On Being a Pastor: A Letter to Myself

During the month of October, I have taken up the challenge to publish a blog post every day. I have worked hard to avoid a negative or critical tone in what I have written. True, I did defend the role of the critic, especially when it is clear that the focus of criticism—as, for example, the church—is so clearly an object of the critic’s love and affection.

Still, knowing my tendency to embrace the critic’s task with excessive enthusiasm from time to time, I have tried to make my posts this month as positive and informative as possible. Only my readers can judge my success in that endeavor. Continue reading

A Thought for Sunday: What if Pastors…

Today is Reformation Sunday 2015.

Speaking of Reformation, what if pastors, priests, and other pastoral leaders,

instead of functioning like…

  • authority figures
  • expounders of truth and wisdom
  • entrepreneurial spirits who view their role in the life of the church as CEO in a business enterprise

saw themselves as…

  • wounded healers
  • recipients of grace and mercy
  • chastened and teachable spirits who view their role as an example of those who have suffered loss because they had the courage to change, and through it all clung to faith, maintained hope, and lifted up Jesus.

Just a thought.

Coping With IPR (Involuntary Premature Retirement)

In the spring of 2008, I experienced the onset of a disorder for which I was totally unprepared. The symptoms reached maximum severity during the first year. After that, the intensity subsided, but the symptoms have persisted. While uncomfortable and discouraging, they are not, so far, totally debilitating.

The disorder, which seems to be on the rise among people (especially men) of a certain age (55-64) is commonly known as IPR—Involuntary Premature Retirement. I have pursued several avenues of treatment, and while their effectiveness has varied, none has resulted in total eradication of my symptoms. With each passing month, the possibility of full remission becomes more and more unlikely. Continue reading

Leaders and Loss

Most people, including religious leaders, follow a course most suitable to their natural interests and inclinations. That is the path of least resistance where the surroundings are familiar and comfortable. A skilled leader can even make the pursuit of comfort, familiarity, and security sound noble while the path of suffering and sacrifice seems unreasonable, irresponsible, or possibly evil.

During his lifetime, Jesus was never popular with religious leaders. He was too honest, too self-sacrificing. He didn’t play the angles for his own benefit. And he loved being with people who could not enhance his social standing.

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Instead of wringing our hands over the waning influence of religion in our culture, we should be looking for leaders like that. Show me a leader who cares more for the kingdom than for his or her personal interests and agenda, and I’ll show you fertile soil for religious renewal.

In the twilight of my life, I look for leaders whose principles have cost them something. I look for teachers and guides who have sacrificed comfort and security in the service of conscience and conviction. Not every leader suffers loss as a consequence of faithfulness. Only the great ones.

 

Me? A Leader?

Four times over the past couple of weeks, someone responding to something I posted on Facebook referred to me as a leader. Each time the term was preceded by an adjective. Twice I was called a Christian leader, once a church leader, and once a spiritual leader. Three out of the four references commended me for my role and service as a leader. The fourth was more along the lines of “You call yourself a leader and still write the stuff you do?”. Continue reading

The Arthur Chronicles—No. 13

Almost nobody would describe Arthur Lough as impulsive. Thoughtful, yes; careful, yes; sometimes almost maddeningly thorough. But surely not impulsive. Except, that is, for his mildly annoying propensity to act on impulse when it comes to placing a telephone call at Cell phone connection technology concept on white background.the moment a noteworthy thought crosses his mind, irrespective of the time of day (or night).

If my phone rings at 6:00 a.m. or while I am eating dinner or at 11:00 p.m., it is usually Arthur, calling to share something he has just read or seen on TV which has provoked him or stirred up his thought processes. Most of the time, the subject matter proves interesting enough to overcome the mild irritation of being interrupted at an inconvenient moment.

And so it was that, last Monday night, just after I had sat down to dinner with my wife, the phone rang. It was, of course, Arthur. We had agreed to meet for lunch at his house on the following Wednesday, and his wife had just reminded him that that would be the first day of Lent, traditionally known as Ash Wednesday. Arthur follows the Anglican custom of observing Ash Wednesday (along with Good Friday) as a day for fasting. There would be no world-famous corned beef sandwiches at the Lough house on that day.

