Wednesday, October 9, 2019
It is all about how we use the time. . .
It is not limited to educational settings. I had a long conversation with a young man who is a production supervisor in a very large manufacturing company. Some HR people and supervisors in business and industry lament that this has become their role as well. They end up addressing the things that affect the worker or the worker's job performance. So poor attendance, job conflicts, home issues, personal and mental health issues, etc... have now become their domain. In order to keep jobs filled and the work going on, these kinds of things end up on their plate. Maybe you have found this as well.
In the Church, this kind of stuff worked itself out in the way we prepared church workers in college (prior to seminary, call, and ordination). We had a system that was not designed for this but perhaps was most effective in weeding out people long before it got to the point where they were commended to the Church. Now that the old system of captive undergraduate ministerial (and church work) preparation is gone, this job has been thrust upon the seminaries to deal with. Both of our seminaries have people and programs to address the mental, emotional, physical, relational, and financial well being of their students as well as the spiritual. The problem is that this aspect of pastoral formation must compete with the curriculum and the typical disciplines you expect seminary to teach -- exegetical, systematic, historical, and practical theology. Now there is nothing sacred about these categories or the nomenclature we use to describe them but the content of these areas of learning is sacred and Biblical. Biblical theology, doctrinal and confessional identity, historical awareness, and the practice of these in the parish (everything from presiding and preaching to pastoral care) are the minimums expected of those preparing our pastors and those pastors prepared.
It makes me wonder what is getting short shrift in our effort to fill in the gap created by the change in our preparatory educational system. I fear something is being missed by all the need and attention to psychological stability, emotional maturity, relationship health, financial stewardship, AND the disciplines in which pastors are formed for their vocation and equipped with the tools to fulfill that calling. I know that we have not expanded their time in seminary so something had to give in order to expand (necessarily) the focus on the individual as well as their educational training.
I can also understand the drive of the bishops to demand this of the seminaries. After all, they not only have to commend these individuals to their first charge but also have to help clean up the messes after they screw up. Too many of those end up being war zones with casualties including the pastor and his family but also the parish and its very viability. In some respects, church conflicts are on the rise not simply due to pastors with poor people skills or work habits but also because churches reflect the culture around them and our culture is bitter, divided, and poisoned with distrust and intolerance. I am not suggesting that we should compromise on our confession but we should realize that the playing field has changed and people are less likely to overlook mistakes and move on than they once were. We have short attention spans today and one screw up can often become the recipe for the pastor's whole ministry spiraling out of control to some sort of meltdown somewhere. I fear that some bishops take the congregation's side too quickly since the congregation is the more permanent fixture to them and know of parishes who keep getting pastors and keep having brutal confrontations with them. Perhaps it is not only the pastor??? Or not even the pastor??? All in all, the pressure is on the seminaries to produce pastors without flaws or weaknesses and on congregations to unearth those flaws or weaknesses and DPs to deal with them. That is unhealthy and unsustainable.
In the meantime, the rapidly changing world and the unfriendliness of the world to the Church and to the Gospel requires more of our pastors than the days when we could count on society and culture to be somewhat friendly or at least non-threatening to our life together. Our pastors need even more theological preparation today -- not less. They need to be well equipped with the tools a seminary provides so that they may discern the errors and falsehoods tempting and trying our people and preach, teach, and counsel with God's Word and the Catechism better than ever before. The blank slates of people who grew up outside the Church and without any framework of the faith whatsoever only puts more pressure on the pastoral task. Broken families and the lack of local family systems cries out for pastors to be more prescient and more effective in helping them find some sort of healing to go forward. All of this suggests that there may not be enough time to fill in all the boxes in three years of on campus residential education and an internship (much less cut back on this or bypass it entirely as an online norm seems to threaten).
Ah, well, just thinking today. . . and you know how dangerous that can be!!