Tag: pastor

The Pastor as Artisan

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Over the centuries of church history, various metaphors have been used to describe the role of God’s chosen leaders. Some metaphors have lodged permanently in our collective consciousness, while others have not passed the test of time. I suggest that there is one more metaphor for the pastor’s role that might be a welcome addition to the others — the pastor as artisan.

Perhaps the oldest metaphor used to describe the pastoral leader is that of shepherd. The second metaphor used in the New Testament for church leaders is overseer. Both of those metaphors are enduring and widely used today.

Another metaphor that emerged in the early centuries of the church was that of pastor as the “physician of souls.” Sin was viewed as a disease and pastoral care was seen as the “cure of souls” with the priest as the administrator of that cure.

As the church growth movement took root in the 1980s, the popular metaphor of pastor as CEO was drawn from the corporate world. Successful churches, church growth advocates argued, concentrated authority in the pastor as CEO because this was the most effective means toward church growth. However, in retrospect the metaphor of pastor as CEO and the church growth movement have both proven to be inadequate for the complex task of shaping and leading twenty-first century congregations.

Of course, there are other pastoral metaphors in use as well. The popular triad of pastor as prophet, priest, and poet brings together several facets of pastoral ministry. From the sports world, the idea of the pastor as coach plays off popular sports imagery with the pastor as team strategist, and church staff and members as team players who execute the game plan.

To this wide-ranging mix of metaphors I would add one more — the pastor as artisan. At their height in the middle ages, artisans were skilled master craftsmen who produced goods that were beautiful and functional. These artisans included goldsmiths, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, weavers, tailors, shoemakers, hatters, tinsmiths, carpenters, potters, stonemasons, and so on. Master artisans took apprentices and trained them to become master craftsmen after apprenticeships lasting seven or more years. Artisans organized themselves into guilds which set standards and ensured that their particular skill and craft would endure.

There are six reasons I believe the artisan is an appropriate metaphor for pastors and their work.

1. Artisans focused on one product. They learned one trade which required them to learn how to select raw materials and how to craft those raw materials into a unique, finished product. Artisans lived in the vertical silo of their own trade. Silversmiths did not work in leather, cobblers did not make barrels, and carpenters did not branch out into stone work.

2. Artisans trained apprentices to continue their craft. Skills, insights, and trade secrets were passed from master artisan to his apprentices carefully. This hands-on training and mentoring assured the continuation of the traditions of each craft, but also allowed for advances and improvements as new tools and techniques were developed. Artisans brought on new trainees each year, assuring their workshops a continuing supply of understudies at different stages of learning.

3. Artisans were successful when their workshops produced both quality products and skilled apprentices. An artisan without an apprentice limited his future and the future of the trade in which he was engaged. Successful master artisans realized that their survival meant not only producing goods today, but continuing the trade for generations through the lives of apprentices they trained.

4. Artisans maintained important traditions while incorporating best practices as they became available. The purpose of the apprentice system was to pass on the skills and trade secrets developed over decades of skilled work techniques. These traditions became marks of pride, honor, and identification for each artisan guild. Guilds guaranteed that standards were followed, while also vetting newer practices. This process assured that the entire guild would continue to be well-thought of, and its products would be valued and purchased.

5. Artisans depended on other artisans for products they did not produce. The carriage maker, for instance, depended on the wheelwright for wheels. The wheelwright, in turn, depended on the blacksmith for the iron bands wrapped around the wooden wheel. Because artisans specialized, they depended on and supported each other’s work and products.

6. Artisans were themselves master craftsmen. While this might seem self-evident, they knew what it was like to be a novice, and then to progress to the more complex skills as their knowledge and craftsmanship developed. Master artisans knew the frustrations of apprenticeship, learned to endure the seven or more years their apprenticeship covered, and valued their training as they set up their own workshops as master artisans. There was no shortcut to becoming a master craftsman, and no absentee ownership of a skilled craft workshop. Artisans were hands-on masters, trained to train others while producing their own quality products.

In summary, the pastor as artisan is an apt metaphor and here’s why.

 Like artisans, pastors…

1. Focus on one product — proclaiming and practicing the good news of Jesus Christ.

2. Train others to do what they do, thereby ensuring continuity of Christian witness now and in the future.

3. Are most successful when they not only produce effective ministry results, but when they also work closely with others to do the same.

4. Value age-old traditions, such as doctrinal orthodoxy, while incorporating new expressions of the faith into their practice.

