Monday, July 31, 2017

A Pastoral Call in Three Questions

I'd come to the end of a two-month stint as a sabbatical pastor while the full-time pastor was away. It was my first summer after graduating seminary, and I'd begun this gig maybe two weeks after.

You wouldn't think there'd be much to experience in such a short time, but I'd had two funerals, assisted with a wedding, had run into a few colorful conversations and situations. With the regular pastor coming back in, we'd made some time to debrief and I filled him in on some goings-on so he'd be aware.

That part of the conversation was relatively brief. We talked much more about ministry in general, and some of what he'd seen over the years as his own vocation had unfolded. At one point, he was able to characterize his pastorates in terms of what dominant question seemed to pervade his time with each church. As times changed, as he himself changed and grew, and in the midst of particular groups of people, he could look back and name the primary issue that seemed to work itself out while he was there.

In other words, he could sum up his sense of call to a particular ministry context with a question.

I admit that I can't recall the specific questions he named. But I remember this approach and have always been intrigued by it.

I think that if I underwent a similar exercise, it would be better to characterize my own pastorates in terms of three questions rather than one. Some of these I could name as they happened, others I've needed time and distance to see with clarity.

I think my two-month fill-in time even had three questions. They were:
  1. But what happens if there's a funeral?
  2. Whose church is this, anyway?
  3. How do I say thank you? (this was my home church)
Each of these were answered in real time as my brief ministry with them unfolded. I'd need to provide a lot of backstory for readers to understand the context of some of them, which I won't do now.

In my first full-time pastorate, my 3 questions were:
  1. What goes in to staying here for a while?
  2. What's wrong with the institutional church and how do we address it?
  3. How do you hold proper boundaries while helping people?
Since I began this blog shortly after I started this position, I wrestled with these in different ways out in the open. Feel free to peruse the archives if you're curious.

I'm almost 4 1/2 years into my current call, and so far I'd say my 3 questions are:
  1. How does a congregation move forward after experiencing a long pastorate?
  2. What's wrong with the institutional church and how do we address it? (I think this will always be on here)
  3. I actually don't know what the third question is yet.
This post isn't really about answering these questions. It's more about presenting this as a model for reflection and evaluation. Could other people in ministry, whether pastors, chaplains, judicatory, or whatever else use this? Could people in other vocations characterize past or current positions in this way as well?

If so, what three questions would help name your sense of call to a particular place, past or present?