Pastoral Ministry for the 21st century

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In reviewing “Transform Your Church”[1] and “Primitive Piety”[2], this essay sets out to summarise the key arguments found in the two books, critically analyse these key points, and finally develop a personal model for ministry in the light of the reading. Having been a pastor for over 20 years, reading these two books made me think about my own pastoral practices and reflecting on the strengths and shortcomings in my own ministry. This reflection is included in the personal model for ministry that I am proposing in this essay.

In his book, “Transform Your Church”, Beasley-Murray looks at the various facets of church life and ministry and provokes thinking and reflection on each of these facets in order to help pastors and church leaders strengthen these areas within the church. Beasley-Murray sums up the purpose of this book as providing a stimulus to “enable churches to have a greater impact on the communities they serve”[3]. The 50 reflective chapters are divided into 6 main parts – ministry, church membership, pastoral care, mission, leadership and Sunday services. Each of the 50 chapters ends with Bible passages for the reader to reflect on.

I also chose to review “Primitive Piety” because I was intrigued by the title. Pastoring a suburban church, I was interested in reading what Stackhouse had to say about developing passionate Christians. The argument he makes is that by and large Christianity in middle-class suburbs has has lost the passion that the early church had. Christianity has become something nice to be a part of but has no relevance to the reality of life. Christianity has exchanged “the mysteries and the paradoxes of the historic faith” with “the mood and sensibilities of polite society”[4]. Stackhouse’s purpose in writing this book is to help the church rediscover “Christianity with all the angst left in; faith that is forged at the intersection of tragedy and triumph, rather than upon the criteria of being fun or boring”[5]. The book has three parts. Stackhouse articulates a theology of worship and prayer in the first part, going on to explore the place of emotions in the Christian faith in the second part, and in the third, looks at what a Christian community would look like if primitive piety was allowed to flourish within it. Stackhouse ends by giving a fresh new vision for holiness.

Both Beasley-Murray and Stackhouse, in their respective books, stressed the need for the church to rediscover what it means to be church. Whilst Beasley-Murray focuses on the practical facets of being church, Stackhouse raises the challenge for the church to move from being something that is comfortable and entertaining to rediscovering what it means to be following a crucified Saviour and the discomfort that comes in following him.

To me Beasley-Murray reveals the most important aspect to transforming one’s church in Part 1 where he focuses on ministry. It is important that spiritual health and discipline is a high priority if pastors are to remain committed for the long haul. A study on the impact a pastor’s spiritual practices has on burnout showed that there were several common factors that kept pastors strong through the stressful times in ministry. These factors include their personal devotional times, not giving in to the tyranny of the urgent or having unrealistic expectations, and to maintain a balanced life.[6] Beasley-Murray in a simple, yet practical way, presents steps that would help pastors maintain their spiritual health through stressful times in ministry. There are lots of demands either put on pastors’ lives, or, which pastors unnecessary put upon themselves. It is important for pastors not to allow these false expectations to drive them in ministry but rather, remain faithful to Jesus.[7] When not driven by success, a pastor is able to achieve a healthy work-rest balance. By adding regular spiritual retreats and annual appraisals, pastors are not only taking time to monitor their spiritual health, but they are also keeping themselves accountable by doing what is right and maintaining a correct balance in their life. By focusing on spiritual practices, work-rest balance and creating accountability systems as a means to preserve spiritual health, Beasley-Murray presents, in my opinion, an easy-to-follow formula for pastors looking at serving for the long haul.

The strength Stackhouse presents in “Primitive Piety” is the challenge to rediscover the radical edge of being a church that embraces the messiness and paradoxes of the Christian faith. Stackhouse found that in pastoral ministry he was dealing with actual lives not ideal lives – lives where marriages fail, children go astray, loved ones die in car accidents, and women suffer with the pain of loneliness. Instead of offering advice to help fix people’s lives, Stackhouse, in his pastoral ministry, chose to work with the Holy Spirit by discerning what the Spirit was doing in people’s lives that were as yet unfinished.[8] Having been through a couple of decades in pastoral ministry, Stackhouse makes a plea for the church to leave “suburban piety”, a term coined by theologian P.T. Forsyth to describe middle class respectable Christian faith, and to return to “primitive piety”, the authentic, apostolic and a more gritty faith of the early church that includes honest lament, dogged prayer, raw emotions, and heart-felt passion.

Whilst I found Beasley-Murray very basic and simple in his presentation on the pastoral ministry, I found it a harsh reminder of areas that I have neglected in my own ministry. Because of this, I have started reading the book again, this time at a slower pace, to digest some of the practical thoughts he presents in his book. Within the 50 chapters he has covered everything relevant to the pastoral ministry. On the other hand I found Stackhouse very challenging. He paints a picture of the kind of leadership that nurtures the primitive piety within the church; a leadership that goes beyond professional and managerial to one that puts sacrifice and servanthood at the very centre.

Beasley-Murray is writing for pastors of churches that practice suburban piety rather than primitive piety. He has created a framework for a pastoral ministry that makes the pastor a professional who provides comfort and security for the congregation. However, he does not deal with what sacrifices a pastor has to make to help people through very messy and broken times in their lives. There is a rapidly changing cultural, religious and social reality in New Zealand society that many “suburban piety” Christian pastors do not know how to deal with. They defend suburban piety because they see it as coming under attack and they try hard to change people coming into their church to become practitioners of suburban piety. The end result is that Christians do not fully understand that following Jesus calls for a drastic abandonment of their life in order to glorify God and live with radical obedience to the Great Commission. I see this lack of understanding as a reality in my church.