5. Depend on others, as members of the body of Christ, to provide those gifts they do not possess in order to function faithfully as the Church.

6. Have learned important lessons from skilled leaders who have gone before them, and have incorporated those lessons into their own mature practice of ministry.

Viewing pastors and other church leaders as artisans helps us to take a long-term approach to ministry. Apprenticeships that lasted seven years required patience, consistency, and perseverance from both master artisan and apprentice. However, by taking the long view , artisans created beautiful products and an enduring legacy. Pastors could learn from their example.

An Unwelcomed and Unexpected Illness

It’s 11:12 PM on Friday night, March 8, 2013. I cannot sleep despite having taken several medications that are supposed to relieve the pain I’m having. Yesterday, after two weeks of agonizing symptoms and three trips to hospital emergency rooms, a neurologist diagnosed me with idiopathic peripheral neuropathy, a fancy way of saying I have unexplained pain, numbness, and weakness in my legs, arms, and other parts of my body.

During his examination, he determined that I no longer have reflexes in my legs and arms. You know the test: the doctor whacks you on the knee with a rubber hammer and your leg pops up involuntarily. Except mine doesn’t, not even slightly. I am now walking with the aid of either a cane or a walker because the bottoms of my feet are numb, and my legs give way without warning.

Needless to say, this is an unwelcomed and unexpected situation. I am an extremely healthy person. I lost 40 pounds last year eating a low-fat vegan diet, just like Bill Clinton does. My heart, which has been tested three different times over the past two weeks, was described by the cardiologist as “as good as it gets.” My blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood sugar are all well within the optimum ranges.

In January of this year, I contracted a nasty virus and was sick for three weeks. I was so sick that my wonderful church family gave me the entire month off to recuperate. I had only been back to work three weeks when the first of my symptoms began to appear. On Monday I will have a MRI, and on Tuesday a nerve conductivity test where apparently you become a human pin cushion to measure the speed and conductivity of nerves throughout the body.

To be on this side of illness is a new experience for me. I now know why when I visit my members in the hospital, their arms are black-and-blue from the IV ports inserted in them. I am more able to empathize with the loss of dignity in times of illness as others talk about your bodily functions and as you lie half-naked on an uncomfortable gurney hoping you’re not putting on a show for those passing by.

The other part of this experience is to be on the receiving end of love and care demonstrated by my community and congregation. Members have brought food, sent flowers, loaned me a recliner and a walker, have prayed, visited, and expressed their concern over and over again. I have found that it is encouraging to have someone visit when you’re sick. I do feel supported, loved, and cared for by the people I have called my flock for almost 9 years.

Debbie and I do not know if this condition is permanent or temporary. In either event, we do know that God is walking with us down this road, whether the journey is long or brief. Most importantly, we feel God’s presence in the cards, calls, visits, food, flowers, and expressions of concern from our church family.

I’m learning some new things about the ways of God. Not that God caused this illness, or even would will it on me or anyone, but I am learning that in the midst of difficulty, God is present in Spirit and in the lives of the people in whose hearts he lives and reigns. I hope to be back soon with a regular schedule of sermons and thoughts on small church life, but for now I’m on my own journey to the cross and empty tomb, but I’m not on it alone.

The Five People A Pastor Needs In Church

With apologies to Mitch Albom, here’s my take on the five people a pastor needs in church.

  1. A friend. Because pastors are human beings, we need a social network of friends.  But some pastors continue to believe that a pastor can’t be friends with people in his or her congregation.  A pastor should not play favorites among church members, but that is far different than valuing the friendship of some members.  Friends are the ones who keep your kids, invite you out to eat, drop by unannounced, and care about what’s happening in your life.  Friends know the real you, and pastors need friends in church who know us in all of our humanity.
  2. A counselor. Pastors need friends, but they also need counselors.  Usually you only need one or two, but you need a wise, thoughtful person in the congregation who will give you an honest assessment of your ideas, vision, and goals.  The Bible itself presents the idea that there is “wisdom in many counselors.”
  3. A pray-er. Not a prayer, but a pray-er — someone who prays for you and the church.  Daily.  Regularly.  Fervently.  Paul encourages young Timothy to offer prayers for leaders, and church leaders need people who pray regularly for them.  The legendary story of Charles Spurgeon’s “power plant” — the prayer room at his church — needs to be realized in our churches today.  Pastors should be at the top of somebody’s prayer list.
  4. A critic. Of course, critics seem to be in abundant supply in many churches.  But pastors do need critics, too.  We need critics to offer the counterpoint to our ideas, vision, and dreams.  While praise is wonderful, we learn from criticism, especially when it is honest, helpful, and loving.
  5. A supporter. In every church I have served, I have enjoyed great support from wonderful people.  Supporters aren’t just fans of the pastor.  Supporters are genuinely enthusiastic about the pastor’s leadership, the direction of the church, Continue reading “The Five People A Pastor Needs In Church”

