Is the solitary nature of pastoral ministry necessary?

As pastors we need to be self motivated. After all there is no one who is looking over our shoulders, is there? There is no bundy clock to keep track of our hours. There is no one instructing us on the things we should teach or preach about (unless it’s the book of Revelation). There is no one checking in on us making sure that everything is ok.

Sometimes pastoral ministry seems a rather solitary existence, where we are expected to do the majority of a church’s ministry, where we are expected to haver everything figured out, where we are expected to be strong in the middle of a hard world.

But together with this expectation of doing the ministry, it often also feels as if there are many people looking over our shoulders: 

  • People want to talk to the pastor when the call the church. 
  • People want the pastor to visit them. 
  • People want the pastor’s preaching to be good. 
  • People want their cars/motorcycles/houses/jeepneys/businesses/atbp to be blessed. 
  • People want you to attend their birthday parties. 
  • People want you to be available at any time, day or night.

Apart from this we need to make sure our families are well taken care of. 

It’s impossible really. No one can do all of this and survive. There are so many voices vying for our attention as pastors that it takes skill and ability to navigate all of this. 

One of the problems is the popular idea of the solitary pastor leading his flock closer to Jesus. Fortunately this idea has been challenged of late. Hal Puttick illustrated it somewhat like this, 

“Pastoring is like solo paddling. We train pastors to paddle their own canoe. We then load them up with a huge amount of cargo and expect them to be able to paddle it to the destination. From time to time they may get close to other pastors who are also paddling alone but what ends up happening is that one paddler tries to transfer some of his load to another paddler (who is already overloaded themself). What we need to do is to develop leadership teams.”

Hal Puttick

In the theological world, people like Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost and their various co-authors have been advocating for a more APEST-type ministry model for several years. APEST comes from Ephesians 4:11 that speaks of Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds, and Teachers. I have seen a couple of restatements of the APEST idea that help us better understand what Ephesians 4 is saying. 

There is this tweet from @lukejohnson2191 that restates the 5-fold ministries as things each person would say:

Then there is the restatement from Frost & Hirsch themselves that restates the 5-fold ministries using terms that may have less theological baggage: 

But this APEST idea is not an excuse to just sit back and let things happen. Rather it is a call to both work hard at what your speciality is and to develop at team of people who can work together to meet the needs of the church as a whole.

But what if you are solo paddling? What can you do?

1. Make decisions on what you will prioritise and what you won’t. Not everyone will be happy with you but you might survive the journey. 

2. Help train others to join you in your canoe. After all, if we want things to change we need to start changing them.

3. Keep working hard. Be self motivated. Don’t forget your calling to serve God in whatever circumstances.

Photo by Josh Hild on Pexels.

Cultural Dependency & Systematic Theology: At Odds in the Search for Emancipation?

A lot of my work involves finding solutions for economic problems. Quite often I am that solution (at least on a short-term basis). But we haven’t found a long-term solution yet. We do teach on Capacity Building at SEATS but some things I have been reading lately have made me wonder if we are on the wrong track. Recently I have been thinking about the following questions and ideas:

If cultural & economic dependency are linked (as per Ali Mazrui), what does that say for teaching systematic theology cross-culturally? Since theology defines church culture, must it then be developed by those within the culture so as to not contribute to cultural dependency? Is it just adding to the problem? Is developing Asian Theology then the key to eliminating economic dependency in Asian churches?

These questions came as a result of reading my Dad’s Master of Education thesis from 1990. Kind of makes me wish I had read it earlier. Referencing Mazrui, Dad makes the statement “that cultural autonomy can be achieved through a strategy of domestication, diversification, and counter-penetration.”

Examples of this strategy (with comments) as applied to my cultural setting might include:

1. Use local language. SEATS training is conducted in a blending of English and Tagalog so perhaps we are going in the right direction here.

2. Connect to other Asian churches/cultures. SEATS itself is cross0-cultural but we haven’t been able to really link up Filipinos with other Asian church groups at this level. This will allow Asians to have more voices in the conversation than simply westerners.

3. Diffuse Filipino values into the mission. This, as pointed out in the thesis, is already on the way to being accomplished since there are a large number of Filipinos in Canada and Filipino churches working with the BGC Canada. Early in our career we even had a Filipino director of Global Ministries. His influence was definitely felt in our movement, even though he later moved on to other things. SEATS itself has a completely Filipino board. One idea would be to allow other Asian board members to help fill out the conversation and bring balance.

