What Should Pastors Give?

Discussion in 'Preaching' started by greenbaggins, Jul 17, 2019.

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  1. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    I’ve just started reading Harold Senkbeil’s The Care of Souls. So far, I am very impressed. A Lutheran minister, Senkbeil had been pestered for years to write this book, since he has given a lot of advice to ministers. It was advice of the sort that saves ministries. The point I want to highlight here has to do with the substance of what pastors are supposed to give to the congregation and to those outside the congregation to whom he ministers.

    Typically, seminary students are told that ministry means pouring out oneself for the benefit of the congregation. The better seminaries will emphasize the importance of your personal devotional life. However, Senkbeil points out the problem with the idea of pouring oneself out: this is what typically results in burnout. There is only so much in a man, after all. There is only so much emotional and spiritual capital that he can expend. If this is limited, then it actually doesn’t make sense to say that the pastor pours out himself. Not only is there the problem of the very limited resource, but an additional issue is the temptation to narcissism that this idea represents. If the pastor pours out himself, then the people will see that consciously or unconsciously. Some will react with acceptance, and thus make the pastor the focus of the congregation. Others will reject it and thereby throw out what there is of Christ in what the pastor offers.

    Senkbeil offers another route, one which I think is well worth exploring. The pastor fills his soul with Jesus Christ, full to bursting, and then offers Jesus Christ, and not himself. He is then more of a conduit than a filter. Again, here, the better seminaries will say that the pastor is supposed to offer Christ. However, the implied corollary is often “filtered through you.” I would now say, in addition to being transparent to the text of Scripture (get out of the way and let the Scripture speak!), the pastor should also be transparent to Christ (he offers Jesus and not himself).

    There are three things that I think will result from this game-changer. Firstly, the pastor will be far less likely to burnout if he is not offering himself. Incidentally, this would not mean “be impersonal and never be friendly or compassionate with the people in the congregation.” Instead, it means “the substance of what you offer is not you but Him.” Secondly, the importance of the devotional life becomes dramatically clearer, since the devotional life is one of the key places and times where the pastor becomes filled with Christ. Thirdly, he will be less tempted to narcissism. So also the congregation will be less tempted to make the ministry all about him, and instead will recognize that the ministry is all about Jesus Christ. The overall effect of this might very well be to lift a huge part of the burden of being a minister off the shoulders of the minister, to lay it on the infinitely more capable shoulders of our Lord.
     
  2. Phil D.

    Phil D. Puritan Board Junior

    Along these lines, a pastor friend of mine talked about how he eventually had to come to terms with the fact that he would never be able to equal the prodigious "output" of some of the great heroes of the faith like Luther, Calvin, Spurgeon, et. al. These were true gospel supermen who could write voluminously, carry on regular correspondence with hundreds of people (both by handwriting, nonetheless...), speak and preach extensively, serve on numerous councils/boards etc., all while still doing much of the pastoral work in their local congregations.

    Such men were truly amazing but clearly exceptional in their abilities and accomplishments, and as such cannot realistically be the standard to which most ministers should aspire. And in some cases among these supermen, sheer physical and emotional exhaustion does appears to have played a significant role in their eventual expiration.
     
  3. SolaScriptura

    SolaScriptura Puritan Board Doctor

    But what does that look like in practice? What, practically, is being advised? A perspective shift : work 60+ hrs a week and say “it’s not me, it’s Jesus?” Or what?
     
  4. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior

    Lane:

    Every Christian is to give himself as a "living sacrifice" (Romans 12) and minsters, like the Apostles, are to be "poured out as drink offering," which was that which accompanied the main offering of the congregation: "The sacrifice and service coming from your faith" (Phil. 3).

    In other words, all of us, in the face of love so amazing, give "our lives, our selves, our all." But what we minister to one another, in every case, is Christ. I do not pour myself out to or for the people. I pour myself out to Christ, as part of the sacrifice of all that I am and have and do to God. What I minister to people is Christ. He is the only one who can ever do any soul good.

    I realize that people can misconceive things, but I am unaware that anyone has ever actively urged ministers to do otherwise (at least not in our circles). One is to pour oneself out for Christ and in so doing offer to the congregation the same and only thing that's ever benefited the pastor--Christ. It isn't just that giving myself to people will burn me out, it's that it won't do them any good. I don't have anything in and of myself to offer people. All I have to offer is Christ; any suggestions to the contrary were never sound to begin with.

    Peace,
    Alan
     
  5. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    Ben, I think what the author is saying is that this is a perspective shift about what is offered to the people. It is more how a pastor views what he does, and how he invests himself.
     
  6. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    Alan, I agree with that, of course. The question that I think Senkbeil is getting at, and which I think you are too, is this: how and where do we pour ourselves out (and in which direction? or to whom?), and what does that mean? As I look at Philippians 3, and given the connection that drink offerings have to prayer in other parts of Scripture, it seems that prayer is what Paul has in mind there. We pour ourselves out to God in prayer on behalf of the congregation. That may not be all that Paul has in mind. But I think it is a large chunk of it. At any rate, what Senkbeil is saying, and what I agree with, is that we are not required to give the congregation everything that we are and have. As you say, it won't do them any good.
     
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