by J. Christian Andrews
October 2, 2017
Reflections on interim ministry
Depending on how you count it, we are three months into our second or third interim pastor assignment. It's three if the fifteen months at an LCMC congregation in south central Minnesota count. It's two if only the AFLC congregations where my wife and I have traveled together count.
Interim ministry...now this is a unique beast. Wait, "beast"? I'm not sure what else to call it. It is not really a beast in the sense of terrifying and awful. It is a beast in that it is quite the challenge to explain and maybe even rationalize. So, or but, I'm going to give it a try.
It's a question I've been asked often: Why interim ministry and not full time ministry? Right now the best I've figured out as an answer is it's what God has laid on my heart for this season of my life.
It all started, I suppose, when we decided (or were led--how does that all work anyway?) to resign from the part time pastor position I had in California and take early retirement from full time teaching at a public school also in California to move to central Minnesota to own and operate a bed and breakfast inn. We knew going in that the first few years might be lean, and we would need to subsidize our income somehow. I signed up to sub at a couple local school districts and put my name in with my national church body to do pulpit supply and interim work if a location close enough to home presented itself.
About six months into our life as innkeepers, I got an invitation to take an interim pastor position in a city of 2000 people 150 miles from home. We worked out an agreement where I would be an interim pastor four days a week and could be home Thursday and Friday nights and check in guests on Saturdays. This job stretched itself into fifteen months but more importantly opened to us the whole concept of full time interim ministry. I had a wonderful experience and believe I was able to provide stability and some direction as the congregation went through the call process.As we balanced this very good pastoral experience and the emerging reality that the town in which we had located to own the B&B was not the right place to make a realistic living in the B&B business, we were led to rethink what it was we were really supposed to be doing. We concluded, after considerable prayer and conversation, that we were in a unique spot in life that would lend itself to this also unique kind of ministry. We were not emotionally attached to our house or the town in which we lived. We don't have children in school. We don't have grandchildren. We loved being close to my parents, but it was not critical that we stay close. We don't mind moving, seeing the country, regularly meeting new people, and making new friends. And, maybe more importantly, we discovered that there is a need.
I understand interim pastoral ministry as a two sided coin (is there any other kind?). One side of the ministry is to provide critical pastoral service and stability for a congregation going through pastoral change. The other side of the ministry is to be available as a sort of consultant through the call process. There are other pieces to the puzzle, but they fit mostly under these two categories. A key component of interim ministry is allowing time for a congregation to deal with the departure of the previous pastor. Whether the previous pastorate ended well or in conflict, there is grieving. Sometimes interim ministry requires intervention that will lead to healing. One of my primary goals is to leave a congregation healthier than when I arrived if that is needed and / or possible. I want the conditions for a successful next pastorate to be as ideal as it is possible for them to be.
It is possible, and in fact highly likely, that much of my heart for interim ministry flows from the less than ideal ways some of my ministry assignments ended. I am convinced that there could have been better outcomes had I been preceded by an interim pastor. I do have a heart for pastors and helping in any way I am able to provide a setting in which they can have a meaningful ministry.
We are discovering that this kind of work does require a great deal of flexibility and adaptability from us. We own very little more than will fit in our two vehicles. We have to be ready to uproot and move almost at a moment's notice. We have to be willing to rely completely on God's timing to have openings available to us as we finish one assignment and become ready to another. As this is only the second of these assignments we have taken together (as husband and wife), we are not yet sure how many more we will be able to handle or how long we will be able to continue to live without having roots. We pray only that we will be faithful to this ministry to which we have been called.
January 28, 2017
March for Life DC 2017
One does not get a sense for the size of the crowd by being in the middle of it. But as Jeanne Mancini said, it is not the size of the crowd that matters but the 58,000,000 lives since Roe v. Wade that have ended in the USA because of abortion.
Yesterday, January 27, 2017, my wife and I were part of the crowd. So, some comments...
I believe there is no greater social cause for which we must be champions than the right to life. I believe there in no one greater social issue that foreshadows a person's world view than her or his beliefs about the right to life. If a leader, whether in the church or in politics, dose not hold a pro-life conviction, then that leader's world view is skewed; and the decisions that leader makes are likewise skewed. I am not suggesting that having a pro-life conviction means all one's decision are also right, but I am suggesting that having a conviction that stands in opposition to the right to life leads to wrong decision making.
Marching is good and important. I am glad we were there and particularly so on this occasion when for the first time in the forty-four year history of the March for Life in Washington DC a US Vice President addressed the assembly. It is telling that this has never happened before. It is also telling that the current US administration sent both the President's counselor, Kellyanne Conway, and the Vice President, Mike Pence, to speak at the March for Life 2017 rally.
