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Maturing in the Christian Life: A Pastorís Guide by Neill Q. Hamilton


Neill Q. Hamilton graduated from Duke University, Princeton Theological Seminary and the University of Basel, Switzerland (D. Th.) He was Robert S. Dollar Professor of New Testament, San Francisco Theological Seminary and Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley and later was Professor of New Testament at the School of Theology and Graduate School, Drew University, Madison, New Jersey. This book was published in 1984 by The North Creek Press, copyright Neil Hamilton, used by permission of the author. Prepared for Religion Online by Herbert F. Lowe.


Chapter 5: Organizing for Maturing


The Payoff of the Master Role

The master role pays off in the measure to which it organizes all subordinate roles into a satisfying strategic unity. The role of prophetic guide has that capacity. It promises satisfaction of the minister's primary calling to be a prophet-pastor rather than an institutional functionary. It promises satisfaction for clergy who aim to share the church's ministry with the whole people of God to whom that ministry properly belongs. It promises to move the ministry of the congregation out beyond the boundaries of the institution to the world Christ longs to contact through his body, the church. It promises a way for clergy to recover control of a profession that increasingly leaves them at the mercy of demands on their time and energy that have marginal relationship to the heart of their calling. Consistently applied, the master role offers a way to fend off the mid-career crisis to which the vast majority of us seem programmed in almost fateful manner. Practiced consistently and with integrity, the master role of prophetic guide gives a chance to assert control over the crazy quilt of incessant demands placed on the pastoral leader in a typical twelve- to thirteen-hour day. I am convinced that it is this merciless and fraying chaos of demands that produces burnout. A master role in which our calling finds deeply felt expression would allow us to rest confidently when we are led to say no and to get the full, joyful energy of our calling behind the things to which we say yes. Above all, we would now take the initiative to organize our work to fulfill our calling rather than being organized by demands into which we fit our calling somehow willy-nilly.

What follows should be taken as suggestive -- a very broad hint. Each pastoral leader will know best what fits his or her situation and unique sense of calling. If you find yourself reacting, "Oh, no-that won't workl Here would be the way to accomplish that," I will be delighted. Finally, each of us will have to define his or her own calling. There is no cookie-cutter solution to such a personal matter. Let us hope that in the end we shall all become gracefully eccentric.

The Guide as Preacher-Liturgist

The master role of prophetic guide shapes the major roles required of the pastoral leader so that in each of them the goal sought is that of maturing in the Christian life. The most prominent role is, of course, preacher-liturgist. It is a good place to begin. Whether or not this role is of primary importance to clergy in their personal theologies of ministry, it is the one the congregation experiences most often. Therefore it signals most loudly what the leader intends the main business of a congregation to be.

Preaching from the lectionary or some adaptation of it can make the church year display the whole span of maturing in the Christian life and offer appropriate invitations to maturing along the way. Beginning with Advent, the situation that called Christmas into being in the first place, sets the Christian life theme.

Christmas was invented to counter the pagan festival of the birth of the sun-god. The danger was that Christians were being drawn into the orbit of the gods of fate represented by the implacable round of the solar year. Christ's birth was celebrated to present him as a figure superior in every way to the central figures of this competing religion. In terms of the sweep of the Christian life, Christmas becomes the great evangelistic festival of the church year. Surely, the act of the Godhead in bringing to birth the destined savior and ruler of the world in such humble fashion is the single most winsome moment in redemptive history. The aim of the sermons and liturgies of Advent and Christmastide would be to show Christ as the fulfillment of Israel's and all humankind's hopes for personal salvation and social redemption, for peace of heart and peace on earth. Epiphany then becomes the culminating illustration of the drawing power of this incomparable figure when all the nations of the earth offer their allegiance in the gifts of the Wise Men.

Jesus' baptism and the call of the first disciples follow Epiphany in the lectionary. This dual event becomes an invitation to baptism and church membership. Communicants classes would graduate into church membership as their committed response to the call to discipleship or perhaps as part of an Epiphany pageant. Epiphany season would be the period to lay down the fundamental character, obligations, and privileges of discipleship as they are summarized, for example, in the Sermon on the Mount.

Lent would expand on the explanation of discipleship through the unfolding ministry of Jesus for new church members and for the less mature already in the congregation. At the same time Lent would emphasize the challenge to confessing Christians of long standing for deeper repentance and faith called for by the events in Passion Week. The tragedy and triumph of Good Friday and Easter would become the occasion to invite everyone to some particular facet of transition to life in the Spirit.

At this point the preacher-liturgist would be careful to make clear that the phases of the Christian life are not something each person negotiates only once. Rather, it is a series that we repeat each time a new appreciation of the demand and promise of the gospel throws fresh light on areas of our lives that our journey toward maturing has not yet touched or not touched deeply enough. Prayer as practice of the presence of God; reloving of family, workmates, and church members; compassion for the oppressed and disadvantaged; unmasking of the world's claims of God's sanction for its unjust structures; integrity of mission interweaving witness, acts of mercy, and acts of justice: all are areas of continuing growth in grace as long as we live. Lent would be the time when we are led to further work of maturing in such areas.

My suggestion replaces the traditional practices of graduating communicants classes at Easter. When Lent first developed, churches were in a setting of persecution where church membership in and of itself inevitably required a break with the world. In our time a conscious break with the world comes later in the Christian life, if at all. We need a festival that marks that crucial step toward maturing. Lent seems uniquely fitted to dramatize that move.

Pentecost would be the time for new repentance and new purpose, coupled with fresh appropriation of the power of the Spirit. The promise of baptism with the Holy Spirit hangs over discipleship. Pentecost is a natural invitation to appropriate that promise with concrete realizations of the presence of the Spirit in the lives of disciples who had been pursuing their faith journey pretty much by their own power. It would also be the most appropriate festival for the celebration of the birth of the church as the body of Christ. The Christian life then becomes the journey of a community swept along by the breeze of the Spirit rather than the solo efforts of struggling individuals. Perhaps the Lord's Supper should receive its strongest emphasis at this season rather than at Easter when, by tradition, new members take their first Communion. In a Pentecost setting the Lord's Supper dramatizes incorporation into church as the body of Christ.

