where we are permitted to always operate within our comfort zone. For me, it will always be a challenge to "shut up and just listen". For you, it appears to be a challenge to verbally interact, face to face, with the people around you.
I appreciate that in your post you underscored that even in our conversations with God our personality style is revealed. Over time God has proven Himself quite patient, listening to my verbal meandering, but at times He has found it necessary to use drastic measures to get me to shut up and listen. I won't go into the details, but it wasn't pretty.
I also appreciate that God can get through to you in ways other than verbal. God is pretty cool that way! And I am sure that there are many people who would greatly appreciate your soothing, quiet presence at a time when in every other way they are surrounded by chaos and turmoil.
But what of the people who need you to say something, or even to have a Crucial Conversation with you, at the end of what for you already was a long day of people, people, and more people? You are already exhausted. You are already beginning to feel anxious. How do you keep from sounding grouchy?
My wife wants to know.
Mavis, I just started to looking at Salesforce in our church and appreciate your posts. I did not install the NonProfit Package when I first signed up. I don't know what version of the NonProfit you were talking about in this blog post, but Salesforce has come out with Version 3. After looking at the it's household model, (your SPAM filters didn't let me put in a link) I felt like it was the best option for us. I tried to install the extra pack afterwards and ran into some big access issues. I wasn't too far along in our process, so we just started over with fresh install of Salesfoce NonProfit Pack (one of the first options when you sign up). I would really suggest that people do their homework on accounts before they sign up. They can spare themselves some problems. As you said, the non profit may not work best for everyone. If you think it is best, it is smart to start with it rather than trying to convert to it later.