Tuesday, March 23, 2010



Tim Keller recently advised young ministry professionals to "think small" early in their careers.
Young pastors or seminarians often ask me for advice on what kind of early ministry experience to seek in order to best grow in skill and wisdom as a pastor. They often are surprised when I tell them to consider being a 'country parson' -- namely, the solo pastor of a small church, many or most of which are in non-urban settings. Let me quickly emphasize the word 'consider.' I would never insist that everyone must follow this path. Nevertheless, it is worth thinking about. It was great for me.
Specialization is a funny thing - I worry about ministry professionals in general because it is a radically different lifestyle than the one most of us live. And yet, they are the people that are supposed to help us become the people that God would have us be.

The tradition of clergy being "set apart" as they are has its roots in two distinct historical facts. One is the secular power of the church - clergy was set apart to wield that power as a ruling class of sort. The other fact is in the preservation of knowledge - it is an academic preservation highly akin to teachers.

And yet, the original pastors, the apostles, were set apart only after careers in "secular" pursuits. God called them out of the mundane and set them apart only after they had been "people like the rest of us." But they were also around at a time when education was wider spread than it would be after the fall of Rome and the church had no political power at all.

We live in an age when education, at least in American, is extraordinarily wide spread. We also live in a place and an age where you might be able to point to a ruling class, but virtually anyone with a mind to can join it. I wonder if it is not time for our clergy to be more "apostolic" under such circumstance.

There is a lot of that. Many people in this day and age just "hang out a shingle" and set themselves up as pastors - a totally entrepreneurial event. I am not necessarily in favor of that, I very much like the gate keeping functions of ordination and denomination. NO what I am wondering about is taking Keller's idea a step further.

Keller's suggestion is a great one - we all need "rounding" - a broader picture of where we fit into the grand scheme of things. His point, that "soloing" in a small church gives such perspective is right on.

But what if our candidates were urged to, somewhere in their development, seek "secular" employment for a period of a few years? What if they had the experiences, at least to some extent, that the rest of us have had. Not the part-time odd jobs that we all have when trying to pay for our educations - I am talking about real, wage slave stuff, salaries, benefits, 40-60 hours a week - the whole drudge.

What if they had to make their faith a reality not in the church, but in the world in the same way we do every day?

Just an idea.

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