Saints and Fatheads:  The Genius of the Church

Saints and Fatheads: The Genius of the Church

In a fictional letter to a young Pastor, Ian Stackhouse (a non-fictional minister in Guildford, age unknown/irrelevant 😉 contributing to the Baptist Journal Ministry Today UK, February 2018 Edition, writes:

“Dear Timothy,

As always, I feel very honoured that you should write to me so candidly about the things you are dealing with, but I am a bit worried, I must admit, by your growing criticisms of the congregation.  You may not like me saying this, but I put it down to these conferences your denomination insists on sending you to.  Conferences about growing your church are all very well, but if you are not careful you will end up despising the congregation you are serving.  The truth is, Timothy, we all feel disappointed from time to time by the place we have been assigned to, and it is very tempting to fantasise about being somewhere else that is more congenial to our personality, more alive in the Spirit, and – let’s face it – bigger.  But the tragedy of it is that all the while we are ministering to the people who are not there, planning for the people who we have yet to engage with, we are missing out on the wonders of the people who are there, the treasures that are sitting right under our noses had we but the generosity to notice . . . . .

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Possible Pastoral Responses…hee hee

Possible Pastoral Responses…hee hee

A humously perceptive post from Stephen Cherry here. The book that has been linked in at the end if this post is also a very good resource.

We all get it.  Some of us look for it. Some of us long for it. Many of us hate it. None of us know what to say when we hear it: ‘This is your busy time, vicar.’

So – what should we say? Here are eight ideas to try.

  • Do you think I would be talking to you if I was busy’. Pro: Cathartic – could be a bit of stress-buster. Con: tbh it is a bit rude.
  • Inane laughter or wan smile.  Pro: easier than thinking of something to say. Con: Reinforces dozy vicar stereotype.
  • ‘Well there is rather a lot to do actually, but how are you?’ Pro: First bit is true. Con. Second bit now sounds disingenuous.
  • ‘No I don’t do busy. But I do have quite a full life at the moment’. Pro:   Honest and puzzling. Con: Just a tad too pompous.
  • Burst into tears. Pro: Cathartic and turns the pastoral tables.  Con: Risky –  they might not care.
  • ‘What do you think I do the rest of the year! I’ll tell you about busy’. Pro: Might make them think about the rest of the year. Con: No it won’t.
  • ‘Hey, the schools are closed, and no one is having meetings. I am doing the pastoral thing – and that’s why I’m talking to you just now so let’s move on to something worth talking about. How’s that knee of yours.’ Pro: It started well. Con: It ended badly.
  • ‘Nope, I’m not busy… ‘ and let them pick up the thread.  Pro: Countercultural and prophetic. Con: Suggests you really have no higher purpose than listening and stuff (Hang on, is this a con?)

Now there must be better answers than those…. If you are not too busy, please share.

For more on busyness and vicaring checkout my book  http://www.sacristy.co.uk/books/ministry-resources/beyond-busyness-time-wisdom-ministry

With thanks to ‘garybirchall1, @sadgrovem and @robertlawance for the tweets that inspired this blog. Glad you were not too busy to tweet today.

 

 

 

 

 

I’m Only Human

Heard this on the radio this morning.  Loved it.  For obvious reasons.  Or not!

 

Lyrics

I’m only human
I’m only, I’m only
I’m only human, human

Maybe I’m foolish
Maybe I’m blind
Thinking I can see through this
And see what’s behind
Got no way to prove it
So maybe I’m blind
But I’m only human after all
I’m only human after all
Don’t put your blame on me
Don’t put your blame on me

Take a look in the mirror
And what do you see
Do you see it clearer
Or are you deceived
In what you believe
‘Cause I’m only human after all
You’re only human after all
Don’t put the blame on me
Don’t put your blame on me

Some people got the real problems
Some people out of luck
Some people think I can solve them
Lord heavens above
I’m only human after all
I’m only human after all
Don’t put the blame on me
Don’t put the blame on me

Don’t ask my opinion
Don’t ask me to lie
Then beg for forgiveness
For making you cry
Making you cry
‘Cause I’m only human after all
I’m only human after all
Don’t put your blame on me
Don’t put the blame on me

Oh, some people got the real problems
Some people out of luck
Some people think I can solve them
Lord heavens above
I’m only human after all
I’m only human after all
Don’t put the blame on me
Don’t put the blame on me

I’m only human
I make mistakes
I’m only human
That’s all it takes
To put the blame on me
Don’t put the blame on me

I’m no prophet or Messiah
Should go looking somewhere higher
I’m only human after all
I’m only human after all
Don’t put the blame on me
Don’t put the blame on me

I’m only human
I do what I can
I’m just a man
I do what I can
Don’t put the blame on me
Don’t put your blame on me

Written by Rory Charles Graham, Jamie Hartman • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Lord, being a pastor is impossible!

