Monday, February 25, 2008

Review of "Becoming a Pastor" by Jaco J. Hamman

Hamman’s tagline is “forming self and soul for ministry,” which is meant as a continuous evaluation of oneself in the pastoral vocation. An underlying assumption with which he works is that pastors do not come out of seminary fully formed, nor are they even fully formed 25-30 years into their ministries. This does seem to be geared more toward pastors earlier in their careers, but I don’t see why pastors at any stage couldn’t benefit from the themes here.

Hamman addresses six capacities in which a pastor should be able to operate successfully. Heavily borrowing from the work of psychoanalyst Donald Winnicot, Hamman notes that pastors should each have the capacity to believe, to imagine, for concern, to be alone, to use others & be used, and to play. Each chapter builds on the previous ones, utilizing concepts introduced from one to the next in order to show how interrelated these are. In that regard, Hamman seems to be an appreciator of how complex the individual is.

Behind the striving for each of these capacities, Hamman suggests that pastors are constantly seeking to overcome their “false self.” That is, each of us growing up were taught by various authorities in our lives (parents, teachers, pastors, etc.) how to acclimate properly to society in order to please others. Each person is taught in ways both explicit and implicit, both subtle and violent, and each according to our own histories and narratives.

In order to illustrate this, Hamman introduces us to several pastors who are wrestling with becoming their true selves. We meet Pastor Timothy multiple times throughout the book, and hear about needing to mature early and become “the man of the house” after a painful split in his family. This has lasting effects on his ministry as he discovers how much of an overachiever he’s become, which wears him down physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and even causes him to begin to resent his congregation. Pastor Timothy’s “true self,” then, is one who is able to say no, to accept that he’ll disappoint people sometimes, and who will take time for self-care.

Each chapter is structured in relatively the same manner. After a brief introduction to each capacity that will be explored, Hamman provides a list of possible characteristics within people whose capacity is not fully formed. After this, there is typically an example given such as that of Pastor Timothy, followed by a deeper analysis of what a mature capacity looks like and how it might apply to the example situation. Finally, each chapter concludes with a guide for self-reflection using the acronym GRASP: Covenant with God, Relationships, Action, Scripture, and Prayer, all of which are focused on abolishing the “false self.”

While there are many running themes throughout Becoming a Pastor, one other major theme seems to be that of relationship. Hamman notes that relationships early in our lives affect how we approach relationships later on. There is much discussion on relating to God. There is much discussion on relating to oneself. At the end of each chapter and elsewhere, Hamman encourages the reader to seek out a mentor or spiritual director with whom to discuss these issues and who may “speak into” one’s own ministry. Each of these relationships, Hamman argues, need to be healthy in order for one to function well as a pastor.

On a personal level, I think that I’ve been in a place where I really needed to read about the Capacity to Play. This capacity seems most closely related to the capacities to believe and to imagine, as Hamman alludes to those in particular throughout this chapter. “The capacity to play,” he writes, “is the ability to move effortlessly between illusion and reality and to lose oneself in spontaneous or purposive activity.”

In other words, to play is to creatively engage the entire world around you – not just Christian symbols, liturgy, and scripture, but also culture, hobbies, pain, joy, and so on. To play is to explore each of these from a variety of angles and approaches rather than one singular, flat approach. One with a diminished capacity for play has an overdeveloped appreciation for rules and structure, sees ministry and life as “serious business,” and greatly desires control.

I greatly appreciated this chapter in particular, as I could sense myself tightening my grip once again on my expectations for ministry, seeing it as “serious business” and beginning to get worked up about whether anyone else would take it as seriously as I do. It’s a weird thing to realize, especially after building somewhat of a reputation as a pretty playful pastor. Hamman helped me realize some of my own blind spots in this area, which seemed to come chiefly in how badly I desire certain programs and activities to go well, and as a result losing a playful approach to their planning and execution.

Becoming a Pastor is very well-done. Occasionally, Hamman gets caught up in his own definitions and the reader may need to spend a little extra time with them in order to fully grasp them. At other times, I found myself wondering whether he relied on Winnicot a little too much (not a chapter goes by, it seems, without this other author mentioned). Nevertheless, this book will leave the reader with much on which to reflect.