Pentecost would be the time to introduce and reinforce the idea that the church must gather in small clusters in order to mature. It would be the time to open up old groups to new participants. Existing groups could renegotiate their contracts with new configurations of leadership, fresh curricula, and expanded mission-emphasizing that the call to mission extends to every area and location of life. Preaching and liturgy would constantly recall that the church executes mission. Individuals act as commissioned extensions of this missionary task force. The unifying theme of the long Pentecost season would be church in mission in the power of the Spirit.

The Pentecost season spans the vacation months of summer. Usually this means taking a vacation from churchly concerns. Rather than seeing summer as a time to withdraw, members could use these months to devote some of their vacation time to sharing in missionary work projects, or at least visiting church mission projects near their vacation sites. In the fall they would report back to the congregation. Summer could become a fruitful time for mission emphasis. Mission work and study tours might even come to compete with conventional vacation junkets.

Pentecost begins to reveal the liturgist's task as twofold. We need Sunday morning liturgies when worshipers are in an audience mode typical of discipleship, and we need soma group liturgies for smaller gatherings where worshipers are in a participatory mode typical of the transition to life in the Spirit and of maturing in the church and in mission. Resources are rich for traditional Sunday morning worship. What needs to be developed are worship formats that encourage each member of an assembled body to identify his or her special gifts and to offer them for mutual encouragement and edification. I Corinthians 14:26-33 and Ephesians 5:18-20 offer a window on such gatherings. In these gatherings spontaneous leadership by the Spirit prompts participation for the common good. Here formats for worship encourage and order spontaneous leading. In the Pauline churches official leaders such as apostles, prophets, and teachers were present, but in the act of gathered worship their role as leaders was muted by the Spirit's urging and prompting of contributions by every group member. Comparable liturgies of Spirit-led groups need to be invented to provide vehicles of maturing in our day; otherwise, conventional Sunday morning worship will tend to freeze worshipers into nonparticipation and thereby arrest members at less mature stages of faith.

The soma form of liturgy can never displace the traditional Sunday morning hour. Participating in a soma group liturgy requires a consciousness of Spirit and community and an accompanying discipline which are beyond the reach of most church members. For their sake and for the sake of inquirers after faith, the preaching service will continue to be central. But even in these liturgies elements can be included that invite movement toward greater participation and maturing. Laypeople reading Scripture lessons, serving in choirs, providing instrumental music, and performing various liturgical tasks announce that the life of this congregation and its leadership are shared by clergy and laity. "Minutes for mission" or a comparable form of regular reporting by laypeople of mission and maturing projects carried out by laypeople, including reports from soma groups, can set the Sunday morning worship in the context of the whole church's life so that worshipers see Sunday morning as an introduction to the life of faith rather than its main event.

The eventual goal would be for each church member to find it normal to attend both Sunday morning preaching services and a participatory soma group at some other time of the week. Meanwhile the main aim of the preacher-liturgist would be to keep the whole spectrum of the Christian life and of the church's mission before the crowd that gathers on Sunday morning regardless of how the individuals may be spread across the spectrum of maturing.

A rounded and well-designed liturgy is itself a major vehicle for displaying the whole range of the phases of maturing. A careful setting of the presence of God as context for divine service models what the aim of transition in Spirit is. Prayers of adoration, praise, and thanksgiving for the Godhead in and of themselves may pass over the heads of most congregants. However, such prayers keep announcing the ultimate aim of Christian life before everyone as an invitation to maturing. Likewise a trinitarian liturgy offers the full blessing of the nurture of the Godhead although some may be ready only for the masculine or feminine role equivalents of God's parenting and partnering. Just as the reports of ongoing mission keep the full range of the mission before the whole congregation, so a liturgy with theological and experiential integrity keeps the full range of maturing in God constantly before the whole congregation. Worshipers never outgrow such a liturgy -- they just keep growing into it.

If the dominant aim of the preacher-liturgist is to keep the whole gospel before every gathering of the congregation, sooner or later the congregation must take into account what makes that gospel interesting and relevant. The question of the relevance of the gospel finds its answer in the two major ministerial roles of pastor and guide to mission in community.

The Guide as Pastor

Perhaps in no other area of clerical practice do the master role of prophetic guide to maturing in the Christian life and the professional role called for by the institution blend so nearly into one as in the case of the minister as pastor. The institution designates the congregational leader as spiritual guide for each member of the congregation. Among Protestants this is an unfamiliar role for which most clergy have no training or model. This is being remedied as seminaries begin to accept responsibility in this area,67 but clergy now in place must scramble for resourcing.

What complicates the acquiring of skill in this role is the resourcing already in place for the pastor as psychological counselor rather than as spiritual guide. Many clergy themselves have experienced psychological counseling or have been trained for it. The role model of clergyperson as psychological counselor is very familiar. This creates difficulty when the pastor as guide to psychological maturing eclipses the pastor as guide to Christian maturing. The eclipse of the pastor as spiritual guide is partly a result of the fact that the therapeutic community has a much clearer notion of psychological maturing and how to move to it than the theological community has of Christian maturing and the way to move in that direction. This book is an attempt to help remedy that vagueness about Christian maturing.68

Perhaps a good enough definition of psychological maturing is the increasing capacity to love deeply and work productively. The means for this is a deepening acquaintance with the patterns of feeling and acting that one has acquired in relation to the important persons in one's own psychic history, coupled with a deepening appreciation of the worth of one's self. A therapist acts as a guide in the use of these means. A companion definition of Christian maturing would be an increasing capacity to love God and neighbor and to work in a calling to spread the reign of God. The means for this are membership in a church community and full use of the means of grace. The pastoral leader acts as guide in the use of these means.

The point I wish to highlight by this comparison is that these maturings are not the same thing. What fairly leaps to attention is that while a vast array of professionals in our society, including clergy, are participating in one way or another to serve psychological maturing, our society assigns no one to attend to spiritual maturing. That is the sole prerogative of clergy. Herein lies our distinctive identity and unique worth. No other profession or combination of professions can replace us in this function. We clergy ought to bask in the warmth of that knowledge until we glow with appropriate pride in our distinctive calling. Too many clergy try to live off composite identities borrowed from functions we have in common with other helping professions. This can only yield low self-esteem. We are not certified and recognized members of these other professions. We are mostly amateurs and dilettantes in the functions that we share with so many of them. Strong self-esteem and high morale lie in celebrating our distinctive calling and in vigorously pursuing the special expertise that belongs to it.