Many in my church who have been Christians for years would love to see the church following the 50 steps presented by Beasley Murray. They agree in the importance of ministry, church membership, pastoral care, mission, leadership and Sunday services within the life of the church. This is evidenced by the running of various activities in the church with the hope that the church would reach non-Christians. They however, struggle to relate to people outside the church environment because they find the world as very secular. It is difficult for them to relate to new Christians, or seekers, who come into the church community and hold different spiritual or moral views. For the newcomers to be members of the church, they need to be discipled so that they can practice respectable suburban piety.

Stackhouse brings a refreshing challenge to the church. He builds on what Beasley-Murray writes and then expands on the role of the pastor. A pastor is a professional who is both a spiritual shepherd and a manager. Stackhouse goes on to talk about the prophetic and priestly role the pastor plays as well[9], whereby the pastor looks beyond the niceties and learns to love the church and the community where it is located, in all its messiness, brokenness and idiosyncrasies. This is why the pastor needs a faith that gets angry, a faith that embraces and befriends our desires, and a faith that is enjoyed and knows how to laugh.

In conclusion I would like to present a 5 part model of ministry based on the readings.

Spiritual health                                                                                    

To maintain spiritual health, a pastor needs to focus on three areas – the spiritual practices which include; prayer, personal Bible study and spiritual retreats, a work-rest balance that ensures the pastor remains faithful in their calling to God’s work; personal rest and refreshing and spouse and family time, and finally accountability systems that help them keep stock of the first two areas. The accountability systems include; annual reviews, having a spiritual supervisor and mentors. These practices would help pastors maintain their health through stressful times as suggested by Beasley-Murray.

Fellowship

The apostle Paul describes what the church is like. “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Genesis 3: 26-28). A church is a fellowship of differences – people who are different culturally, or ethnically, different in class and status in society, different in gender and age – but all united in Christ Jesus. Being a pastor is not about assimilating people into the church family by making them like the existing church, but rather, accommodating people through a flexible church making the change to welcome people different from themselves. Opportunities for sharing of spiritual journeys, listening to and praying for one another, and practicing relational disciplines help deepen fellowship. This process takes the church from practising suburban piety to practicing primitive piety.

Worship

Stackhouse suggests that we need worship that has mystery and terror and a more honest prayer that moves away from mere politeness. Worship then is primarily a focus on a transcendent God who is on His throne. The worship service must allow worshippers to see God for who He really is and see themselves for who they really are allowing them to make the appropriate response. Worship is not just about “singing that is neither here no there”[10] but includes the full biblical drama of lament, joy, praise, declaration and so on. It is important that a balance is kept in worship by planning the worship well and including various worship ingredients like praise, prayer, Bible reading, sermon and the breaking of bread[11]. To do that the pastor or worship leader must develop a liturgy of worship each week that has a full expressional range that makes worship more than just singing[12] and uses all our senses, allowing everyone to participate, stiring our imagination and emotions and connecting people together as they worship God.

Discipleship

Stackhouse champions the reality of a Crucified Saviour over something more palatable to suburban sensitivities. In other words, in discipleship it is important to present the true and radical Christ, not one who is softened to be made acceptable. This would only feed into people’s need for a suburban piety. Creeds were once an important part of the church and there is a need to regain these bold statements of belief that united the early church as followers of Christ[13]. In discipleship, a follower of Christ needs to know what they believe. As they learn and understand the statement of belief it helps them grow and understand their faith. But faith without works is dead. Christians also need to know how to put their faith into practice in the messy and broken world they live in and not live in a spiritual bubble that is safe and isolated from the world. The faith that is nurtured in suburban discipleship must be lived out in a hard and tough world through primitive piety.

Mission

Finally, as Christ-followers go out into a messy and broken world to make disciples, the fire of passion must be lit in their heart causeing them to go out and practice a hospitality that is radical. Stackhouse argues for God’s people to stop practicing the hospitality of suburban piety that chooses people similar to those within the existing church. Instead, the call is for the practice of a hospitality of primitive piety that invites the stranger and uncomfortable friend to be a guest of equality. A disciple on mission would not just do outreach and practice hospitality by running programmes in church for people to come to. Instead they go out into the messy world they live in and engage with people who make them uncomfortable, sit and have a meal with them and engage them as a friend who needs the grace of God in their lives. This is the real Christianity that transforms communities[14].

[1] Paul Beasley-Murray, Transform Your Church: 50 Very Practical Steps (UK: Intervarsity Press, 2005).

[2] Ian Stackhouse, Primitive Piety: A Journey from Suburban Mediocrity to Passionate Christianity (UK: Paternosta, 2012).

[3] Beasley-Murray, Transform Your Church: 50 Very Practical Steps, 3.

[4] Stackhouse, Primitive Piety: A Journey from Suburban Mediocrity to Passionate Christianity, 3–4.

[5] Ibid., 6.

[6] “The Impact of Pastor’s Spiritual Practices on Burnout: EBSCOhost,” n.d., n.p. [cited 21 September 2014]. Online: http://library.laidlaw.ac.nz:2180/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=4&sid=1b97f997-2efc-48e2-bf29-4325e6f786c6%40sessionmgr4005&hid=4201.

[7] Beasley-Murray, Transform Your Church: 50 Very Practical Steps, 17–18.

[8] Stackhouse, Primitive Piety: A Journey from Suburban Mediocrity to Passionate Christianity, 24.

[9] Ibid., 102.

[10] Ibid., 27.

[11] Beasley-Murray, Transform Your Church: 50 Very Practical Steps, 176–177.

[12] Stackhouse, Primitive Piety: A Journey from Suburban Mediocrity to Passionate Christianity, 30.

[13] Ibid., 18.

[14] Ibid., 121.

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