My personal theology of pastoral ministry directs and orients my life to be a leading servant who spreads God’s love around the world. By sharing this theology of pastoral ministry I hope to encourage you to develop your own theology of pastoral ministry (or philisophy of work).
It is something that I have thought through, lived out, and participated in for three years now based on my study of scripture, input from mentors, and books that I have read. In this paper I will explain how my theology of pastoral ministry is lived out in my life as a pastor, who God is, ministry, humanity, and the church.
An important element of being a leading servant who spreads God’s love around the world is to live out my role as a pastor.
When thinking through what it means to be a pastor the word “shepherd” comes to mind as a great biblical example of the role of serving as a pastor within any context. The definition of a shepherd is “one who took complete care of a flock or sheep.”[ref]Tyndale Bible Dictionary, 1192.[/ref] The Greek word for shepherd is “poimen” which means “taking care of sheep. They [the various forms of the word poimen] figuratively refer to someone who is in a leadership position, such as over a community or nation; a shepherd has authority, provides protection, and cares for the flock.”[ref]James A. Swanson and Keith Williams, “Dictionary and Index for Hebrew and Greek Word Studies.” in New Living Translation Study Bible, 2225.[/ref]
Being a leading servant who spreads God’s love around the world means that I seek to pastor and shepherd people by looking over them and taking care of their spiritual health. A Bible verse that demonstrates this well is Mark 6:34 where we read about Jesus and His disciples attempting to get some quiet time alone to rest. As they were in a boat traveling, some people saw Jesus and His disciples leaving, so they ran ahead of the boat (via shoreline). In the Gospel of Mark we read, “Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things” (Mark 6:34, NLT).
This is similar to me in my own ministry. A part of me feels called to minister to people through writing about biblical truths to help direct them in their own leadership work and life. The Apostle Paul’s letter to Peter further explains how I see my role as a pastor within my theology of pastoral ministry when he writes, “Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly. . . .”(1 Peter 5:2). This says to me that God has entrusted people to me, and I need to do my very best to guide them along, protect them, and serve them through my spoken and written words.
At this time, God has entrusted me be an unofficial pastor at United Way of Stanislaus County where I can help “shepherd” and watch over the spiritual health of the people there. However, while working at United Way of Stanislaus County I have not always thought of myself as a pastor, I have just tried to share my faith and do the “right thing” when interacting with coworkers. It has not been until thinking about my theology of pastoral ministry that I realized I have been serving as an unofficial pastor at work. I give Bibles to people I know might need one, and I respect the opinions of people who are agnostic and believe Jesus is a “mythical guy that people believe in.”[ref]Estrella Garcia, interview by author, Modesto, CA, June 10, 2011.[/ref]
Recently a woman at work mentioned to me that she and her boyfriend were reading the Bible together out of the King James Version (KJV). For Christmas I purchased a New Living Translation Bible for them to read together which is more understandable than the KJV. Since then she has told me on several occasions that they have enjoyed reading their new Bible together.
Additionally, outside of work I feel that I serve as a pastor when I regularly write and create content which reaches almost 5,000 people on the internet. To be a leading servant means I serve as a shepherding pastor who looks after the spiritual health of my coworkers at United Way of Stanislaus County and those I share my faith through my writing.
However, my view of pastoral ministry is affected by my view of who God is, which is what I will explain in tomorrow’s post.
MY UNDERSTANDING OF GOD
Understanding who God is is very important in order to have a clear view of my own theology of pastoral ministry.
Evangelist and author, Billy Graham, explains that, “You will never understand who you are until you understand who God is.”[ref]Billy Graham, The Journey: Living by Faith in an Uncertain World, 13.[/ref] As Mr. Graham stated, it is important for us to know who God is before we can legitimately know who we are. In my view, God is all-powerful, ruling over the earth and all things. God is the holy trinity, the one who is the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, and I am under His supreme authority serving others.
I view myself being under God’s authority much like the Roman officer described in this passage of Matthew:
When Jesus returned to Capernaum, a Roman officer came and pleaded with him, “Lord, my young servant lies in bed, paralyzed and in terrible pain.” Jesus said, “I will come and heal him.” But the officer said, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come into my home. Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed. I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed. Turning to those who were following him, he said, “I tell you the truth, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel!” Then Jesus said to the Roman officer, “Go back home. Because you believed, it has happened.” And the young servant was healed that same hour (Matthew 8:5-10, 13)
I am not sure if I completely understand this story theologically, but I do understand that the Roman officer knew Jesus was here on earth under God’s authority. Because Jesus was under God’s authority He was able to do what He was supposed to do—perform miracles.
Similar to Jesus being under God’s authority, I too am under God’s authority. God has a plan that I do not know about and that is at times hard to understand, but I do realize that He has a plan and story for me to fit into. For some of us that story is to be full-time ministers where we shepherd and pastor people for a living. God employs others, such as me, to do pastoral ministry in a semi-formal way where it is not their full-time job but they have received some specific training that allows them to minister to others and serve them.
Ministry is the work that we do to serve and help others.
A great definition of Bible-based ministry is written by James Thompson when he asserts, “ministry is participation in God’s work of transforming the community of faith until it is ‘blameless’ at the coming of Christ.”[ref]Thompson, Pastoral Ministry According to Paul: A Biblical Vision, 20.[/ref] This ministry of helping others to become blameless at Christ’s coming is a gift that is both strenuous and amazing at the same time,[ref]A. Iona Smith, “A Little Child Shall Lead Them” in “Emerging as Ministers” in Congregations 32, no. 4 (2006): 34.[/ref] and it can happen in any area or context. With my theology of pastoral ministry to be a leading servant who spreads God’s love around the world, I believe that the work I do should be focused.