I am convinced that the first major step to expertise as a guide to maturing in the Christian life is to listen to as many stories of faith journeys among members of one's congregation as pastoral access provides. Next, the stories must be analyzed according to a theory of Christian maturing. Then the pastor needs to imagine ways and means to further maturing.

We are talking here about more data than can be safely entrusted for accuracy to any pastor's memory. I can see no other alternative than the one used in the other helping professions, namely, the keeping of records of personal histories as they are taken. This raises the issues of confidentiality, access to records, etc. Other professions have evolved practices that resolve those issues. I am confident we can as well. We must be about the business of learning and recording just how the Christian life is being lived by the people for whom we are responsible. No amount of casual observation and general cultural analysis can substitute for hearing particular stories.

The taking of case histories in the form of listening to stories of faith journeys not only increases the capacity of the pastor to understand and serve the parishioner but also tends to stimulate maturing in the faithful by raising to consciousness the crucial factors in maturing. Imagine the focus it would give the life of a congregation to have the pastoral leader making appointments to hear life journeys. We might begin with leadership first. Applicants for membership and members of communicants classes would be next. Interviews of faith journeys could follow up consultation for acute problems. These interviews should become a part of the procedure of pastoral calling in homes and hospitals. Telling and hearing faith journeys would have the effect of declaring a partnership in maturing on the part of pastor and parishioner. An interviewing schedule can be extrapolated from the sketch of maturing in the last three chapters. A sample schedule in Appendix II represents a beginning in this direction.

A review of the case histories in hand would enhance the pastoral care of these people in times of crisis. The aim would be to develop the full resources of the phases of maturing already active for support in the crisis. At the same time the pastor guide would be open to ways God may be using this crisis as a catalyst to encourage greater maturing. Growth usually does not occur during charmed stretches of life free of crises. When troubles mount, we grow by turning crises into occasions to plumb more deeply the resources of each phase of the Christian life.

A chief means of maturing is growth in the skills of prayer. The pastor should regularly offer guidance for the practice of prayer in sermons and in adult education courses. This encourages parishioners to make appointments to talk about prayer and sets the stage for conversations about prayer during pastoral calls. Prayer is so clearly a phase related in the process of Christian maturing that it serves as an index of the parishioner's progress. To ask about someone's prayer life is to take one of the vital signs of the Christian life. There is a growing body of contemporary literature on prayer and the spiritual life. Kenneth Leech's Soul Friend is a good place to begin.

By natural extension parishioners will need to become conscious of their own party prejudices borrowed from parents in faith and contract for maturing as in part growing beyond them. This concern for the principal nurturing figures in the parishioner's life leads us to the place of psychic history in the story of a faith journey.

Along with conveying modes of faith by teaching and example, parenting figures in faith also convey the emotional states and the interaction with the self which they bonded to their modes of faith. If in certain particulars, the parents' partaking of grace felt like the eating of sour grapes, their children's teeth will be set on edge when the children experience the same particulars of grace. Just as there are no parenting figures who were so perfect that they did not burden us as they nurtured us, so there are no nurturing figures in faith who did not also fasten on us modes of relating to God, to ourselves, and to others that are distortions of the good news of God's attempts to nurture us. Pastoring people toward maturing in the Christian life cannot simply replace psychological counseling. When our attempts to mature as Christians run into obsessive guilt and shameful or angry impatience with ourselves, we need to sort out the way God wants to deal with us from the way we are dealing with ourselves out of our psychic history. When the bad news of our psychic conditioning threatens to overwhelm the good news of God's grace, psychological counseling may be in order to help clear the ground for a less encumbered appreciation of the gospel.

At this point the work of therapist and of prophetic guide complement each other. The prophetic guide offers the grace of God in the fresh space that psychic awareness and strength open up. It is not appropriate simply to hand the parishioner over to the therapist until the psychological work is done. In that case therapy replaces spiritual direction. The therapist and the pastor need to work simultaneously. There is an analogy in one of the Gospels. The therapist engages in exorcism, while the pastor offers experiences of the Holy Spirit to fill the void left by each departing spirit, lest "seven other spirits more evil ... enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man become worse than the first" (Luke 11:26). The point is to avoid substituting therapy's experience of the self at depth for the use of the means of grace and the concomitant experience of God at depth. At the same time we must allow therapy to make its contribution by disentangling the self from unfortunate patterns of human parenting that are being confused with the parenting of God. For parishioners with heavy psychological baggage, maturing in the Christian life may be interpreted as the increasing ascendancy of God's nurturing in the Holy Spirit over the nurturing we have received at the hands of other human beings. For this process to work, the therapist and the pastor will need to sympathize enough with each other's goals and procedures to allow their mutual efforts to be complementary rather than competitive. To recommend this therapeutic procedure to parishioners, the pastor will need to be able to recognize those cases where psychohistory seems to be overwhelming the gospel story.

Knowing the distinctive function of the guide as pastor delivers the minister from being a cheap therapist-in-residence to the congregation. A great spiritual guide once notified his charges that if any persons wished to make doing the whole will of God the aim of their lives, he would be willing to counsel with them as long and as often as they liked. Otherwise he was not available. Perhaps the guide as pastor will want to be less abrupt about it, but this does point in the direction the ministry needs to go after decades of wandering after therapists in search of our true function as pastors.

Concern for the parishioner's psychological story is important for guidance toward spiritual maturing not only when it presents obstacles but also when it unfolds normally. The predictable stages and transitions of adult development with their tasks, crises, and opportunities become major occasions for maturing in the Christian life. The Christian life becomes incarnate in the psychosocial development of adult life as it is now being described by people like Levinson for men and Sheehy for women.69

Bringing the pattern for maturing in the Christian life to bear on each stage and transition of the adult life cycle provides the connection with lived experience that makes the gospel exciting and helpful to a congregation.

It is safe to say that for the next decade this exploration of the connection between phases of the Christian life and the adult life cycle will be the most fruitful avenue for relevance of the gospel to personal life. The amazing uniformity of pattern in American adult development that we see emerging from psychosocial research reveals a cultural fate that is fastening itself on American adults with all the implacable tyranny of the astral gods and goddesses of Hellenistic religion in the period of the New Testament. Salvation, then as now, includes liberation from this merciless personal fate to gospel freedom to be fully human. As pastors take personal histories they will need to gather the information about psychosocial development as a context for spiritual maturing.