Rallying and marching are good, but continued speaking out and acting are necessary. I have no doubt that a great percentage of those at the rally and march also participate back home in pro-life advocacy and work. I also suspect that for a goodly number of those in the march and at the rally, that is it. It is not enough to rally and march. We must also be continually pro-active for the cause. We must support our local pregnancy help centers. We must be in continual conversations with our legislators. We must be actively supportive advocates of the adoption process. If we are marching for the defunding of Planned Parenthood, then we must also be living for the defunding of Planned Parenthood. Yes, a good part of Planned Parenthood's income is from the federal and state governments; but they also get considerable donations from corporate America. When we buy products or services from corporate donors, we are supporting Planned Parenthood. (aside...go to Life Decisions International and join the boycott; go to 40 Days for Life to join the prayer team, go to Lutherans for Life for ideas on how to be a pro-life advocate)
And now some comments specifically about our day and photos below. We currently live just a three hour drive from DC so we made it a one day driving trip. We used an online parking service to secure a prepaid parking space at the Ronald Reagan Building on 14th Street NW just a half block from the Mall and two blocks from the security area. We had reservations at a restaurant on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 20th Street NW (a mile west of our parking) for our before the drive home supper. We joined the crowd through security to be inside the rails for the rally. We were about 45 minutes ahead of the 11:30 AM musical opening but too late to get close enough to the stage to really see the speakers. We positioned ourselves between the audio amplification system in front of a screen but were consequently blocked from seeing the stage. While we did hear the speakers live, we had to watch them on the screen, and thus the screen shots of Kellyanne Conway and Vice President Pence. Those people in the rally that went through security may have been about a third of the attendees and marchers. It took quite a while to funnel us out to Constitution Avenue to join the march to the Supreme Court after the rally. By the time we got to the Capital, we could see that well over half the crowd was ahead of us. We chose to bow out at that point and walk the mile back to our car to make our dinner reservation on time. This means we missed the additional speakers scheduled for the end of the rally in front of the Supreme Court building. We also did not take part in the scheduled visits to the members of congress.
I will do a few things diffently if I attend the march again.
I will not make it a one day trip especially if I am close enough to drive. In the end it was a fourteen hour day which is too much for me any more.
It seems it is really not necessary to go through sercurity and be inside the barricades for the rally. (You will notice one of my photos of Secret Service agents stationed atop the building at the corner of 15th and Constitution. Their presence was visibly less after the VP left.) I would probably schedule my arrival to the rally for the time speakers begin and stand outside the barricade along Constitution Avenue.
I might wear my Lutheran pastor vestments. It is a matter I will mull for some time. The Roman Church presence is very strong (and maybe oppresively so for someone like me who understands the heresies of the Roman Church). I am not against partnering with everyone in the pro-life movement on a social cause level. I am cautionary, because Roman Church iconography and theology is very much a part of the march (ie. liturgical chanting, displays of rosaries, singing the "Hail Mary," banners of the Virgin Mary, etc), that I don't appear to condone thier theology because I march next to them in a March for Life. I am wondering if a more visible Christian non-Roman presence is a statement worth making or not. The Lutherans for Life continigency was not in the rally area and therefore much closer to the front of the march itself. They were very visible with neon green stocking caps, but they were also heavily representing the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod as the embroidery on their caps showed (we did not see them and only know they were there because of their photos posted on Facebook).
I would stay the night after the march, if not the night before as well, so as to be able to attend the events at the Supreme Court and perhaps visit the member of Congress afterwards. I also don't want to have the hassle of driving out of DC in Friday evening rush hour traffic again.
Toward a philosophy of ministry.
The explosive growth of the Christian Church can only be called miraculous. "So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls" (Acts 2:41 ESV). The Holy Spirit had made His presence known in a new way. The 120 first disciples, led by the twelve apostles, had gone into the streets of Jerusalem to share the Word of God in the heart languages of those who had come to Jerusalem for the Pentecost celebration. Peter had been inspired also by the Holy Spirit and had called those who heard his voice to repentance and faith. Immediately, or so we can conclude given the proximity of the texts, the new believers developed a number of practices that fed that phenomenal growth. "And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (v.42). The key to the first practices was devotion. It was the full priority of the emerging congregation to give themselves completely to learning all they could about God and His purposes. They longed to hear from the apostles the call to repentance and the love and mercy and grace of God. It is easy to conclude that this personal encounter with God, as they learned His word, moved them to a deep commitment also for each other. They were devoted to the fellowship. A few verses later we read of this devotion. "And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people" (v.44-47). Their devotion also showed itself in spiritual disciplines. They were deeply committed to the celebration of the Lord's Supper (the breaking of bread) and to prayer. The result of this devotion is clear. "And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved" (v.47). A second conclusion that can be made from looking at the practices of the early Church is that like practices in the church today could have the same results. The Church today should not be surprised if the number of those being saved is not added when the congregation is not devoted to studying the Word, when the congregation is not devoted to the fellowship, when the congregation is not devoted to the celebration of the breaking of bread, when the congregation is not devoted to prayer, and when the congregation is not giving generously.