In your opinion, what is the best answer to this problem?

SEATS School of Ministry starts in a few

SEATS School of Ministry starts in a few hours: We’ll be finishing up Essentials vs Non-Essentials

If Powerlessness Means No Power How Can I Lead My Church?

“You know, Mike. The hardest one of the 4 for me is Powerlessness. As Pastors we need to guide our churches. Without our power, people will not move and the church will not grow. So there needs to be a balance.” Phil was wrestling with one of Michael Frost’s Four Ps of Incarnational Mission. As a churchplanter among middle-class Filipinos, he is concerned about the future of his church and the best way to minister to this group.

Phil was a part of SEATS latest School of Ministry class. In an effort to return to the roots of our movement we have been revisiting the Gospels under the guise of a hermeneutics class. Called “Understanding Jesus: Mark.” I thought it might be interesting to combine Frost’s understanding of Incarnation and Incarnational Mission with the stories we see in Mark. Here is a brief summary of each of the four:

Presence – Do what Jesus would have been doing, if he were here.

Proximity – Identify with those to whom we are ministering, much in the way Jesus identified with nearly everyone to whom he ministered.

Powerlessness – giving up our position of power – be it money, position, education, or whatever – and depend upon God for the things we need in ministry. Rather than trusting in my own power, I trust in God’s.

Proclamation – it is all worthless if we never get around to discussing and presenting Jesus as the good news.

Granted these summaries may not accurately reflect Frost’s concepts since they are my summaries but they did form the basis for our discussion in class.

Of course, like Phil, we are all ok with 3 of the 4. We are happy to see that we represent God’s presence in the world, that we drawn near to others just as he drew near to us, and that ultimately, without the good news being proclaimed, there is no value to our mission. But when we get to that pesky #3 – Powerlessness – something seems to hold us back. We begin asking questions like Phil: How do we balance leadership with servanthood? Am I just supposed to sit back and let my church fail? To sit back and let people just do what they want?

The key to all of this is to remember that in Powerlessness we are imitating Jesus. Perhaps the Trinity had a similar discussion “before the foundation of the earth” where they debated the nature of the Incarnation. Perhaps they thought about all the positives and negatives as they discussed the plan. Certainly God’s concerns are bigger than ours. If I am concerned about my church and its growth, God is concerned with the universe and its growth. But yet, when all is said and done, God chose to use powerlessness as a key part of how he presented his love and salvation to us.

Another key is to remember that it is not really Powerlessness that is being spoken of but rather a dependence upon power that is not our own. Jesus is constantly speaking of how he is the one who depends upon the Father for certain things. We also read how it was the Holy Spirit who filled him and enabled him to do his marvelous acts. When we embrace powerlessness, we set aside our own resources, powers, abilities, etc and embrace humility and dependence upon God in it all.

I thought of a few points that might help us focus on the key concepts that relate to Powerlessness:

1. So does the ‘Pastor’ have to be the best at everything? If we believe this, we will never be able to embrace powerlessness since we will need that power to keep up the hectic pressure and pace we need to set for ourselves.

2. Does the church depend upon the ‘Pastor’ for its existence? Obviously we need to answer “No.” It is Christ upon whom we depend for our existence as a church. As such, maybe we need to let go a little bit and see where God is leading. (See #1, above).

3. How do our gifts play into this concept of powerlessness? The fact that the Spirit manifests himself through gifts he gives to each Christian as he sees fit means that one person can’t carry the whole load. We need to give up our idea of the pastor as the key figure in the church, as the one with whom the church lives or dies and embrace the fact that each part of the body is crucial to the future of what God does through us!

4. The concept of team understands powerlessness and uses it effectively. “There is no ‘I’ in team” is an old saying that has some truth to it. Team means we do it together not that you or I do it alone.

5. Is ‘Pastoral’ leadership based upon leadership through power, or leadership through example or leadership through serving? Jesus is pretty clear in saying that power isn’t to be the basis for our leadership. In fact, in his example of washing the disciple’s feet, he showed that it is really through servanthood and example that our leadership lies.

What are your thoughts on powerlessness and how it relates to leadership?

what is the truth?