A major key to the capacity to draw gospel implications for adult life stages will depend on the clergyperson's own awareness of his or her own negotiation of the path of adulthood. In a beginning way David Giles and I have worked out a pattern of classical development by using a Levinson framework to organize our experience with a group of male clergy. David worked as a district superintendent and I as a teacher of continuing education. Our findings suggest that unless we begin applying greater Christian maturing to clerical careers, clergy are in for the same sad fate we see overtaking other middle-class working males in America. Clergy need to pioneer the shaping of Christian maturing for our time in the laboratory of their own careers. We are much more like our parishioners than they suppose. Out of the pressure cooker of clerical careers may come a fresh announcement of the nearness of the kingdom of God to working people that is fully as arresting as Jesus' announcement to his contemporaries.

For clergy to become skilled spiritual guides they will need to band together for mutual guidance until a generation of spiritual directors for Protestant clergy emerges out of their explorations together. As we have already noted, clergy need soma groups just as badly as do laity. They especially need groups where they practice spiritual discernment and guidance with one another until the ancient art becomes comfortably familiar again.

Prophetic Guide to Mission in Community to Communities

In order to mature, each parish member needs to be engaged with others in mission. That means groups of parishioners with approximately the same phase engagement gathering as combination mission-support groups. The mission agenda for every group is set in broad outline by the triple requirements of witness, charity, and justice. Groups should be led to choose individual and collective targets for mission on all three fronts. We have already discussed this targeting as the missionary focus of a soma group.

Just as soma groups mount their mission as a community they should be encouraged to see their targets as communities. The transformation of individuals and the liberation of communities go hand in hand. But the level at which groups can imagine transformation and liberation will depend on their own location within the phases of Christian maturing. As a general rule, mission-support groups will fall into two types -- disciple groups and soma groups. Each group's ability to witness, offer charity, and act for justice will be tied to its dominant phase of consciousness.

In both groups one ongoing task will be to clarify each person's story as witness to the truth and blessedness of the gospel. Among people who are predominantly in a disciple phase the emphasis will lie in the satisfactions that come in knowing the meaning of life, in having definite guidelines for the living out of that meaning, and in enjoying God's material support. Practice in telling and hearing each other has the effect of improving their ability to explain the difference that being a Christian makes in their lives. This amounts to training for witness. The Lord's Prayer makes a good outline of the points of doctrine and experience that beginning witnesses should be comfortable discussing.

Those conscious of the operation of the Spirit in their lives might practice telling their faith stories with a slightly different emphasis. These stories will include examples of personal transformation and the joy of intimacy with God they experience in the practice of the presence of God. The emphasis of witness among the more mature will likely lie on the beauty of the relationship with the Godhead themselves rather than, as in discipleship, upon meeting felt needs. The more mature will want to report the redefining of their needs as God's nurture of them unfolds. To explain the gift that the Godhead are in themselves, the more mature need to develop some ability to describe the Trinity and the role each of the three persons in it plays in the ongoing experience of transformation and maturing. Greater familiarity with God at work as Trinity increases the capacity to cooperate in the mission that the Godhead are already constantly pursuing.

On the front of developing works of charity, the adage applies that charity begins at home. People who are concentrated in the discipleship phase will find it easier to note the needs of people close to home and in similar life circumstances, i.e., people with whom they can easily identify. Offers to help meet these needs will come out of abundance and surplus rather than from the sharing of goods, time, and energy which might detract from their own standard of living. More mature Christians share from their own substance (Mark 12:43-44) with the effect of real redistribution of the level of well-being (II Cor. 8:13-15). As people mature they come to care about those who are remote in terms of class, economic status, race, and geography.

All of this implies that the pastoral and educational resources of the parish need to be mobilized to expand parish consciousness to include ever-widening concentric circles of communities. Concern begins at the parish level but moves progressively through state, region, and nation to global village.

Denomination, National Council of Churches, World Council of Churches, and many other church agencies, will offer suggestions of pressing needs. Emphasis ought to lie on the prayerful, Spirit-generated agenda to which each task-support group senses that it is being led. I judge that the greatest short circuit in the whole hookup of denominational and world church agitation for charitable mission lies in the failure to provide for the process of forming a convictional consensus on the part of church groups so that they own particular projects as their God-given task and opportunity. The needs of the world are overwhelming. We need the Spirit's help in identifying our own special responsibility.

The same applies to issues of justice. At this point the guide is most clearly prophetic. Individuals and groups need to study, pray, discuss, and wait upon God until they sense they are being led in their analysis of the concentric circles of community to the particular concern for justice to which God is calling them as a group and as individuals. The devoted life completes itself when some "concern" for justice fastens itself upon budding saints, individually and in groups. Periodic denominational mission emphases need to be seen as suggestions that God takes and applies to the hearts and lives of individuals and groups who then commit themselves to one or a few of them.

Perhaps no other facet of mission is tied so closely to the level of Christian maturing as action for social justice. Parishioners predominantly in the discipleship phase will be committed mainly to the adjustment of familiar systems. They tend to equate the systemic arrangements in which they have achieved or hope to achieve material well-being, status, and influence with the kingdom of God. The original disciples of Jesus equated the kingdom of God with their dreams of a powerful, affluent, independent Israel. The discipleship phase tends to define acts of justice in terms of enforcing the prevailing system. Typical of this approach are the activities of Nader's organization, Common Cause, legal aid for the poor, Chavez' organization of farm workers, the enforcing of civil rights, legislation for minority groups, and revival and application of the doctrine of just war to international conflict. Much of the motivation for this form of action for justice depends on hope for success in achieving the declared goals within a foreseeable time span.

Acts of justice on the part of the more mature arise out of a consciousness that has come to distinguish the level of justice envisaged by all prevailing systemic arrangements from the fuller justice that God intends. Sharing this more radical vision of divine justice will inspire Christians to imagine changes in existing systems, new systems, and alternative systems alongside prevailing ones that move to a level of justice beyond the dreams of the designers and keepers of the status quo. Familiar examples of such action would include the advocacy of social services aimed at the redistribution of material well-being so that there would be some agreed-upon level of affluence for all, including refusal to live above this parity level, unilateral disarmament, pacifism, nonviolent refusal to abide by existing laws that perpetuate injustice with the willingness to suffer the penalties that existing laws demand. Agitation for such interpretations of justice must be motivated more by the vision of the eschatological, future kingdom of God than by hope of success under the circumstances of this world. There is little that is new here. The novelty we seek is increasing support from a majority of members because they are maturing spiritually.

