Fuller’s DMIN program has a diversity of ministry leaders, some serving in the church, some in other areas. This DMINI article is focused towards pastors. Let me know what you think.
Churches in the United States and elsewhere are living in difficult times. Denominational leaders and pastors realize that many congregations experience dysfunction and decline. Paul confessed to the feelings of many contemporary pastors when he wrote: “When we arrived in Macedonia, there was no rest for us. We faced conflict from every direction, with battles on the outside and fear on the inside” (2 Corinthians 7:5 NLT). Battles on the outside and fear on the inside—pastors know this reality.
Eugene Peterson once said: “Being a pastor, if called to it, is the best life there is.” And yet, it is often a difficult life for pastors. A challenge faced by many pastors is the conflicting expectations placed on them by their congregations. Some see the primary role of pastors as caring for the needs of the congregation. Others see the primary role of pastors as equipping the congregation to be sent outward in mission. People in the congregation would agree that both roles are vital and essential, and yet in talking to pastors in the field, as I do on a daily basis, I hear the frustration and the ache that comes from trying to navigate what appears to be conflicting primary purposes. The tension leads to depression and despair for pastoral leaders, and to disharmony and inertia in churches.
The church needs a paradigm of caring and sending to offer a new framework for ministry leaders and provide encouragement those who are caught in the tensions and complexities of local church life. This includes:
- a fresh, biblical basis for the role of pastor in changing contexts and
- developing a compelling vision for how those called to serve as pastors might lead
- living out a calling to care and disciple a congregation
- equipping and sending the congregation out in mission
Decades ago, Ralph Winter, missiologist and founder of the US Center for World Mission, spoke of two types of God’s redemptive mission in the world:
On one hand the structure we call the New Testament church is a prototype of all subsequent Christian fellowships where old and young, male and female are gathered together as normal biological families in aggregate (a modality). On the other hand, Paul’s missionary band can be considered a prototype of all subsequent missionary endeavors organized out of committed, experienced workers who affiliated themselves as a second decision beyond membership in the first structure (a sodality). (The Two Structures of God’s Redemptive Mission).
I suggest that it is not necessary to view the work of pastors and an entire congregation, as either a modality, or a sodality. Rather, the mission of a local church is to be both a place of caring and sending, and pastors of these congregations engage in efforts to equip and encourage those aspects.
Recent books and conferences in the missional conversation have placed a high value on the outward focused (apostolic) roles of ministry leaders sometimes disparaging the shepherding role of pastors in the process. Other conversations have so focused on the pastor as caregiver that the outward orientation of ministry is lost. The two aspects of pastoral, and congregational, ministry need to be brought together, viewing pastoral work and the world of a local congregation as both communities of care and discipleship, and a missionary enterprise engaging their neighborhoods.
Foundational to this emphasis is a conviction about the importance of the local church. The local church is a worshiping, discipling, and nurturing community moving outward in witness and mission. Ministry is never abstract; it is always practiced in the local, the concrete, the ordinary, and the routine. The ordinary work of the local congregation is a sacred task. Pastors serve in this embedded space—working to form a people in worship, community and discipleship, and encouraging witness and service in the neighborhood. Recognizing the importance of the five-fold gifting mentioned in Ephesians 4, apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, I suggest that pastors in local settings become the hinge and the catalyst for both the externally focused ministries (sending), and the internally focused (caring) ministries of the church.
What do you think? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org