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A Letter from the Senior Associate Minister to Presbytery

Reclaiming the Congregation’s Role in Shaping Pastors & Church Leaders
August 22, 2013

In his book Preparing the Pastors We Need, George Mason makes the case for congregations to reclaim their role in shaping the next generation of ministers.  He laments the fact that seminary education, as helpful as it is, leans more toward “information” than “formation.”  He shares his experiences of being right out of seminary and not being fully prepared for what would be expected of him in a parish setting.  He had the theological and Biblical knowledge but he had only limited experience of what the reality of the pastoral life and work might be like.  After a few years of ministry, he realized the valuable role churches play in the spiritual and professional formation of pastors.

He writes, “Congregations play a crucial part in the formation of pastoral identity. They confer the role in order for the identity to be confirmed. They allow young ministers (or new ministers) to move from knowing himself or herself as one who is called to be a pastor to one who is called Pastor…. Congregations (at least healthy ones) form pastoral identity into young (new) pastors partly by loving them into the role, entrusting themselves to the care of the would-be pastor, and in doing so undermine the myth of pastoral perfection that would otherwise sabotage a minister’s future. This builds humility and grace into a developing pastor because of the grace and trust granted by the church.” (p. 14)

Mason encourages churches to be “teaching congregations.”  Such congregations are learning communities in which ministry is performed and examined.  It becomes a “culture” in which shared practices are thought through and reflected upon regularly.  It is a community shaped not just by its way of doing, but by its way of being.

I have found some churches to be very adept at mentoring and shaping the spiritual lives of future leaders in the church.  They are intentional in the ways they surround persons with others who can teach, mentor, correct, model, and inspire.  They engage a potential church leader’s mind, heart, and soul.  Such congregations teach potential leaders how to love, forgive, show grace, exhibit humility, confess, challenge, and bear with others even when things get rough.   Future church leaders get to see theology in action, that is, at work in the flesh and blood, the joys and sorrows of God’s people.

What would it look like if more congregations reclaimed this role of shaping future church leaders?  What if churches took the time to look for and identify those who exhibit the spiritual maturity and skills to be a pastor or church leader?  Mason identifies the following qualities as ones to look for in potential leaders.  Such persons have:  an inner spiritual and faith life, a sense of wonder about life and the mysteries of God, an appreciation of ritual, an ability to connect with others, engagement for the healing of the world, a teachable spirit, and resiliency.   We might want to add or delete from this list, but it’s a start.  How is your congregation identifying future pastors or church leaders?  When was the last time at a session meeting, small group Bible study, or a committee meeting, were members of your church discussing how your church is nurturing leaders or identifying them?  Perhaps this could be a topic for the branch discussion in the future.  We could learn from each other how to do this more effectively.

The next generation of believers await a new generation of leaders.  How these leaders are “formed” and “identified” in local congregations, like yours, could make all the difference.

In Christ,

The Rev. Dr. Douglas E. Portz, Senior Associate Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

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