Essay / Theology

Year of the Priest or (for Evangelicals) Year of the Pastor

I’m no Roman Catholic but I can certainly appreciate many of the things that come out of the Vatican. So much so, in fact, that I subscribe to the daily e-mail update from the Vatican Information Service. Nothing like knowing what Benedict XVI is up to each day! More importantly, I find out about events and initiatives that, in my view, should be important to all Christians. This daily news service is how I found out about the “Year of the Priest” which is running from June 20, 2009 to June 19, 2010. In short, the Pope has chosen to focus on the priesthood during this year, especially the “essential aspects of the life and mission of priests in our time.” What a great idea! To give a whole year to thinking about the nature of being a priest in today’s world, a year to encourage priests in their vocations and a year to “advertise” the Roman Catholic priesthood. Evangelicals should follow the Roman Catholic Church’s lead and have a “Year of the Pastor.”

Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, there appears to be no shortage of Evangelical pastors. Evangelical seminaries are the biggest in the world and I wouldn’t doubt if every open position at an Evangelical church doesn’t receive 60-70 résumés. Yet, how often do churches encourage their pastors to really spend quality and sustained time reflecting on the nature of their calling and vocation as a pastor? I’ve spent about six years in part-time as well as in full-time pastoral ministry over the years and never once was I encouraged to reflect upon the nature of my calling. I’m sure that I had done something like that in seminary but once I had convinced a search committee that I was called to be a pastor, there was never any further reflection on the matter. However, I’ve talked with pastors who share stories of former colleagues or acquaintances that had attempted to be in pastoral ministry but had “blown” it so badly that their very calling to the pastorate was questioned. Apparently, when you do pastoral work well everyone assumes that you’re called to the office. When you blow it, well, then you’re obviously not called to be a pastor. This, of course, is faulty reasoning simply because gifted people can do a number of things well, even when they are not called to that specific vocation. As well, truly gifted and called pastors can “fail” at ministry due to factors other than questioning the nature of their very calling.

So, I issue a call to all my pastoral colleagues: Let’s make this the year of the pastor by reflecting on the very nature of pastoral ministry and revisiting our own calling to sacred ministry. To facilitate this I suggest the following books that could be used to stimulate our thinking. Though we may not agree with everything in these texts, they are a good place to start.

Gregory the Great, The Book of Pastoral Rule
John Chrysostom, On the Priesthood
Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor
George Herbert, The Country Parson
Eugene Peterson, Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work
Eugene Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant
T. F. Torrance, Royal Priesthood
T. D. Herbert, Kenosis and Priesthood
William Willimon, Pastor

Happy reading and reflecting!

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