Not long after the birth of the Church, problems began to show themselves. "Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution" (6:1). One of the formative problems had to do with the fair distribution of aide to widows. There is nothing in the text that indicates if the complaint was warranted or not, but it would appear that the apostles were concerned about the problem. They felt that a solution was needed, but the solution was not for them to work out a better distribution system. "'It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables'" (v.2) they responded, and "'But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word'" (v.4). They believed their priority was prayer and what they called the ministry of the word. It was not that they thought the physical care of the new believers beneath them but that they felt they had a priority in their ministry. They believed that proclaiming the Gospel and that spiritual care through prayer should take precedence. So in order to not neglect the ministry of prayer and word without also neglecting the earthly cares of those in need, they proposed the service ministry. "'...pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty'" (v.3). We must believe that the solution presented was not just from the disciples but also from God. The temporal care of the people was important; so, wise, believing, Spirit filled men with good reputations were chosen by the community and commissioned by the apostles to take on that temporal care. The disciples were then freed to continue with the ministry to which they had been called, the preaching of the word and prayer. It is not until Paul's letters to Timothy that we find labels for those set apart for this kind of ministry; and in those letters we also find a more specific definition of the qualifications for that kind of leadership. "Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 3:8-13). These are certainly sobering words. The standards for deacon service in the Church are high. One cannot but wonder what would happen in the Church if these Biblical principles were really observed. One has to wonder what would happen in the ministry of the Church if its pastors were truly freed to preaching and prayer by a core of wise, believing, Spirit filled men with good reputations who meet the deacon standards given to Timothy. One has to wonder what would happen in the Church if the congregation was truly vigilant about those elected to the office of deacon and what would happen if those elected took seriously the responsibilities laid before them.
The relationship of pastor to congregation in both the Acts and 1 Timothy texts requires some inference on the part of the interpreter. It is not so with Paul's words to the Ephesians. "And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry" (Ephesians 4:11, 12). That God gave the offices as gifts to the Church is clear. The purpose of the offices is also clear. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers have the express purpose of equipping the saints for the work of ministry. It is worth noting that the offices are not given to the Church to do the work of ministry. This does not mean men who fill these offices are not to be servants. Jesus himself modeled and commanded a servant spirit. "...let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves" (Luke 22:26). But one can argue that Jesus is speaking of general leadership attitudes and not specifically about the pastoral office especially when His words are balanced with both the ideas in Acts 6 and Ephesians 4. It seems clear that the apostolic ministry is that of Word and prayer. The congregation is to be devoted to learning the Word; the shepherd and teacher is to teach the Word. In that teaching there is to be instruction to the congregation, the saints, equipping them to do the works that make up ministry. Using what was happening in the early Church (Acts 2) it would appear the teaching included instruction on devotion to the fellowship, instruction on the proper understanding and use of the Sacraments, and instruction on prayer. The growth indicated in Acts is numerical of those being saved. The growth resulting from equipping the saints for the work of ministry is not necessarily so. Paul says the purpose for the work of ministry that is to be done by the saints is "...for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes" (v.12-14). This is not a growth that is measurable in numbers. It is instead a growth that may not be measurable but that is seen in spiritual maturity. If there is measurement it would be in a deeper devotion to Christ seen in a deeper devotion to the first practices (devotion to the teachings, the fellowship, breaking of bread, prayer, giving). As Paul also wrote, "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love" (v. 15, 16). The operative word, then, is love-agape. The case can certainly be made that love is shown in devotion.
The conclusion could very well then be made that the life of the Church is found in the devotion, the love, of the congregation first for God through Jesus Christ and secondly to the fellowship. It can also be concluded that while the pastor is to be a servant, the pastor's primary duty is not to "serve tables," but the proclamation of the Word and prayer that the saints may be equipped to show their love by "serving tables."