Thinking About a DMin Program? Ask Yourself 5 Questions

If you have a Master of Divinity degree, you might be thinking about taking the next step academically — obtaining a doctoral level degree.  If so, I’d recommend you check into a Doctor of Ministry program, a practical theology degree rooted in the practice of ministry.  One advantage to DMin programs is they are designed around a working pastor’s life and do not require full-time residential study like PhD programs, so you can stay in your current ministry field while completing your degree.  As a matter of fact, most DMin programs require that you have 2-3 years ministry experience before entering a program.  If you don’t have an MDiv, Some programs will let you combine your Master’s level work and DMin work in a longer program.

While they do offer flexibility, DMin programs are not without their challenges.  Ask yourself these 5 questions if you think you want to get your Doctor of Ministry degree:

  1. Do I have time? Fuller Seminary (where I am pursuing my DMin) estimates that DMin candidates need 15-20 hours a week to devote to reading and study before and after each seminar.  I’m getting ready for my final seminar now (yay!), and I have been reading almost non-stop since November, 2009.  Reading takes time, and some days my schedule doesn’t allow it.  Fuller requires 4,500 pages of reading for a 12-hour course, and 3,000 for an 8-hour course.  I’m doing 8, but that’s still 12 complete books and 2-page book reviews of each.
  2. Will my church support me? Most DMin applications will require church approval because DMin work is done in the local church setting.  The benefits are that a DMin program makes you a better pastor, and provides the church with the latest thinking in your chosen field of study.  The downside is that it will take some of your time, and you need church support to be able to say, “I’m sorry, but I’m writing a paper tomorrow.”  My church has been very gracious and supportive since I began my DMin in 2006.
  3. Can I commit 4-7 years to the process? Fuller allows a total of 7 years to complete the degree, but it could be finished in 3-4 years, including the final project.  Changing churches in the middle of the program is not unheard of, but may interrupt your academic schedule.  I took a year off the program while we were building the community center here because I didn’t have extra time to devote to both.  I’m still on-track to finish early, but not by much.
  4. Do I want an accredited degree or just the title? A wide variety of programs exist under the DMin banner.  Some are accredited by real accrediting agencies, some are not.  Some require little more than light reading, a short paper, and a big check to grant a degree.  You have to decide if you want to be called “Doctor” more than you want to learn.  Resume’ inflation doesn’t happen just in the business world.
  5. What criteria will I use to select a DMin program? When I selected Fuller, I did so because Fuller offered the option of individualized learning tracks, and I liked the schedule of 2 weeks on campus each year.  Some DMin programs meet more frequently, some are designed for commuting students, and some can be partially completed by distance learning.   However, some programs are pre-defined so that all DMin students take the same courses.  You’ll have to decide what you want to study, where you want to enroll, and what schedule you need.  Of course, there’s also the little detail of paying for it, too.

I am delighted with my DMin program at Fuller and would recommend their program to anyone interested in this degree.  But, other fine programs exist that might suit your needs better.  A DMin program requires commitment on the part of church and pastor, enough time to do the work and complete the program, and careful scheduling of courses.  Are any of you considering a DMin, and if so, what decision-making process did you go through?  I’d love to hear from you!

Where do you serve?

I had the privilege of speaking at the Convocation on the Rural Church, sponsored by Duke Divinity School this month.  The conference setting was the beautiful Kingston Plantation Resort at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and the weather was great for a few days at the beach.

The group attending the Convocation on the Rural Church were United Methodist pastors because much of the funding came from the Duke endowment.  We had a wonderful 3-days with the group of about 100 pastors and spouses.

The first night of the conference we all gathered for a kick-off banquet.  Debbie and I found our seats at a table with 6 other men and women.  As we got to know each other, we noticed that the question of location came up several times.

But instead of asking, “Where is your church located?”  or “What church do you pastor?”  The question was almost always asked this way —

Where do you serve?

