On aging and succession planning in ministry
Congregations: do you have an aging pastor? Has your leadership had frank discussions with him about how he (and they) are planning together for how this will inevitably take place?
I would strongly urge pastors (especially aging pastors) to watch this video together with their leadership as a discussion-starter for this needed conversation.
HT to Collin Hansen; read his observations about the video here.
Moving far from home, part 3
Back to my friend "Brian" who lives in Colorado, and his family is in South Carolina. Here's another observation Brian had, this time about his children's relationship with their grandparents.
Brian has several children, so naturally his parents (and his wife's parents) try to come visit as often as they can. Brian's wife has a sister who still lives in their hometown, so there's an interesting contrast between how Brian's mother-in-law and father-in-law relate to his children in comparison to his nieces and nephews.
Here's what Brian has noticed: his in-laws are a part of the "regular life" of his nieces and nephews. Because they live in the same town, the in-laws can attend school functions, recitals, etc., and see the kids on a regular basis. At the same time, the nature of "regular life" is such that they rarely get extended, uninterrupted time with their grandchildren.
On the other hand, when the in-laws come out Brian's way, they have regularly kept the kids home from school, and Brian has taken a few vacation days. Brian's family gives their undivided attention to his in-laws, as much as possible.
The contrast is significant. In a recent conversation with his mother-in-law, Brian and his wife learned that they (his in-laws) feel like they know Brian's children better, and that the children know them better, than their other grandchildren-- because Brian and his family live far away.
Obviously this would not be the case if Brian's in-laws were unable (because of schedule, money, health, etc.) to travel the great distance to see Brian's family. But since they are, in their case at least this is a surprising answer to what is surely a great concern for many.
For All the Saints endorsement/review
Ed Eubanks is wise to tremble, as he says, at the prospect of writing a book on prayer, but I am glad that the women’s prayer ministry at his church in western Tennessee prevailed upon him to set aside his understandable timidity and write this practical little treatise on praying for the church. The topics covered in the space of just 88 pages range widely over a number of arenas needing focused intercession from “all the saints”. Prayer in behalf of Christ’s church is both our great privilege and the source of spiritual power in being and doing all that our Sovereign Lord has designed and destined the church to be and do. Some of these areas of focus in prayer include unity, the ministry of Word and Sacrament, church discipline and restoration, fellowship and growth, the lost, renewal and revival, suffering, church leadership and the return of Christ. The section at the end of each chapter called “prayer summary” is worth the price of the book. Together these sections compose an impressive prayer list for those committed to upholding their church in prayer. Few have been able to compose something on prayer that is sensitive to the theology of prayer while being intensely practical in providing specific guidance in what to pray. Many will find, as I have, this little book to be large in usefulness."
recently Senior Pastor of Twin Oaks Presbyterian Church, Ballwin, Missouri.
Challenging the conventional wisdom on Ministerial Calls
Trueman observes that the practice often is in conflict with similar practices in other parts of our congregational life:
I have often wondered why it is in Presbyterian circles (and probably other churches too) that we routinely call men in their twenties, straight from seminary, to be ministers when we would never dream of calling someone of such an age to be a ruling elder. It seems odd to apply the biblical norms only to the latter.
I think he is more right than wrong here. I know at Covenant Seminary, where I studied, there is a requirement that a man must have at least three years of pastoral ministry behind him before beginning a Doctor of Ministry program; I have wondered why a similar requirement is not made for those who would enter the ministry. Why not at least one or the other of the following: either several years of work experience in secular employment, or several years of ministry experience as an intern, pastoral assistant, or non-ordained ministry position?
Trueman goes on to point out that, too often, churches and presbyteries simply rely on seminaries to do their jobs for them, with regard to determining whether a man is fit for ministry. If they have completed seminary, the conventional wisdom goes, they must have some "chops" that make them suitable as a pastor. He makes the following point about that:
What is needed is a clear understanding that seminaries are not presbyteries: they do not make any judgment on suitability for ministry; they simply teach the necessary technical theological skills at the appropriate level.
He concludes with a poignant reminder about achievement and potential vs. fitness and qualification for ministry:
An MDiv degree, a congregational vote, an `internal call' and an act of presbytery do not mean that a man is really called by God to be a minister.
This is much-needed re-thinking. I know that our presbytery has ordained men on these bases, when in fact several of us have had serious questions about whether they were truly ready to serve the church as pastors-- or whether we were setting them up (and their congregations as well) for potential devastation.
Read all of the posts here:
Some Questions and Thoughts on Ministerial Calls I
Some Questions and Thoughts on Ministerial Calls II
Moving far from home, part 2
Now let's consider a comment from "John" whose family is from Alabama, and who is now a pastor in California. Here's what John said:
"The best advice I received was from [a seminary professor] who said, 'you just need to negotiate into your terms of call that they will fly your whole family home once a year.' So we did-- and now there's a line-item in the church budget for $2,500 of airfare for my whole family to fly back!"
This is a great idea. Airfare is expensive enough for one or two, but John and his wife have several children. For most pastors, the cost would simply be prohibitive to think of paying for that every year, or even every other year. Or at very least, it might keep them from being able to afford other vacation time, as a couple or as a family.
With John's arrangement, however, they are free to simply not worry about the biggest part of the costs of visiting family. The first year they were there, John and his family flew back to Alabama around Christmas-- about six months after they had moved. Surely this was a great comfort, both to John's family and to their extended families.
The upside of this, among other things, is that the burden of traveling expenses is carried by neither John's family nor their parents or siblings. It's easy to think that extended family might simply travel out to see them in California, but that can get costly too (even if it is only one set of parents, with airfare for only two instead of five or six). This solution tempers that problem, at least a bit.
