Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Beginning Ministry Suggestion from Tim Keller

I heartily recommend a reading of Tim Keller's advice for those aspiring to ministry: The Country Parson.

In short, he recommends trying to pastor as a solo pastor of a small, rural church.

His rationale includes limitations of experience gained as a mentored member of a pastoral staff in a larger church.

"You can't teach a younger pastor much about things they aren't actually doing. And in a large church they aren't a) bearing the burden of being the main leader, b) leading a board of elders, c) fund-raising and bearing the final responsibility of having enough money to do ministry, d) and doing the gamut of counseling, shepherding, teaching, preaching."

Conversely, when you're the only pastor ...
"In a smaller church as a solo pastor you and only you visit the elderly, do all the weddings and funerals, sit by the bedside of every dying parishioner, do all the marriage counseling, suspend and excommunicate, work with musicians, craft and lead worship, speak at every men's retreat, women's retreat, and youth retreat, write all the Bible studies and often Sunday School curriculum, train all the small group leaders, speak at the nursing home, work with your diaconate as they try to help families out of poverty, evangelize and welcome new visitors to the church, train volunteers to do some (but not all) of all of the above tasks, and deal with the once-a-month relational or financial crisis in the church. No amount of mentoring can teach you what you learn from doing all those things."

I may be rather biased, since my first pastorate was as the solo pastor in what was a rural church at the time. The experience was invaluable, though I found it to be a lonely experience as well.

I wondered at times about the alternative, serving on a larger staff. Yet, I avoided doing my seminary pastoral internship in such a church because I wanted to do more than carry around some associate pastor's clipboard ... uh ... not that there's anything wrong with that.

I'd be curious as to (1) your thoughts on Keller's article and (2) your reflections on your early pastoral experiences, the good, the bad, and the ugly.


etoc said...

I think the key point to Keller's comment is SMALL. I started in a small suburban church as a solo pastor. A rural church would have been a poor cultural fit for me and many others unfamiliar with the rhythms and sensibilities of rural life. A small church does give you more experience with the nitty-gritty of people and real-life ministry. I agree completely.

The big problem, however, is the loneliness. Being solo like that--particularly early on in your experience--can be isolating. You have to really work and pray to find an older local pastor willing to engage with you. Get a situation like that while pastoring that small church and I think you've got the ideal scenario.

GUNNY said...

I think that's a valid tweak. It's not so much rural versus urban versus suburban, but ultimately the size that prevents one from becoming a specialist, thereby tasting firsthand the vast array of ministerial fruit.

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Cody Kimmel said...

I get what Keller is saying about being in a position with real leadership for the sake of training, but I don't think that a rural pastorate is the only way. It depends more on the kind of apprenticeship program at the church. Some larger churches don't really do internships well, but some do.