What is the truth? In the Jim Carrey movie, Liar Liar, a lying attorney is faced with the issue of having to tell the truth all the time. Of course, in typical Jim-Carrey fashion, the story is a little outrageous, but it does raise an interesting question in each of our minds: Am I a truth-teller or just another liar?

Of course, I feel this in the greatest way with my kids. How many times have I promised, “I’ll play with you when I’m done” but then started something new? Or set a standard for their behaviour that I then went on to ignore in my own life.

When I was a child our family had a rule: No TV shows about murder for the kids. One night I realised that my parents were watching a show that featured a murder. The next morning I said that it seemed unfair for us to not be able to watch but ok for them. Do you know what they did? They agreed and subjected themselves to their own rule. As I type I am asking myself if I would do the same thing in my own family? (Do I have to answer that?)

Actually if truth be told, we did face this in our family just the other day. In our family, we have decided that it is improper to use the s-word (not that s-word! This one has 6 letters and refers to a person’s intellectual capacity or lack thereof). My assumption was that it was the kids who couldn’t use it but I – being the father – could use whatever word I want. Of course, they called me on it. So now I have agreed that the rule applies to me also.

As a church leader I find it difficult to know how much of a truth-teller I should be. It may sound strange, but it’s true. There are so many factors to take into account: What is my relationship to the person I need to confront with the truth? Am I the best person to do the confronting or is there someone else? If I confront someone with the truth today, will our relationship ever be the same again? Is it really all that bad, whatever it is they are doing? Going beyond the basic relationships I may have from day-to-day, how about those things that I see in our society that are wrong? How do I confront them? Do I really have a say in the corruption of our nation? Do I really have a say in how various government agencies operate? Can I really do anything about a system that pervades every family home? How effective is my truthfulness when I drive? Isn’t it bad to impose my own cultural values on someone else?

I guess it comes down to how much I believe the truth. Have I been truly convinced of the need to extend my personal views of truth into the marketplace?

Mike Fast welcomes feedback on any of the articles he writes. Please leave your comments below.

to the second and third generation

the bible is constantly talking about how generations are affected by that actions of their forebearers. if the parents sin, then their children will feel the effects and continue in that sin. if the parents do something well, then that blessing will extend to their children.

on saturday, 30 july 2005, this generational principle will be proven true once again.

generation 1: in the late 1980s a group of young men and women underwent training to be pastors. a vast majority of those people are still in pastoral ministry today. one of those guys is my partner in ministry here in manila.

generation 2: for the past year or so we have been involved in training some of the second generation. each month we help shape their minds and ministries by showing them how to lead their churches to be agents of transformation in filipino society. these pastors have finished 9 of their required 15 courses. we are very excited to see them grow. god has blessed them by giving each of these a church with many potential leaders!

generation 3: on saturday, we will begin training generation three! a group of our students in cavite, philippines have decided to take our program to their followers. on saturday we will introduce this third generation to the basic foundations of the christian worldview. i am very excited to begin this new stage!

will you pray with me for this third generation?

your pastor

have you ever thought about your pastor and what it has taken for him to be who he is? what makes him a good pastor?

his personality?
his training?
his love for god?
his love for you?

just what is it?

how much work did he have to do to get to be who his is today? some stuff is caught and some stuff is taught: how much of what makes him who he is is taught?

my own seminary training really prepared me well for life in the ministry.

i got a good biblical foundation,
i got a good theological foundation,
i got a good handle on who i am as a leader.

but most importantly, i learned how to think.

my job involves teaching pastors how to think so they can face the world and find solutions to its problems.

monkey world

i was watching “monkey world” on animal planet the other day and it had this couple who basically built a zoo for monkeys over the past 15 years. i wondered where they got their funding and realised that they found groups and individuals who shared their passion for monkeys! my passion is not monkeys (not by any stretch of the imagination!!!). my passion is training pastors. so i began to ask myself the following questions:

1. who has a passion for pastoral training and churchplanting? in the Philippines? in Canada? in the US?

2. what kinds of people are they? pastors? professors? schools?

3. are there businesses/ businessmen (ie. people with financial resources) who are into seeing pastors trained?

4. how can i partner with them here in south east asia so we can continue our pastoral training and churchplanting?

do you have the answers to my questions?