Lord, being a pastor is impossible!

I am re-reading the brilliant book by Dave Hansen ‘The Art of Pastoring’ and the same day I came across this wonderful article by Mandy Smith re-printed below.hansen

There is a dynamic in being a pastor that is quite incredible.  We are neither managers nor mechanics; farmers nor chefs; social workers nor nurses.  And I am grateful for those who do these things.  Yet pastoring with integrity is most certainly not “running the church” (God forbid), but it is about being squeezed by Heaven’s Hands whilst living and loving in this pressurised mixed up world, often perfectly encapsulated by individual congregations around the world.  Too many people bemoan “the state of the church” myself included – but take one minute to think about it….how can it be anything but, this side of Glory?

bartonMy own church is no exception (and they are entirely innocent of anything this blog produces ;-), and whilst the list below is an accurate reflection of pastoral ministry, it ebbs and flows with varying degrees of weight and emphasis throughout the points on the list in a pastor’s ministry.

I am totally confident in the Gospel of Jesus Christ to break rocks to peices and re-make old, sin-tired hearts anew.  And that process by definition is hard, tough, gritty, life-changing and will divide people.  That is why P. T. Forsyth is right to say that the Gospel, when proclaimed faithfully, will both attract and repel its hearers.  The Gospel is a dividing thing, and so it should come as no surprise that churches are places, under Gospel proclamation, that wrestle, Jacob-like, with the Angel of the Lord, until a new person is formed.  The church is not a happy social club where we are meant to just “get on” and “be nice”, not a place where things should be smoothed over into a kind of bland conforming mediocrity, but a gathering of sinners learning what it means to be the New Humanity created in, through and by, the atoning and redemptive work of Christ.  The church should be a lot rougher, not smoother.  And that’s how grace works:  Grace doesn’t work or isn’t needed in a wonderful, open, tolerant, all-loving, all-embracing community (this is how some people wish the church was) – how can it?  To exercise grace, there must be un-grace and disgrace. To exercise patience, there must be impatience and all manner of urgencies.  To exercise true agape love, there must be self-love and no-love, etc, etc.

Sinful men and women all of us.  And some of us sinners go on under the call of God to be pastors.  And it is these pastors who face what I think are astonishing complexities in everyday life, simply because we are going about the business of the Kingdom of God – and that is terrifying in its own right.  Jesus builds his church, and this sometimes (often?) despite the church, despite me.

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Preaching: A word from elsewhere

thebible_brueggeman_theologian“I heard a Rabbi say not long ago, that Christian pastors have ruined the life of a Rabbi, because a Rabbi is a scholar and a preacher; but Christian pastors are social workers and therapists and a bunch of managers, and now people in his synagogue expect him to do that!

I would think that preachers – I think it’s exceedingly difficult – but I think that preachers have to decide what the main tasks are and practise enormous self-discipline about not being drawn away to do other things that do not properly belong to the ministry of Word and Sacrament….now you can’t do that completely…

But I believe that many preachers finally get around to their sermon in their fatigue from everything else.  And if imagination is the key to good preaching, you cannot be imaginative when you’re exhausted! 

So I think it has to do with ordering ones priorities, for the sake of ones best energy.  And that, for many preachers, that means really deciding that this is the main task, and if you want the congregation to have missional energy and all of that, preaching is the pivot point for all of it.

If a pastor decides that, then a pastor is going to make more time for reading and study and prayer, which are the disciplines that cause the pastor to live, to some extent, in a different zone.  And if we are to bring a word from elsewhere, then we have to live to some extent, elsewhere, and I don’t think that’s very easy given the huge demands and expectations on most pastors.”

