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Learning the Craft of Pastoring: Six Practices for Cultivating Excellence in Pastoral Ministry term paper

I have posted below the paper I wrote for a reading course I did with Ken Carder on the Theology of Pastoral Ministry based on his two courses in which I was his teaching assistant. 

See Ken Carder: Introduction to Christian Ministry books (Fall 2008)

and Ken Carder's course The Local Church in Mission to God's World books (Spring 2009)

I had asked for feedback June 1 on which direction to go: Would welcome your advice on my Theology of Pastoral Ministry paper

I wrote it June 1-17, 2009. 

It is 51 pages and 18,000 words.  With the 2 appendixes and bibliography it is 65 pages and 22,000 words.

This was my 12th and last course to finish for the Th.D. (Doctor of Theology) program at Duke Divinity School.  Yeah!

In some ways, this represents a synthesis of many of the things I have learned thus far in the Th.D. program.  Someday some of this will be a book but I have lots of other things to work on right now: pass my German and Spanish language exams, then do preliminary exams, then dissertation proposal and then dissertation. See My Th.D. program progress update The book will have to wait. 

So on the one hand, I feel like this is good stuff that could help people.  On the other hand, this is a paper I wrote in about two weeks and it could use lots of refining and editing.  Because the topic--what is pastoral ministry about--is so gigantic, I treat all of the issues and theologians in eclectic fashion--sampling a bit here and a bit there.   It is much more responsible scholarship to dig deep into one thinker like I have done in most my previous term papers: The Ecclesiology of John Howard Yoder paper and  The Missional Ecclesiology of Rowan Williams, both of which I posted; and a number of papers I haven't posted: missional ecclesial practices in Apostle Paul, the ecclesiology of Matthew and Paul compared, Dietrich Bonhoeffer's ecclesiology, church and world in Alasdair MacIntyre and Nathan Kerr, ecclesiology of Miroslav Volf, and preaching in Karl Barth.  In this paper, I consciously and unconsciously draw on a lot of that but try to put something forward more constructive. 

As always, I am happy to receive feedback in the comments (or by email).  I will take it into account as my views continue to evolve. There is much I still need to learn. 

Here is the paper:

Download Theology of Pastoral Ministry Paper Word 2003

Download Theology of Pastoral Ministry Paper PDF

I have pasted below the table of contents and introduction.

Duke Divinity School

Learning the Craft of Pastoring:

Six Practices for Cultivating Excellence in Pastoral Ministry

submitted to

Ken Carder in partial fulfillment of



Andy Rowell

June 17, 2009


Introduction: Why we need to understand pastoring . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .



The six practices that form the craft of pastoring. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .



1. Becoming a neighbor to the suffering: learning about human suffering from artists, social-scientists and the sufferer . . . . . .



2. Becoming a master pastor observer: learning about different styles of pastoring from sociology, historical exemplars, fictional and real life exemplars . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .



3. Becoming a student of the body of Christ: learning about the function of the church leader in the New Testament. . . . . . . . . . . .



4. Becoming an equipper for holy living: learning about the marks of the church from historical theology. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .



5. Becoming a believer in the missionary nature of the church: learning about the church’s purpose through biblical theology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .



6. Becoming a lover of the missionary God: learning about the triune god from prayer, Scripture, and systematic theology. . .



Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .



Appendix A: Bonhoeffer and Barth both moving toward the center from the realist and idealist poles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .



Appendix B: The discipline of “practical theology” is also attempting to do this integrative work . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .



Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Introduction: Why we need to understand pastoring

Is pastoral ministry a troubled profession, perhaps even one in crisis? Or is the profession a deeply satisfying calling to which it is worth giving one’s life? Jackson Carroll, who oversaw a national recent survey of pastors, concludes,

Most of America’s pastoral leaders—represented by the sample that we surveyed—are deeply committed to their calling to ordained ministry. If they consider a change, it is more likely that they would pursue their call in another church-related occupation rather than dropping out. They are likewise generally satisfied with most aspect of their work. In short, they echo Eugene Peterson’s comment with which we opened this chapter.[1]

Peterson reflects,

I’ve loved being a pastor, almost every minute of it. It’s a difficult life because it’s a demanding life. But the rewards are enormous—the rewards of being on the front line of seeing the gospel worked out in people’s lives. I remain convinced that if you are called to it, being a pastor is the best life there is. But any life can be the best life if you're called to it.[2]

Pastoring is difficult but for many pastors it is deeply rewarding.

