Friday, July 28, 2006

What is pastoral Ministry?

I am currently reading (slowly, along the way) James W. Thompson’s new book, Pastoral Ministry According to Paul (Baker, 2006). I have a hunch that I will see things a bit differently than Thompson, but as far as diagnosing the problem I think he is ‘spot on.’ Here are some key quotes from his first chapter where he details the shifting ideas on what a pastor is supposed to be and the lack of theological basis to these ideas.

“Congregations continue to assume that the minister will maintain the traditional roles of marrying and burying, but they believe that the ultimate goal of the minister is to take the congregation to a new level of growth. The minister must be both an effective communicator and an administrator. In a competitive religious marketplace, the task of the minister is to ensure that the congregation maintains its place among religious consumers. Often search committees no longer look for someone who conforms to one of these models. Instead they seek someone who is a combination of, for instance, Jay Leno, Lee Iacocca, and Dr. Phil.

These often unstated assumptions indicate that the missing dimension in the conversation about ministry is a theologically coherent understanding of the purpose of ministry that incorporates the numerous roles of the minister.” (9)

“Without a theological foundation, the minister too easily becomes the one who ensures the church’s competitive edge in the marketplace of consumer religion.

Despite the pressures that often come from the church and society to define the minister’s role in pragmatic terms as the maintenance and growth of the institution, the answer to the question of ministerial identity . . . is a theological one.” (11)
I also really appreciate his approach to an answer. What he describes here is exactly what I have attempted in my Pastoral Ministry course. Thompson writes:
“Others have challenged us to renew this theological dimension by returning to the classical texts concerning ministry. Although engagement with the classical texts is a valuable exercise, I propose that we consider going beyond these ancient texts to a reconsideration of the significance of Pauline theology for defining the goals of ministry.” (11)


Wayne said...

Thank you for these quotes, in addition to your other postings on what pastoral ministry is.

Anonymous said...

I take it that the "ancient texts" mentioned are not the Biblical texts - correct?

Ray Van Neste said...

Yes, by classical texts he is referring to the key writings on pastoral ministry in the history of the church after Scripture.
What I have sought to do in my pastoral minstry class is to focus on key biblical texts while also having the students read some classic books on pastoral ministry starting with Gregory's Pastoral Care.

fain3rd said...


I was researching the book and author and came across your blog--imagine the providence of that!

I am using this book, and your previously unpublished work on pastoral ministry, for my dissertation.

I can sense a trip to Union in my future.

Thank you for your tireless service to the Kingdom.

Ray Van Neste said...

Great to hear from you Jim! Let me know your current email.
This is a good book. I did a more complete review in SBJT.
I am very interested to hear about your dissertation.