Keys to pastoral success?

This article first appeared in the Fall/Winter 2007 edition of In Touch magazine. For reprint permission contact Lynn Jost.

by Lynn Jost

I’m back at my desk after a week at the ICOMB (International Committee of Mennonite Brethren) Consultation on Higher Education. Forty-five MB educators from around the world gathered in Fresno to think about how we prepare God’s people to serve in God’s world. We listened, shared, and prayed together. We learned what God is doing through us to fulfill the Great Commission.

I asked a church leader from India about Augusteen, who studied at the MB Centenary Bible College in Shamshabad, India, then entered a pastoral position three years ago. Eighteen months ago I visited his village church. Yesterday I learned that Augusteen had just left his pastoral position. Hardship (MB village pastors in India earn between $30 and $100 a month) and slow advancement to education opportunities discouraged Augusteen.

MB church leaders in North America are also concerned with pastoral attrition. Why are pastors leaving churches? To find out, Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary joined forces with the Canadian MB Church to study pastoral retention and attrition, with funding from the Lilly Foundation grant to Ministry Quest. In February, 2007, a group of thirty educators and church leaders met to discuss the key findings of the survey, which included the following information:

1. MB pastors, especially senior pastors, tend to stay in a pastorate for a relatively long tenure, and when they leave a church, they tend to move into another pastoral position. According to the study, the mean (average) tenure was about five years.

2. Successful pastors tend to have mentors, seek professional development, and learn to balance personal, family, and church responsibilities.

3. Successful congregations support pastors through encouraging mentors, congregational leadership, active congregational ministry, and sensitivity to pastors' needs.

4. Successful pastoral training develops competency in leadership development, delegating responsibility, conflict management, and balancing ministry with personal needs.

5. The church encourages ministry by providing overseers who will serve as mentors, advocates, resources, guides, and congregational liaisons.

Both the ICOMB Consultation and the February meeting concluded with future commitments. International theological educators discussed ways to continue sharing and serving together. The North American gathering ended with time of committing to support pastors and to train prospective pastors with sensitivity.

As I reflect on the two recent gatherings, I ask myself, “If Jesus had been the keynote speaker at our meetings, what would he have told the church about training pastors?” For guidance in answering this question, I turn to Marva Dawn and her book The Sense of the Call: A Sabbath Way of Life for Those Who Serve God, the Church, and the World (Eerdmans, 2006). Dawn calls us away from the techniques and values of the dominant culture. She calls us away from pursuing successful pastorates, congregations, and training institutions. She calls us, through the words of Scripture, to faithfulness to the biblical tradition. Consider these words of counsel:

One large reason for ministerial dis-ease arises because the church marketing gurus keep telling pastors that they must fulfill functions that are not part of their true call. Clergy persons are advised that they must be technologically literate, that they must see themselves as managers, that the growth of the congregation depends upon their charisma, that following certain procedures will enable them to be successful . . . . As a result, clergy in our postmodern culture become CEOs instead of pastors, devoted to entertaining spectacle instead of to the Word and prayer and God’s people. For everyone’s wholeness it is imperative that the Church reiterate the biblical call to fulfill their true theological vocation (page 165).

So, what is our mission as we train pastors? Again, I am indebted to Marva Dawn as I consider developing pastoral imagination. We are here to equip God’s people. May God bless us as we seek to prepare pastors who will equip the saints with a vision of the kingdom, saints who will center themselves in Jesus, saints who will be theologians, saints who will be subversive (living with kingdom values in a world with self-centered aims); in sum, as we equip saints who live out of the Trinity’s mission. God bless us all!