PREVENT THEOLOGICAL BURNOUT
Most of the pastors in your presbytery have had at least three years of training in the Bible and theology as well as courses in the spiritual disciplines. Then what happens to them as they are called to pastoral ministry? They can easily become so focused on the administration of a congregation and issues of pastoral care that they don’t have time to continue their theological reflections. While their preaching makes use of their biblical and theological studies, the time constraints don’t allow them to engage in probing the depth of many faith issues that might stimulate new insights. After awhile, their theological journey can become dull and repetitive.
AN INTERNET EXCHANGE
As a General Presbyter or other staff member of the presbytery, I want to suggest a way that you could stimulate their thinking and build community among them at the same time. There are several different internet programs that allow you to share a live conversation among a group of participants—Skype, Go to Meeting, Zoom, etc.
Consider inviting several pastors in similar size churches to join you in a weekly conversation about theological issues that are part of their faith journey as a pastor. (I suggest you begin with pastors of similar size churches, but later you may find it interesting to create different mixes in your conversations.) The more personal the invitation can be the better—by phone, or when you see them at a meeting, etc.Once they have agreed to meet with you on the internet, come to an agreement among the group of the best time to have an hour each month for six months. The frequency and the length of the conversation can be negotiated, but at the beginning one hour each month will not seem overwhelming.
A THEOLOGICAL CONVERSATION
Each meeting will have a focused conversation around a theological issue that touches their lives and ministry. For example, the subject might be forgiveness. The conversation might begin with reading the passage about the conversation between Peter and Jesus about forgiving seventy times seven. Or you might focus on the issue of forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer. Spend several minutes talking among yourselves about the meaning of forgiveness and its implication for the life of your respective churches. Move from there to having each person speak of where in their respective churches they find it most difficult to practice forgiveness. Also, discuss the possible impact on their congregations of emphasizing the doctrine of forgiveness and inviting members to identify where they have difficulty forgiving within the congregation. You might even plan together how your congregations could plan a “month of forgiveness.”
EXPANDING THE CONVERSATION
While it might be tempting to continue this same conversation at the second meeting, I would encourage you to agree to choose to emphasize a different theological/faith issue for each conversation. Each time, explore the meaning(s) of the topic, the challenge that living the doctrine poses for the pastors and their congregations, and some practical application within the life of the congregation.
Some theological issues you might consider are:
The challenge of trusting God
The implications of stewardship for daily life
Who is my neighbor in our diverse world
What is the meaning of salvation both now and after death?
How do we understand the implications of God as Lord of history
Those are suggestions to consider for your first six sessions. Help your “company of pastors” to realize that this is an experiment. Your hope is that if successful, this might be expanded to include any interested pastor in the presbytery. You might also consider your CLPs either having their own group or mixing them with ordained pastors.
YOUR SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP
In the next blog, I will adapt this design for a pastor within his or her congregation. I would be interested in your feedback for this experiment in how we can use our technology as a positive means of building up our church.