The historic tension between evangelical and social activist obscures the connection between witness and justice which must be woven into one whole tapestry of faithfulness. Only when people are evangelized to the point of transformed consciousness is there a popular sympathy for root changes in social justice, let alone the will to act to implement them.

Charity understood as relief of a particular need until new social systems can eliminate that need altogether becomes even more crucial when envisioned radical change of social arrangements is not likely to happen in the foreseeable future, let alone in the lifetime of those who care and are cared for. In the discipleship phase, when the system is trusted and modifications to it are within reach, charity seems temporary. When hopes and dreams of justice expand, charity never ends.

I have called groups with these concerns mission-support groups because once mission projects are targeted and action has begun, the groups will need to supply the support necessary to help people stay with their project when resistance to change comes, as it surely must. Injustice continues because it is to someone's advantage. Beneficiaries of the status quo see agitators for greater justice as a clear and present danger to their own just deserts. Some equivalent of persecution is bound to come. Parishioners will only continue in the face of this resistance when the church community provides them support, encouragement, reward, and affirmation to match the threats of opponents. The doctrine of the church as the body of Christ declares that human life is primarily social and not individualistic. It is unreal to ask individuals to tackle the communities of the world for mission. Then there is no contest. Mission must always be the church engaging the world and individual Christians only as members of the church. So clerical leaders as guides to community-in-mission must be skillful at developing group processes that maintain high morale in the face of pressure to cease and desist from the action for justice that these groups devise.

Acts of charity and justice provide natural occasions for witness. When opportunities are sought out to help others with no expectation of reward in return, it is natural for unchurched partners in and recipients of charity and justice to wonder aloud why this is being done. That wondering constitutes an invitation to witness to the blessings of discipleship.

But the witnessing Christian must not always wait to be asked, any more than the charitable or justice-seeking Christian waits for an invitation for these ministries. Analysis of every level of community, from hometown to global village, targets the unchurched and vaguely churched with as much intention to remedy their deprivation and oppression as do strategies of relief and liberation. Jesus is the model. He went to the crowds with healing and also with an invitation to accept the reign of God by making a personal commitment to follow him. That was the meaning of the saying, "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matt. 11:29). The ultimate deprivation and oppression is estrangement from the God who pleads with us through this invitation of Jesus. So faithful disciples canvass the world near and far for those who do not yet enjoy the sustenance and liberation of Christian discipleship in order to invite them to it. It is a grotesque development of modern Christianity that it ever supposed that life could be satisfying or complete without discipleship. It is a romantic heresy to suppose that once the poor and the oppressed are ministered to with charity and justice, we in the church have done as much for them as God could wish. Likewise it is heresy to suppose that the affluent and those who have more than their fair share of power and status in society deserve to be ignored or blamed for their circumstances to the extent that the church makes them no offer of grace since they already enjoy so many of the other good things of life. All Christians in mission with integrity naturally begin and end with the firm conviction that entrance to and growth in the Christian life is the "pearl of great price." If one had to choose among the benefits of charity, justice, and discipleship, the wise person would trade the other two for discipleship. Fortunately, the great tradition of the church never contemplated forcing such a decision upon its neighbors. That has waited for the outrageous development of modern party Protestantism, split into evangelistic and social action Christians.

The Guide as Educator

The congregation's engagement in mission just described assumes a fairly sophisticated analysis of culture from the point of view of justice. It also assumes that charity, justice, and accompanying witness are grounded in some understanding and experience of the gospel that are transforming consciousness, generating care, and encouraging action. What this implies is that each congregation must mount the equivalent of a seminary theological education geared to the functioning of laity. The only things to exclude from professional theological education are the preparations to preach, arrange liturgies, administer the sacraments, and fill the role of institutional leader as each denomination defines that role. Most of theological education remains as a responsibility of congregational life. Next to the role of prophetic guide to justice in community, no role is so neglected by clergy as prophetic guide to education. Laity seldom expect the minister to be their theological educator, yet no ministry with integrity can be carried out by laity without this service. Failure to act as direct teacher and dean or principal of a school of discipleship by its pastoral leader probably accounts more than any other single factor for a congregation's inability to mature in its ministry.

It helps to approach the educational task with the question: What are the elements that ground ministry with integrity? They include:

1. An intellectual base: i.e., a theological stance, articulate and consciously connected to Scripture and tradition, that informs the practice of ministry.

2. An experiential base: i.e., regular and lively use of the means of grace (particularly meditative prayer) that issues in a conscious experience of the presence of God blessing, leading, and empowering the journey of faith.

3. Readiness for evangelism: i.e., clarity about the story of one's own beginning and progress in the Christian life, and the ability to tell it so that it connects with the life and faith experience of the listener.

4. Readiness for charity and justice: an analytic perspective on contemporary culture that provides a context for sensing and meeting the most pressing needs for charity and justice at home and abroad.

5. A theory of the Christian life that provides a reference for understanding one's own faith journey, adapting the means of grace to resource it, and to aid others in entering and negotiating that same journey. The aim here is to prepare to utilize and to aid the master function of the minister as prophetic guide.

6. An appreciation of the character of a voluntary institution as a vehicle of the life of the church and a willingness to learn how the particular congregation and denomination are organized for nurture and mission so that they may accept responsibility for making these institutions work to these ends.

All of the above need to be taught to adults even though Sunday church school curricula may have touched on some of the items in childhood. Adults need to apply already familiar curriculum materials to their lives as adults.

By engaging directly in teaching and in planning the complete educational strategy of the congregation's life, the pastoral leader models the importance of education. Only so will education receive the emphasis it requires and provide the base for a congregation's maturing in the Christian life. The principal thing the guide as educator needs to teach is that his or her master role as prophetic guide to maturing in the Christian life corresponds with the master function of the congregation. The vision of a congregation maturing in nurture and in mission should motivate, shape, and permeate every congregational function. This vision needs to be communicated to the leadership first of all and then to every person planning, supporting, or teaching in the educational program. One of the great fallacies in the educational life of congregations is the assumption that because laypersons are willing to serve in leadership or teaching capacities, they know what they are doing if they are managing somehow to function. Denominations make the same mistake when they appoint college students to be leaders of congregations. They may operate successfully so far as congregational expectations are concerned, but they have no chance to minister with integrity, given their lack of preparation. What is worse, should they decide to enter seminary, they are skeptical of the value of the education offered there, since they have been lulled by experience into supposing they know how to do ministry already. The obvious result is that without adequate preparation and experience they tend to freeze themselves and those to whom they minister at the level of their own immaturity.