Walter Breuggemann

(You can see this short interview here)

Although this very short interview does not fully outline the task of preaching or pastoral care, as this was not Breuggemann’s point.  To my mind, he is suggesting that Christian ministry of any kind but especially that linked to Word and Sacrament, is less effective when conducted in the toxic atmosphere of fatigue.

The problem is that our toxic atmosphere of fatigue is also a toxic atmosphere of relentless activism (I wonder if there’s a link), so much so that we’ve made it a virtue, to the point where we feel guilty or feel compelled to express embarrassed justification when ‘caught’ reading a book – because when in-toxic-ated, we neither view nor value reading a book, or study, or even prayer as work!  

So although not all questions are answered here, what WB does remind us of, is the supreme importance that the Gospel subverts our common narrative and purifies the toxicity all around us and crucially, in us.  We need men and women called by God to Word and Sacrament, who are serving and feeding the Church from playful and thoughtful rest; playful and thoughtful study and playful and thoughtful prayer!

I don’t even know how to do it but I’m gonna die trying…..

The Movements of Sin

“The people encountered in pastoral ministry today are sinners.

But they don’t look like it, and many of them don’t even act like it.

They rather look and act and feel like the youth they admire so much, struggling for “identity” and searching for “integrity.”

A quick theological eye that is able to pick up the movements of sin hiding behind these seemingly innocent characteristics will keep a pastor on track, doing what he or she was called to do:

sharing a ministry of grace and forgiveness centred in Jesus Christ.”

Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor, p.128

IMG_2695

If we referred to the Church as a collection of broken and battered sticks from everywhere and no where,

that would be a pretty good description of what it means to be part of God’s family.

Theatrical Withdrawal

The shocking thing about suffering is not that it happens, but that we are shocked when it happens.  The suffering can of course take many forms: bereavements, illness, chronic sickness, depression, pain, cold and flu, to name but a few!

Although there is a place for time alone, space to think and pray, why is it, that in many Christian churches, people feel the need to absent themselves from the life of God’s people?  Why do so many think that a theatrical withdrawal is what biblical faith is all about?  Why do we feel that when we do go to church we get tired of explaining about our illness, whilst on the other hand, when we do withdraw, we lament that nobody cares or calls.

It is a fact that what is often presented in our lives is not the reality of either us or our situation.  A man who lost a father at the age of five, will likely have profoundly complex and yet dysfunctional emotions and expectations in later life when a relative dies.  In this sense, people can be very ego-centric in grief and suffering – and that is not to minimalise the suffering, merely to unmask the complexity of emotion and feelings underneath.

If sickness determined whether we continue with church and/or God, then surely God would have no lovers and all churches would be empty!  But no!  Church is full of repentant sinners, broken people, unhealed, chronically sick and often desperate….but they are there, with God’s people, together, worshipping God for God’s own sake, for God’s sake!  Those who theatrically withdraw forget that other people are living their lives too, and in their egocentrism, they  neither see nor care.  In fact, this not seeing nor caring, is a form of robbery – robbing God of what they were called to be within the community; denying the gift of themselves to others among the people of God; and all because of an egocentrism that is ring-fenced from genuine biblical scrutiny, Holy Spirit healing & trust, and Christian fellowship.

Is it a type of super-spiritual sulking?  I think it can be, though it may not be.  And this sulking can and often is a smokescreen for the real reality behind the perceived or egocentrically managed (false) reality.

In his book, Games People Play, Eric Berne suggests that in groups, which of course include churches, there is a whole range of ‘gameplaying’ going on; something false about most people or groups, and for anyone inclined pastorally, the greatest freedom can be found in recognising the script, seeing what is false, refusing to play to their script and speak prophetic biblical truth, life and health into all situations.

And that speaking might mean withdrawing from that dysfunctional dynamic, remaining silent, praying for people whilst refusing to be played by their scripts.  Some may accuse you of not caring or not loving, of not being a proper pastor.  They would, because they haven’t yet seen the dysfuntion of their script, because they are waiting for a particular response that is becoming of a theatrical withdrawal.  All the while they think it is about their present situation or illness, but it rarely is.  It is often about what is unresolved from their past, and the pastor’s role is to disclose this undisclosed menace, and pray the Holy Spirit is there in it all, bringing healing and wholeness.
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