In my master’s program we are currently discussing a book by Eugen Peterson called, “Under the Unpredictable Plant.” We were asked by our professor to share our thoughts on one of the premises raised by Peterson: that those going into ministry are being schooled and/or trained to be “program directors” as to “spiritual directors?” Here are the thoughts I shared.
I don’t believe I was in my “educational years” but based on my practical experiences in ministry there is no doubt that Peterson’s assessment is correct that most are being trained as “program directors” once entering the vocation of pastor.
The current flow of thought in religious circles is that “bigger is better” and “the more people involved the healthier.” Have you ever wondered why the pastor of a 100 -150 member congregation is never a keynote speaker at a conference? In the mid 1920’s the membership enrollment of the KKK was over 4 million within the United States. I hope we all would agree that simply increasing enrollment numbers doesn’t equal health.
Evidence of Peterson’s assessment can be seen in the matrixes that our denominations and church leaders, at least my denomination and leaders, use to determine success. Every year I’m asked: how many people attend? How many people were sanctified? How many times did you preach? How many calls did you make? Using a matrix like those, to determine our success, ultimately causes us to view our vocation as one we can “gain mastery, position, power” over and in turn cause “us to have a daily check on our image in the mirror” (p 176).
As an associate, primarily serving in youth ministry, some of my leadership was more concerned with me providing a great “program” to keep students active in hopes of them avoiding troubling situations, than they were about student’s ability to see God in the everyday or to discern the Spirit moving in their own lives. I was encouraged to see students as monkeys in the jungle swinging on vines from event to event to event. My role was to keep the events coming so it would be something for them to look forward to and would keep the students on the vines to experience our weekly “program.” My success as a youth pastor (in the eyes of church leadership and some parents) was directly tied to how big the events were and how flashy the weekly program was. If things were going great and students were having fun I was given the keys to “Tarshish.”
How can “a Tarshish career” (p 176) be avoided when the church continually looks to the business world for insight in how to organize and lead congregations? In 1992 I accepted my first pastoral position as an associate and have served with three senior pastors. John Maxwell influenced each of them (his books, tapes and conferences) but two of them specifically pushed Maxwell’s principles upon their staffs. The principles Maxwell pushes are ones that are to enable individuals to become better leaders and therefore be in the position of control. That mentality goes against the mind-set of being a spiritual-director. “The place we stand is no longer a station of exercising control; it is a place of worship, a sacred place of adoration and mystery where we direct attention to God” (p 176). From the beginning, community of believers sought to influence the culture around them by bringing Shalom to the chaos. But now, in many ways, we are seeking the insights of culture in hopes it will enable us to be better faith communities.
I was once in a lunch gathering that included our church staff and Maxwell’s right hand man. He had just finished a morning training session for our community and we were invited to “sit at his feet” to gather deeper insights into being better at what we do. Towards the end of the gathering he made the statement that, “Leadership is simply a higher form of discipleship.” I asked him to explain that thought further and he simply went on to explain how being a better leader positions one to be a better “manager” of the demands placed upon one’s life as a pastor. If I would simply, in a practical way, apply the various “leadership lists” to my life, I would become a better pastor. It was all about what I needed to do, not “paying attention to God, calling attention to God, being attentive to God in a person or circumstance or situation” (p 181).
Not included in my post…Jesus called us to make disciples not leaders.
Peterson, Eugene. Under the Unpredictable Plant. William Eerdmans Publishing. Grand Rapids, MI. 1992.