Often congregations hope to organize parish life for success, either at crowd or at discipleship levels. This forecloses further maturing. For example, once a congregation has learned to raise its budget by having dinners, bazaars, and raffles, buttressed perhaps by the windfall of an endowment fund for operating expenses, it loses the capacity to understand stewardship as an expression of maturing in Spirit and in mission. The primary aim of the pastor as educator is to create a cadre of leaders committed to the vision of a congregation maturing in the Christian life who eventually fill the offices of leadership on the organizational chart of the congregation. Especially in the beginning of a pastoral relationship the pastor personally will need to teach each of the six areas that ground integrity until he or she has conveyed the vision to a cadre of teachers who then share their learning with others.

As the congregation matures, the pastoral leader may withdraw from much of the direct teaching but will need to continue to supervise teachers in terms of vision. The guide as educator must monitor the enterprise to ensure that subject matter and method in each area are appropriate to the goal of a congregation maturing in the Christian life. The pastoral leader will always need to teach in learning groups geared to discipleship because the authority that the clerical leader bears at this stage cannot be duplicated by another member of the congregation.

To begin with, the format may well be structured programs with concentration on subject matter. As parishioners mature, the format moves toward workshop and support groups of peer teacher-learners where experience and subject matter interweave, until finally the workshop is displaced by the soma group where a given set of people engage simultaneously in learning, teaching, nurture, worship, and mission. Such soma groups then set the ethos of the congregation where every member is invited in accord with the timetable of his or her own maturing, to participate in all the functions of such a soma group.

I suspect that of the six areas for integrity in mission, the one involving a conscious experience of the presence of God has been taught least in mainline Protestant congregations. We are mostly oriented to service and everyday consciousness. We are more in tune with the secular world of the workplace than with the tradition of meditative prayer and the practice of the presence of God in closet, home, and workplace. Beside preaching, explicit instruction in prayer by the pastoral leader best acquaints parishioners with the master vision of the life of the congregation as a corporate journey toward maturing in the Christian life. Meeting the pastor as teacher and preacher of prayer invites parishioners to seek him or her out as a guide to maturing in the Christian life.

I realize that, to begin with, most Protestant clergy will feel they are only posing as spiritual guides, since most of them were never trained for that function. To offer ourselves to others as a guide does not mean we declare ourselves qualified to be one. We ought to admit candidly that we are only learning how to be guides and will only do what we can. Getting on with the task is the major way to become qualified-this and finding a guide of your own.

One of the great guides in the tradition of spiritual direction was not ashamed to declare himself unqualified as a guide even as he sought to help in just that way. Francis de Sales wrote in the preface to his classic, Introduction to the Devout Life: "It is true, my dear reader, that I write about the devout life although I myself am not devout. Yet it is certainly not without a desire of becoming so and it is such affection that encourages me to instruct you.... To study is a good way to learn; to hear is a still better way; to teach is the best of all. `It often happens' says St. Augustine, `that the office of giving gives us the merit to receive, and the office of teaching serves as a foundation for learning' "'70 We need not be wholly self-taught. Opportunities for continuing education in spiritual guidance begin to abound.

Finally, education that issues in maturing in mission for laity must have its own equivalent of the professional side of theological education. Theological seminaries teach polity and procedures for executing mission on the clergyperson's work site. Lay theological education should teach polity and procedures for mission for laypersons on their work sites. The other major context in which laity carry out their call to mission is the family. We need to foster a sense in the church that the polity and skills of workplace and family finally take precedence over the polity and skills that serve the church as institution. Failing that, we rob the laity of their full participation in ministry as surely as if we maintained that only clergy have a calling to be ministers. Most clergy would declare that the ministry of the church to the world belongs mainly to the laity, but our resourcing denies it. We leave vocational guidance and ethics of the work site to others, thereby depriving laity of the tools they need most to turn their work into an expression of mission.

In past centuries, when Protestantism was healthier, laity were entitled to a calling as surely as were clergy. The church provided a body of ethical guidance adapted to their callings in the world. We must recover the tradition of a Christian ethic of work in order for work to become the occasion for growth in grace that it once was. Accordingly, the church owes to the laity a training in ministerial skill at work as surely as seminaries provide clergy with skills in preaching or administering a congregation. Only when we bring work into the educational design of the parish will we signal that being Christian means drawing work into the orbit of the faith journey. As things stand, parishioners are condemned to lead double lives -- one at church and home and the other at work. When we equip laity for their callings, the mission of the church as the body of Christ will again have the chance to go forward where it was intended-in the world that laity inhabit every working day. Although we avoid thinking of it this way, our concentration of churchly activity within the institutional framework of congregations amounts to monastic withdrawal and the gnosticizing of the gospel.

Because of the feminization of education in the churches, we offer more help for the vocation of parenting than we do for work as a vocation. However, parents need a clearer understanding of the faith journey that Christian parenting is designed to serve. We have relatively great skill and experience in relating the tradition of the church to the development of the child in families. We need to work out more clearly how much of the faith journey can be negotiated only as adults. We are beginning to see how exciting the faith journey can be when correlated with stages and transitions of adulthood. Our first order of business for parenting and families ought to be to hammer out a gospel context for the transition to adulthood, adolescence and young adulthood, comparable to the one we are developing for the mid-life crisis. This is not to imply that adolescence has not been carefully studied by Christian educators, but we have not conveyed to parents how this most difficult time for parenting may become a great occasion for maturing in the Christian life. Our theory of the Christian life has not kept pace with our theories of psychosocial development. I am afraid now that most parish parents are content with their parenting if their children move smoothly to acquire the manners and education necessary for upward mobility. Our vision of maturing in the Christian life implies that upward mobility as middle-class achievers ought to take second place to the project of becoming upwardly mobile in terms of maturing in faith. Parents are better at equipping their children to grow up achievers than they are at equipping them to grow up Christian. A biblical theological version of faith development makes possible a renewed impetus for specifically Christian parenting.