One of the most successful evangelists in the past century, Billy Graham, who devoted his life to evangelism and winning souls for Christ, stated early in his ministry that “concentration is important. The [person] who has a general interest in everything usually isn’t good at anything.”[ref]Billy Graham, Billy Graham Talks to Teen-agers,29-30.[/ref] Another pastor, Andy Stanley, who is considered one of the most influential Christian voices in America, often teaches that we as leaders should “only do what only you can do.”[ref]Andy Stanley, “When Less is More” (lecture, Catalyst West Conference at Mariners Church, Orange County, CA, April 23, 2010).[/ref] This means that for myself as a pastor and leader I need focus on doing only what I can do.
At United Way of Stanislaus County, I should work hard to share my faith and attempt to nurture the faith of other people around the office. No one else talks about their faith until I bring it up, so I must do what only I can do: shepherd those people at work. If I had not given that Bible to my coworker, I highly doubt anyone else would have. If I had not talked with the lady who sits across the hall from me about why she is an atheist, no one else probably would have (and I do not think anyone has done that since).
In the context of my writing about leadership during nights and weekends, I need to share biblical principles and how they can be lived out in businesses and nonprofits. Not many people are willing to do that for free; thus I must do that as part of what only I can do to serve others.
Pastoral ministry is about serving others, which means it is important that I understand that people want to feel valued and worthy of respect.
While reading the book More Ready Than You Realize in an effort to learn more about evangelism, I learned how this great principle positively influences the people we serve. In the book a young woman shares her reflections on a two year evangelism conversation she had with the author, Brian McLaren, via email. While sharing her story and experience of moving from an unbeliever to a Christian, she writes, “I don’t remember much of what he [Brian McLaren] wrote [in his emails to her]. What I do remember is something far deeper and more important: that there was someone who was really listening to me and who was responding to me, not in a formula or in quick clichés, but sincerely and thoughtfully.”[ref]April Stace Vega, afterword of More Ready Than You Realize, by Brian McLaren, 169.[/ref]
That statement from this young woman gives us great insight into what people are looking for when they are being shepherded by a “pastor.” People are looking for someone to be real with them and show a sincere interest in them.
The people I serve at work probably do not want to feel that I am trying to evangelize them so I can add another Christian to my “convert list.” They do not want to feel they are one of many people whom I have questioned about their faith and tried to lead to Christ. They do not want to hear me give a bunch of well rehearsed questions and answers to their struggles with faith. They are looking for me to be sincerely interested in them, to show them value for who they already are, and to walk and talk with them as their faith evolves.
MY VIEW OF THE CHURCH
And finally, any statement of theology needs to lay out a view of the church to explore how the theology plays a part within (or outside) of the church.
Often when we think of the word “church” we think of the buildings which we call churches, a group of Christians in a local community, or Christians as a whole community within a pagan nation. I have felt God’s voice in my life saying that my church will not be geographically based and that He wants me to “go and make leaders of everyday men and women.”
There are so many people who are less fortunate and have much worse living situations than you and I. It is on my heart to do something about those terrible living situations many people around the world live in. I, as an American, have an obligation to do and use everything that I can to serve and help others who live around the world rather than someone right next to me. Thus, my church is the people in the whole world.
The truth is, whether we are talking about people who regularly meet inside a church building or people who do not yet know God, the world and churches are “comprised of broken people, people from all walks of life who experience pain and suffering.”[ref]Amelia Roberts-Lewis and Tonya D. Armstrong, “Moving the Church to Social Action,” Social Work and Christianity 37, no. 2 (2010): 117.[/ref] It is anyone who has a desire to learn and grow in leadership.
Right now part of the church I minister to is my work environment, but it also includes the thousands of people from around the world who read my writing on this blog. Within the past month, I have had people visit my blog from the United Kingdom (83 people), Canada (66), Philippines (41), Australia (41), China (33), Kenya (18), India (17), and Malaysia (12).[ref]Stats taken from Google Analytics for ChristopherScottBlog.com from Oct 13, 2011 to Nov 12, 2011.[/ref] I am sure that my view of the church God has made me responsible to shepherd is only temporary and that it will change over time, but for now shepherding my church is looking after my co-workers and serving those who read my writing and benefit from it.
One challenge with my theology of pastoral ministry is that it is broad.
“Being a leading servant who spreads God’s love around the world” is broad and does not give specific tasks or activities that I can do. However, that also gives me a strength because God is the one who has authority over me. Because God has authority over me, I follow His direction and what He wants me to do.
If God wants me to be a leading servant by doing one thing, then at a later time He wants me to be a leading servant by doing something completely different, that is ok because my theology of pastoral ministry has room for that. Because my statement is broad it allows God to be the leader and I can follow the change that He directs me to make. I recently heard Beth Moore teach on this same topic. She realized early in her life that she should surrender to God and commit to following Him, not to surrender and commit to a specific ministry.[ref]Beth Moore, “So Long Insecurity” (lecture, Catalyst Conference at Gwinnett Arena, Duluth, GA, October 7, 2010).[/ref[
Another strength of my theology of pastoral ministry is that I am pretty good at envisioning and thinking. Because I am good at thinking and envisioning about a specific topic I can often dream and see things bigger than others. However, because I can think through my theology of pastoral ministry and see possible ways to serve others, that opens up the possibility that I might see something and pursue a vision that is not God’s vision for my life and ministry. Thus, I need to stay in communication with God and stay committed to Him and His vision for my life.
My theology of pastoral ministry is to be a leading servant who spreads God’s love around the world. This helps to direct me while here on earth. It helps me to follow God’s direction of shepherding those I work with and those who read my writing.