Continue reading

Effective Leadership And The Rule Of Three

The “rule of three” suggests that groups of things that come in threes are inherently more satisfying or more effective than things in other numbers. It has many applications. Who could ever forget the Three Stooges, the Three Blind Mice, or Goldilocks and the Three Bears?

Three points are generally optimum for a sermon or speech, since they can be used in a progression to create tension, build it up, then resolve it. An equilateral triangle is one of the strongest geometric shapes employed by architects and engineers. And one of the most famous biblical images to make use of the rule of three is found in Ecclesiastes 4:12—A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

The rule of three I have in mind today has to do with the factors which contribute to effective leadership. I’m not thinking so much of the character traits which are absolutely essential for a good leader. I will have much to say about them in the days ahead. Rather, for today, I’m thinking particularly of the context or the conditions which enable a good leader to be effective. And I believe that the most desirable context for effective leadership involves a proper balance between three components: authority, opportunity, and accountability.

By authority I mean all those things which are necessary to qualify a leader for his or her position and which enable the leader to accomplish the task of influencing people to make particular decisions or take specific actions. It includes natural giftedness, formal and informal preparation, and often a credential which may be symbolized by some sort of ceremony, ornament, or attire. Authority assures those who are being led that their leaders have met some objective requirements for their role and gives confidence that leaders are trustworthy and will use their gifts and exercise their influence in prudent and careful ways.

Opportunity is the setting in which leaders operate. It may be an organization, an institution, or simply a situation which requires a leader to use his gifts and exercise her influence for the good of the people involved. It will entail an obvious need along with the potential for resources required to address the need and resolve the situation.

Accountability is the mechanism by which it can be determined whether or not leaders have acted responsibly, prudently, and efficiently in the exercise of their gifts and the use of their authority for the good of those they lead.

I am no expert in effective leadership. I’ve read a few books, attended a few seminars, taken a few courses in subjects at least vaguely related to leadership. But my qualification for addressing this subject lies mainly in the fact that I have been both a leader and a follower, I am a keen observer, and I have learned a few things along the way. That’s where these three components for effective leadership came from. I didn’t read them in a book, at least not one that I can remember. They just seem to make sense.

I believe that failure, inadequacy, and incompetence within the church today, among those who make up the body of Christ—and there is a lot of it about—arises, first and foremost, from failures, inadequacies, and incompetence on the part of those who ostensibly provide leadership to the church. If there is a crisis of spirituality, a crisis of commitment, a crisis of effectiveness in the church, it is first of all a crisis of leadership.

Most of this crisis in leadership has to do with the inner character of the leader. As noted, I will have much more to say on that subject. Some of the ineffectiveness of contemporary leaders among the people of God, however, can be traced to an imbalance among the three components for effective leadership which I have noted above. When one of the three elements is decidedly weaker than the other two, or absent altogether, that imbalance impedes the efficient and productive exercise of leadership gifts and influence. When this happens within a church context or among the people of God, the consequences extend to the effectiveness of the church in embodying the character of the Kingdom of God and advancing the Gospel of the Kingdom.

After forty years of vocational ministry, I am prepared to suggest that leadership among Fundamentalists, where I began my career in vocational ministry, is too often marked by authority and opportunity without sufficient accountability. During more than twenty-five years of ministry among Mennonites, I found leadership to be sometimes limited by opportunity and accountability without sufficient authority to enable leaders to carry out their tasks.

I am today an Anglican priest. When Anglican polity is functioning effectively, there are ample mechanisms in place to confer appropriate authority and to provide for proper accountability. What is lacking is opportunity. Oh, there is plenty of need. There are simply too few resources to enable leaders, with adequate authority and accountability, to take advantage of opportunities, or to initiate the same, through the exercise of their gifts in fulfillment of their calling.

The problem is not really that there are too few resources. The problem is one of distribution. Too many resources are being directed toward too few opportunities. The work of the Kingdom is being hindered because of inequality and disproportionality in the distribution and consumption of Kingdom resources. I have spoken to this situation in earlier posts, and I shall do so again, anon.