The Guide as Administrator

Voluntary organizations distinguish themselves from other organizations by not paying their participants. Voluntary organizations depend on vision to fuel the enterprise. Paying organizations manage by setting objectives that money can buy. In voluntary organizations, vision is what motivates; the fundamental management procedure must be management by vision rather than by objective. Of course the vision of a congregation maturing in the Christian life implies many particular objectives. The pastoral leader as administrator does aid the organization by helping to set objectives for each arm of the operation, but his or her chief contribution will be to insist that every long-range or short-range objective has a clear connection with the overarching vision. Thus the distinguishing technique of the guide as administrator is management by vision.

The vision of a congregation maturing in the Christian life implies a multilevel organization that services the needs of the various phases of maturing in the Christian life. The twofold objective of the parish organization founded on the vision of maturing is, first, to draw people to enter the journey of the Christian life and, second, to offer resources for each phase of maturing. These two objectives imply two kinds of gatherings for which there must be administrative planning and support. Following the example of the Gospels, we may designate those interested in benefiting from the ministries of the church but not yet committed to following Jesus as "crowd." Jesus' ministry began with crowd functions that appealed to the interests and felt needs of people, but always with the invitation to discipleship present in some form.

Church picnics, dinners, parties, campouts, and other social functions might fall into this category. These events appeal to the unaffiliated or inactive because they are so closely tied to parallel celebrations in the culture. They require little or no Christian commitment to understand and enjoy. These should be administered along with other evangelism programs with an eye to being as appealing as possible to outsiders and should always be accompanied by some form of invitation to discipleship.

While caring is the base that underlies all these expressions, the form of these crowd events relates most directly to media theater. The guide as administrator of crowd events is an impresario of happenings designed to stimulate interest in discipleship. I do not mean that a happening must involve large numbers to be a crowd event. An intimate small group in a member's home can be a crowd happening, if it appeals to "crowd" types and be-\comes an occasion for stimulating interest in discipleship. Sunday morning worship is partly a crowd event in the sense that it should contain elements that appeal to felt needs of the uncommitted, but it is so multifaceted that it defies classification. When it is done well, it ministers to every level of Christian maturing as well as to crowd interests. Because it requires no preparation and a minimum of spontaneous and gifted participation, I would classify Sunday worship as a discipleship event primarily, in the sense that the clerical leader as preacher-liturgist provides the script to which the worshiper need only respond. Indeed, any other form of participation would disrupt most orders of worshipl Sunday worship is a crowd event also in that some come just to observe. No one monitors their following along. They need not sing or recite the confession or read responses if they choose not to. But because the order is for those who are following Christ, discipleship is its focus. But in the measure to which it is a crowd event, it should always contain some form of invitation to discipleship.

Sunday worship is also an event for those making a transition to life in the Spirit, since the trinitarian liturgy invites and provides for an explicit experience of the presence of the Godhead in the Spirit. Lest events primarily geared for discipleship tend to convey the idea that discipleship is the only phase of maturing in faith, every worship service should also contain some form of invitation to life in the Spirit.

Sunday worship is also an event for soma group members and missioners because it speaks to God, allows God to speak, and listens to God in ways that only those with greater maturing appreciate. Sunday morning worship, then, should be administered as an event that nurtures simultaneously every phase of the faith journey. The genius of this parish-wide event is that it does encompass the whole journey of faith. It thereby binds the whole congregation together in one community, celebrating the common journey of all, regardless of their dominant phase of maturing at the time.

The Sunday morning worship service reminds us of the simultaneous juxtaposition of all the phases of the Christian life. The same order of worship ministers to them all simultaneously. Most Christians experience some aspect of all three phases simultaneously. But at any one time particular Christians need to emphasize one phase over others in order to nurture their maturing. It is this emphasis which the administrator hopes to serve in the spectrum of congregational gatherings we are reviewing.

Maturing parishioners must be drawn into other gatherings beyond Sunday morning common worship. We have spoken already of disciple groups and soma groups or mission-support groups. All these are necessary to take a congregation through the full range of resources that lead to continuing maturing.

The point I wish to make here is that the guide as administrator must be very intentional about structuring the life of the congregation beyond the Sunday morning worship service. In most parishes all other congregational functions beyond the traditional worship service taper off in significance. It is customary to measure the strength of a congregation's life by how many people attend Sunday worship in proportion to the total membership. A better measure of the strength of a congregation as a vehicle for maturing would be the number and proportion of the adult membership that meet in groups -- disciple schooling, soma, and mission-support -- outside the sanctuary at other times of the week. A maturing congregation will be one that relocates the center of gravity of its life from Sunday morning worship to the groups that express life in the Spirit and the church as the body of Christ in nurture and in mission. This relocation of emphasis represents the same move the early church made with respect to its location within the larger administrative unit of Judaism. It is the move from Temple back to tent.

From Temple to Tents

In the time of Jesus and the early church the emphasis in Judaism's life had come to be concentrated in the elaborate worship rites of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple was Judaism's central religious institution and the rallying point for all Jews regardless of sect or location. It was the judgment of Jesus in the Temple-cleansing incident that the Temple had come to be a distraction and an obstacle to Judaism's God-intended mission to be a blessing to all the families of the earth (Gen. 12:3). As a marketplace for sacrificial animals and as a national bank, its economic function had overwhelmed its proper function as a base for world mission .71 "Is it not written, `My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations?' But you have made it a den of robbers" (Mark 11:17). The early church concluded that Jesus' estimate of the Temple was confirmed by God in the rending of the curtain of the Temple from top to bottom, exposing the Holy of Holies shorn of the presence of God. God's presence had moved to the midst of the church on the road in mission.

In the experience of the early church the Temple turned out to have inhibited the missionary purpose of the people of God rather than facilitate it. I judge that the concentration of emphasis in the life of most parishes upon the Sunday morning worship in a sanctuary designed exclusively for that purpose tends to have the same effect upon the people of God unless that worship is administered in the context of a developmental understanding of Christian faith. The history of the origin of Israel's Temple helps to explain why sanctuaries tend to arrest the missionary movement of God's people.

