aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Questions, Part 4 – Best practices for the clergy

In the examination of new clergy before the Annual Conference, there are only three questions asking for commitments regarding pastoral practice. They are as follows.
14. Will you diligently instruct the children in every place?
15. Will you visit from house to house?
16. Will you recommend fasting or abstinence, both by precept and example?
Looking over these questions, I want to ask, Why these three? Are we specifically asked about these because they are more important than other things we could be doing? Or are we asked about these because these are typically the things that get ignored in our attempts to wrap our arms around the task to be done? Either way, when I look at what clergy I know are actually doing – including very successful clergy, pastoring large and successful congregations, who write all those books and lead all those seminars in “How We Do It At Mega-Miracle Church” – I don’t see a lot of emphasis on these things. This should lead us to re-examine the meaning of “success” in pastoral practice.

Over the years of my work, in every pastorate I served, I knew the name of every child in my church. And I made it a point to spend quality time with them. I guest-taught in their Sunday School classes, I did youth work, I led retreats, I taught the PRAY (Scouting) awards and VBS. Once I had a 5-year-old boy whose dog had been run over in the driveway by his dad (ouch), and I went to call on him at home. His mother asked me about the purpose of my call, and I said I was there to see Austin. I told him I was sorry about his dog, and he took me out in the backyard and showed me where they buried him and talked to me about his dog. I couldn’t “fix” the hurt, and didn’t try; I was just there to show him that he counted as much with me as the adults did; I was his pastor, too. Nowadays, a lot of churches shuffle the kids off to “children’s church,” which I think is really bad liturgical practice. “Oh, we’re doing things on their level there,” my colleagues say. Baloney. You’re getting rid of them so you can change what worship feels like for the adults. This is bad for kids, and it’s bad for adults. One of John Wesley’s preachers told him once upon a time that he didn’t feel that he had a call from God to work with the young. That was too bad, Wesley replied, because the job description included working with the young, call or not (hint from Mr. W: if you want to keep your job, you’ll get a call real fast). I note that we are not only asked to “instruct the children in every place,” but diligently to instruct them.

As for doing pastoral calls, society has changed a great deal since I started out. People no longer know how to receive guests – including the pastor – in their homes. They’re frantically busy, they’re embarrassed at the wreck their house is in, the art of conversation has decayed. Unless there’s a specific need to be addressed or a social event, the clergy really aren’t expected to drop by. Most pastoral calls center on hospitals and nursing homes. Yet it remains important for the clergy to get out there and meet the people on their turf. It’s too easy to sell Jesus wholesale from your holy warehouse, doing church admin, preparing the next Sunday blockbuster show, holding meetings on the premises. It’s far harder to go retailing Jesus where people actually live. Now “their turf” includes not only their homes, but their workplaces, their schools (including athletic and arts performances), even the post office downtown – so long as something significant is exchanged and not merely a “howdy.” Pastors need to get out and meet people in circumstances other than their religious fortress. And people need the witness of God’s presence where they live and work and play. Now, back in the day, Class Leaders participated in this shepherding activity, and in all but the smallest congregations today’s pastors need the laity’s assistance in providing pastoral care. But it remains true that life is lived out there, and if you think your work is all in here, then you won’t be very effective, no matter how large a congregation you lead.

Of all the spiritual disciplines, fasting or abstinence seems the least well understood and practiced. Nowadays, Protestants as well as Catholics often “give something up for Lent,” but that’s about as far as it goes. Except for dieting, which obsesses many people; however, dieting is not the same as fasting. No doubt, “every missed meal can be a fast” if only your spirit is right, but most people aren’t thinking about God as they struggle to lose weight. That said, some of the pastors whom I respect the most for their spiritual maturity do fasting as a frequent practice. They don’t brag about it, but they don’t shy away from talking about it, either. I’m guessing that if we want to recover the spiritual power we’ve lost as a movement, we need to start taking this seriously again – all of us.

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