Debbie noticed it first, and then I started to pay attention to how these rural United Methodist pastors identified themselves.  The idea of service, not status, prevailed throughout the conference.  Of course, maybe I’m making a mountain out of the proverbial mole hill.  But I was touched, if I may get a little maudlin here, by the phrase used throughout the event, as one pastor identified him or herself to another.

“Where do you serve?” seems a much more genteel and appropriate question than “What church do you pastor?” The emphasis is on ministry as service, not status, and I liked that.  I’m going to try to remember to ask that question the next time I meet a pastor and need to know where he or she ministers.  “Where do you serve?” is a great way to identify what we do as pastors and leaders.

All Search Committees are Liars, But Not Intentionally

If you have ever dealt with a pastor or staff search committee, you perhaps noticed a significant gap in what the committee told you during the search process, and the reality at the church once you arrived.  This is known as Search Committee Syndrome — the tendency for search committees to overstate, underplay, hope-for-the-best, or be clueless about their own church.

Search Committee Syndrome affects 100% of search committees according to the latest study by The Search Committee Institute based in Nashville, Tennessee.  According to the executive director, Reverend Ben D. Seevd, “search committees can’t help themselves, but they really mean no harm.”

Try telling that to the pastor who was assured by the search committee “of course, we want to grow” followed by “we’ll do whatever it takes to reach people.”

This phenomenon seems to cut across all denominational lines, and even extends to non-denominational churches that are really cool and have their own baristas.

Indicators that Search Committee Syndrome might be present in a group are:

  1. The group is called a “Search Committee.”
  2. The group consists of men and/or women.
  3. The group wants to find the best person for the job, including the person God has chosen, (assuming that he or she is willing to accept the salary package they have chosen).
  4. The group conducts meetings.

So, there you have it.  By using these four surefire Search Committee Syndrome indicators, you can be prepared in advance when dealing with your next search committee.  Remember:  all search committees are liars, but not intentionally.  That will make the next five years of sorting out conflict much easier, according to Rev. Ben D. Seevd, who apparently speaks both from his extensive research, and a sad personal history.

Caution: there is no cure for Search Committee Syndrome.  Furthermore, it can be contagious, spilling over into Resume Inflation Syndrome, I’ve Got To Get Out of Here Syndrome, and I Hear God Calling Me Elsewhere Syndrome.  Be careful out there.

5 Lessons I Did Not Learn in Seminary

Browsing in a Barnes & Nobles today, I saw a book titled, Lies My Teacher Told Me.  Apparently the author takes issue with some historical stuff he thinks is misrepresented in public education.  The title of that book got me to thinking about my seminary experience.  While I would not accuse my professors of lying to me,  I did learn that there are some lessons seminary never teaches you.  

  1. Ministry can be lonely.   Nobody prepared me for the isolation of single staff ministry.   Seminary campus life provides a rich mix of faculty, students, and organizations in a collegial atmosphere.  But when I left seminary to take my first church, there were long afternoons when I wished I was on the campus again.  
  2. You can’t please everybody.  I guess I knew you couldn’t please everybody, but I thought good pastors tried to.  Or at least tried to get along with everybody.  I quickly ran into agendas about church, community, and family that I never anticipated.  We made lots of friends in those early churches, but we realized we couldn’t please everybody.
  3. Not everyone sees your vision.  I had lots of ideas for my first full-time church, and we put a lot of them into practice.  But not everyone thought new people were a blessing to our church.  Not everyone thought we ought to spend money to improve our Sunday School. Not everyone was thrilled when we set new records on high attendance Sunday.  Not everybody got it, but enough did that we made significant progress.
  4. There are not enough hours in a day.  Or days in a week.  Or weeks in a month.  As a new pastor, I tried to do it all.  I made pastoral promises for my time and attention that stretched me too thin.  Some days I resented the intrusion into what I thought was my “personal” life.  It took a long time to find a rhythm of public ministry and private life that was both challenging and encouraging.  
  5. You have to manage yourself.  Managing time is one thing, but managing your emotional response at times of great disappointment or opposition provides a real challenge.  I don’t think I ever heard a professor talk about “self-management” in difficult moments.  I learned some of those lessons the hard way.  Fortunately, churches are forgiving of a young pastor’s missteps.  However, those lessons need to be learned early, as later pastorates might not be so generous.  

Well, there you are.  Five things I never learned in seminary.  I’m sure there are more.  What are some of your post-seminary lessons?