But of course there is more to pastoring than finding job satisfaction. We also want God to be satisfied with what we are doing. Perhaps we are most aware of this while trying to communicate God’s Word to the people of God. Karl Barth felt this keenly as a pastor and as a theologian. At age 28, on September 4, 1914, he wrote to his friend and fellow pastor 26-year-old Eduard Thurneysen,

Here are two sermons from me; they are simply the last two. You will look at them not as though they were finished products but only as experiments. We are really all of us experimenting now, each in his own way and every Sunday in a different way, in order to become to some degree masters of the limitless problem.[3]

If preaching is a limitless problem—trying to convey the God of the universe to a sinful and holy group of human beings in twenty minutes, then the pastoral task as a whole is even more overwhelming. If we just had to deliver one sermon a week, that would be difficult, but pastoral ministry has never been characterized as simply that.

The 24 or 30 course sequence in the Masters of Divinity (M.Div.) degree attempts to cover the necessary ground but students often have difficulty seeing how it all fits together to form a holistic pastoral ministry. “Why do I need to know this?” is not just asked in junior high math classes.

After entering the pastorate, many new pastors are overwhelmed by the tidal wave of demands and discouraged that their own expectations seem so frequently thwarted by bureaucracy, tradition—in short, other people. Their questions are often desperate, “How do I sort through the chaos to find what is most important? How do I know if I am doing a good job?”

Eventually pastors, if they hang in there, settle into a routine. This is of course a relief compared to the chaos of the first year in ministry. But Will Willimon worries that it is often then that settling into a routine turns into complacency and mediocrity.

In a small, rural church, alone, with total responsibility in your shoulders, in the weekly treadmill of sermons and pastoral care, if you are not careful there is too little time to read and reflect, too little time to prepare your first sermons, so you develop bad habits of flying by the seat of your pants, taking short cuts, and borrowing from others what ought to be developed in the workshop of your own soul. Ministry has a way of coming at you, of jerking you around from here to there, so you need to take charge of your time, prioritize your work, and be sure that you don’t neglect the absolute essentials while you are doing the merely important. If you don’t define your ministry on the basis of your theological commitments, the parish has a way of defining your ministry on the basis of their selfish preoccupations and that is why so many clergy are so harried and tired today. Mind your habits.[4]

Wanting to continue to grow in skill and wisdom, pastors are increasingly returning to school in Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) programs which shore up one aspect of pastoring. But without a broader framework, these programs may simply ossify pastors in their ways. I often hear pastors say, “I’m a preacher, not an administrator.” Their D.Min.degree in preaching reinforces their desire to focus on just one aspect of pastoring. Meanwhile that pastor’s congregation needs a leader willing to learn enough about administration and care for the poor so that they can at least delegate and oversee those areas adequately. Their congregation members complain that even in meetings, “the pastor is in preaching mode” or “using their preacher’s voice.” Meanwhile, the pastor’s preaching is becoming increasingly ineffective as they see it as their primary focus.

Similar negative consequences result when pastors conclude, “I’m a pioneer, not a maintainer” or “I’m an evangelist, not a theologian.” A string of broken congregations often lie in the wake of this “self-aware” pastor who trumpets, “I know what I’m good at and I know what I’m not.” Admitting that I am only one part of the body of Christ is indeed important but this realization should inspire me to appreciate and learn from the other parts of the body. Fascinatingly, Paul does not say, “Once a foot, always a foot.” Rather, he encourages mobility and growth. “Now eagerly desire the greater gifts” (1 Cor 12:31). Yes, “we have different gifts” (Rom 12:6) and we are to exercise them diligently (Rom 12:8), but there are no biblical grounds for specialization in one area and total neglect in the rest.

I argue in this paper that pastoring consists of six areas. The pastor seeking excellence ought to cultivate their abilities in all six areas. Pastors never arrive at excellence. The church is a sign, instrument, foretaste, and herald of the reign of God. We point, we never arrive. We become better signs, instruments, forestastes, and heralds. We grow closer to excellence but pastoring is an art, a craft—consisting of a series of demanding practices. We can never cease learning.

But a comforting thought is that we can do it with others. We can learn with and from others.

And an even more comforting thought is that we do this work with God. The church is God’s idea. The Spirit of God empowers the work. One can never get over the stunning designation—the church is the body of Christ.

Seminarian, take heart. New pastor, press on. Veteran pastor, continue to sharpen up. These are the six practices of our work.

[1] Jackson W. Carroll, God’s Potters: Pastoral Leadership and the Shaping of Congregations (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 185.

[2] Carroll, God’s Potters, 159. David Wood, “Eugene Peterson on Pastoral Ministry” ChrCent 119, no. 6 (March 13-20, 2002): 18. Cf. 18-25.

[3] Karl Barth and Eduard Thurneysen, Revolutionary Theology in the Making: Barth-Thurneysen Correspondence, 1914-1925 (trans. James D. Smart; Richmond, Va.: John Knox Press, 1964), 26.

[4] William H. Willimon, “Between Two Worlds” in From Midterms to Ministry: Practical Theologians on Pastoral Beginnings (ed. Allan Hugh Cole; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 284. Cf. 274-286.