The downside, obviously, is that this represents a substantial financial commitment for the congregation. Some congregations may not be able to afford it. Others, while sympathetic, may not be willing to make such a large investment. (I would counter the latter, however, by pointing back to Brian's comment about how hard the decision can be to move so far from family, and suggesting that an unwilling approach in the short term may have unfavorable consequences in the longer term.)
On effective succession planning in pastoral ministry
Churches seem to settle quickly into the assumption that, now that they have a pastor, he's there for good! And some great churches have seen devastating results as a consequence of that neglect. On the other hand, the exceptions prove the rule here; think about the congregations (or even large ministries) that you know of that have had a strong, capable leader follow another, and go on to advance the existing ministry even further than their predecessor did. I can count on one hand those that come to my mind.
That's one reason why this Gospel Coalition article from Collin Hansen, "Gospel Integrity and Pastoral Succession," is so valuable.
Hansen holds out Tim Keller and Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan as a current example of effective succession planning. Few churches in our day have ministries as strong and with as great an impact as Redeemer, and few pastors are as recognizable as Keller. Yet Keller and the leadership of Redeemer have put in place a succession plan that spans the next 10 years, and surely lays a foundation for the future leaders to build upon. Hansen comments:
The succession plan corresponds with a larger ministry reorientation for Redeemer. For about 20 years, Redeemer grew as members invited their friends to hear the exceptional music and Keller’s compelling sermons. Without Keller as a draw, however, the church’s strategy will need to change. Church leaders and members will need to become more missional.
Hansen goes on to consider several other prominent examples, all learning from the foibles of others in church history who, great though the leaders were, failed to adequately consider the need for a strong succession plan.
Succession isn’t simple. It isn’t smooth. It’s not often successful. Yet it’s a matter of gospel integrity. God doesn’t promise our churches will evermore yield wide influence through a preacher’s exceptional leadership. Surely, however, we can testify to his steadfast love by making more of Jesus Christ than ourselves. And that means planning ahead for generations who will never hear the great preacher’s voice.
Read the whole article here.
At long last
That book, now seven years in the making, is finally out! From M.Div. to Rev.: making an effective transition from seminary into pastoral ministry, is finally available. It can be had in print and digital editions.
Because the book is published by Doulos Resources, naturally I would prefer that you buy it directly through the Doulos Resources eStore.
However, it is also available through the Covenant Seminary Bookstore, as well as through Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble (if not immediately, then soon). Hopefully, more resellers (especially seminary bookstores) will be carrying it soon, as well.
Thanks to those of you who have supported the concept of this book. The wait is over! (Of course, now most of you are well-placed in ministry and your interest is merely theoretical...)
Trevin Wax on "11 Questions Every Pastor Should Ask"
His questions fall out into two general categories: About Preaching and About the Mission of the Church. In the first category, he touches on:
- Whether my sermons pointing to the "big-picture" message of Scripture
- Whether my message is distinctively a Christian/Gospel message
- How I am applying God's Word for His people
In the second set of questions, he asks questions about:
- The impact of my congregation in its context and community
- Evangelism and reaching the lost with the Gospel
- Making the best use of time and other resources
I think these are valuable questions that, as he put it, every pastor should ask-- but I would especially urge new pastors and recent seminary graduates to keep these questions frequently in mind, particularly during the first, formative years of pastoral ministry.
Read the whole post here.
Moving far from home, part 1
First let me say this: I define "a long way from home" as meaning either simply too far to drive, or far enough that it requires several days (3 whole days or more) of driving to get from where you live to where your extended family generally lives.
Also, a quick disclaimer: I realize that the question of "home" is relative for some, and it certainly is loaded with implications, spiritual and otherwise. Here I'm using it simply to mean where the larger part of your family is, whatever place (or places) that may be.
So, first up is "Brian" who grew up in South Carolina. Several years ago, Brian accepted a call to be a pastor in Colorado; when they do the drive, it takes his family 3-4 days of solid travel to get back "home."
Brian commented that the most difficult part has been this:
"When we first accepted the call, we made the decision to 'put hand to plow' and not look back. Our mistake was in thinking that was a one-time decision."
This is a powerful reflection. Brian elaborated, stating that the decision was one they kept making on a monthly, weekly, and even daily basis. That being the case, it is easy to see how that would represent a regular struggle, individually and as a family.
Does that mean that a pastor cannot effectively minister in those circumstances? Not at all; in his years of ministry, Brian has been quite effective and a great asset to his congregation. But the struggle is there nevertheless.
How have they dealt with it? In Brian's case, they have driven back most years; by scheduling a week or more of family vacation after our denominational General Assembly, Brian's church is happy to cover most or all of the gas costs as an expense related to his involvement in the assembly, and yet he and his family also get to spend an extended period with their families. Often, his wife and children will spend the week of the assembly there, as well-- amounting to even more time with their relatives.
This arrangement is a great solution. Of course, it is contingent on the congregation being strongly committed to Brian's attendance at the General Assembly all or most years, which may not be a commitment that every congregation is able or willing to make.
General Assembly seminar
The seminar will be loosely based on the topic of my booklet, Grafted Into The Vine: rethinking biblical church membership-- though the content will be quite different (and different from last year's seminar as well).
The seminar is at 8am, and is tentatively scheduled for Meeting Room(s) 4A&B. I hope to see you there!
(PS: many of the Doulos Resources titles will also be available through the PCA CE&P Bookstore, including Grafted Into The Vine.)