The author of II Samuel presented the project of building a temple for Yahweh as an extension of David's own upward mobility. King Hiram of Tyre recognized David's rise to prominence as king of Israel and conqueror of Jerusalem by the gift of a custom-built house of cedar (II Sam. 5:11-12). Once David settled down in this fine home he felt it inappropriate that the Lord's Ark should be housed in something so declasse as a tent (II Sam. 7:1-3). That night the word of the Lord to Nathan explained that the Lord felt no need for a house of cedar, that a tent had been good enough from the beginning. In other words God found it a pretentious idea. The Lord gave reluctant permission to David's son to build. After the festival of dedication, the Lord appeared to Solomon and warned him that anytime Israel faltered in their devotion to the Lord, the Temple would become "a heap of ruins" (I Kings 9:8). That fate was fulfilled in the destruction of Solomon's Temple in 587 B.C.. and its successor in A.D. 70. "Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down" (Mark 13:2). Upon the failure of the Temple, the early church in effect returned to tents, for "Christianity had no identifiable places of assembly for at least two hundred years. 72 The early church was a house church, expending its resources on love and mission rather than on special housing for itself. The Godhead were again housing themselves in tents, living tents of congregations indwelt by the Spirit.

The point is clear. As administrators we need to imagine meeting places for the people of God that dramatize their location in mission or on the way to mission, not settled down somewhere congratulating themselves on how far they have come up in the world. Failing that, we may find ourselves huddled in sanctuaries whose curtains have long since hung in shreds, exposing the empty space where Yahweh used to dwell. How many clergy there are who secretly wish their elaborate and costly-to-maintain sanctuaries would burn to the ground so their congregations could begin again more modestlyl

But some equivalent to the destruction of Jerusalem is no answer to what has often been called the church's "edifice complex." The answer is to administer a variety of levels of church life: one that naturally emphasizes the building for crowd and discipleship purposes and other levels on the way to and on location in mission.

The administrator of a program for a faith journey that unfolds in phases must be committed to a split-level church or churches within a church. It is true that most congregations already have enough groups and committees to occupy the pastoral leader on every available evening. Where will time and energy come from to add another whole set? What will parishioners think who find themselves in groups where curricula and agenda imply an early phase of maturing? Will they not become jealous of those who seem to rank higher? John Wesley's use of the Methodist class meetings within the Anglican Church offers a model. All who are willing to make the commitment involved and to abide by the participatory responsibilities are welcome to the soma mission groups. The groups do not exclude people. People exclude themselvesl

What will become of the institutional standing committees if everyone starts going to other meetings? Wesley emphasized that those who attended class meetings had a higher level of responsibility to the congregation as institution than those who chose not to join the classes. Thus class members outgave, outcommuned, outattended, and outsupported the common institution to which their sister and brother Anglicans were committed. Gathering must never seem exclusive. Groups must periodically open themselves to newcomers who wish to commit to the contract for the maturing of that group. Meanwhile Sunday morning worship always continues for the whole congregation.

The answer to the extra time and energy demanded of the guide is that as parishioners mature they grow to the point of sharing the ministry which the pastoral leader has heretofore carried mostly alone. As maturing laity emerge to share the work of administration, the guide will eventually have less to do rather than more.

The final administrative function of the guide is to devise a system, perhaps in combination with the one by which stories of faith journeys are taken, to keep some updated inventory of the gifts and graces of each parishioner. The whole structure of congregational life needs to offer each parishioner an opportunity to contribute to nurture and mission, thereby sharing in the ministry of the whole congregation to itself and to others.

Our sketch of the journey of maturing in the Christian life has displayed the amazing extent to which maturing laity are capable of sharing the work of the ministry. The obvious answer to the time and energy required to interview members for faith histories and to inventory the congregation for gifts and graces is to train a cadre of lay interviewers with a standardized interview schedule and record-keeping procedure. This could inaugurate training of lay spiritual guides.

The result envisioned by all of these suggestions for the guide as administrator is not to burden the administrator further but to multiply many times over the ministry which the clergyperson now attempts to carry on alone. Congregational administration is virtually a solo ministry. The administrator-guide may become, with strong congregational maturing, the companion overseer of the ministries of many.

The vision of a congregation maturing in the Christian life offers the best chance I see of clergy being delivered from the impossibly hectic and forever unfinished round to which the profession now threatens to condemn every pastoral leader except those few who have large staffs. Even with large staffs senior pastors often find that the hassle multiplies in proportion to the number of staff, since the senior person must always compensate for the staff's immaturity.

Conclusion

I hope I have shown how a biblical theological theory of the Christian life provides a rationale to move in the direction to which we are all in principle committed, namely, to make ministry a function of the whole congregation and not just of the clergy. Clergy who attempt the master role of prophetic guide allow that possibility to emerge. With God the Father setting the pace and God the Spirit enabling as we go, the church in its local congregational expression can become the body of the Son whose full ministry continues to unfold in the congregation's midst, not as our doing, but as Theirs. When that begins to happen, clergy will have space to receive another "compleat angler's" final benediction "upon all that are lovers of virtue, and dare trust in his providence, and be quiet, and go a-angling." The ministry may yet be as much fun as fishing. Meanwhile: "Study to be quiet" (I Thess. 4:11).

 

 

Notes

 

67. The Division of Ordained Ministry of The United Methodist Church is sponsoring a Task Force on Spiritual Formation Among Methodist-related Seminaries; the Association of Theological Schools is sponsoring a project on spiritual formation.

68. James Fowler's work does not help in the specific way clergy need it most. The notion of maturing he describes is religious maturing in general, regardless of specific religious convictions. No doubt this will be helpful for purposes of interfaith dialogue or in interfaith settings such as public education where particular religious allegiances must remain muted. But the pastoral leader is responsible to a confessing community committed to Christian maturing in particular. Only the notion of specifically Christian maturing and the special means appropriate to that end are finally of use to ministers as prophetic guides to maturing in the Christian life, since it is part of the confessing consciousness of the churches they lead that Christian faith and life are not the same as in any other religion.

69. Levinson et al., The Seasons of a Man's Life; Sheehy, Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life.

70. St. Viands, de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, tr. with an Intro, and Notes by John K. Ryan Image Books, 19I2), p.31.

'71. Nei1 Q. Hamilton, "Temple Cleansing and Temple Banking"; Journal of Biblical Theology, Vol. 83 (1964), pp.165..

72. Gager, Kingdom and Community, p. 130.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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