After working last summer to write a draft of a book on pastoral leadership and faith as a way of life, I sent some preliminary work to Jon Pott, Academic Editor at Eerdmans, who is publishing the book (out in Fall 2007). He basically said that I needed to get to work. In other words, he wanted to see what I'd done, but fully cooked rather than half-baked. How did I know he thought it was half-baked? He taught me a new word in describing what I'd done: prolixity! Look it up, and have a laugh at my expense. My response was to read Zinsser's On Writing Well, especially chapter two: simplicity. It was a draft, after all, so I was grateful for that response. It is in many ways the hardest book I've written (and this one makes number four--who knew it got harder?) So I made a plan for rewriting. I'm now well into the rewriting and will begin to share pieces here. The old table of contents is here. For the new table of contents and introduction see below. Comments expected and welcome.
anon, and peace,
Faith as a Way of Life: A Vision for Pastoral Leadership
Forward: Gathered and Scattered [Miroslav]
Chapter One. Introduction
Part I. Obstacles to Living Faith as a Way of Life
Chapter Two. Social Differentiation and the Problem of Idolatry
Chapter Three. Cultural Languages and the Problem of Individualism
Part II. Making Faith Matter: Pastoral Practice and Daily Living
Chapter Four. Kinship and the Family
Chapter Five. Work and the Economy
Chapter Six. Citizenship and the Government
Chapter Seven. Leisure and the Arts
Part III. Leading the Gathering and Scattering
Chapter Eight. Church as Busy Intersection
Chapter Nine. Pastoral Leadership for a Way of Life
Chapter One | Introduction
One Sunday morning, Jane, a middle-aged professional woman, wife, and mother of two, stopped me in the coffee hour following church. With a smile, she said, “Pastor Scharen, I don’t know how you do it. You have to think about this religion stuff all the time! We only have to on Sundays.” Her laugh betrayed that she was ribbing me, at least in part. But because we were friends, I also knew that her family commitments to leisure time meant taking the entire summer off from church, as if congregational membership was just another piece of suburban family life interchangeable with school, soccer or scouts. So all jesting aside, she was also quite serious about her comment.
I had two gut responses at the time. One I will stand by today and one I need to revise. First, I would revise my snap judgment that all Jane needed was to get serious about her faith, by which I really meant attend church more regularly. Like most pastors, I was putting tremendous energy into quality Sunday worship and preaching and adult and youth education programs; I thought that if she were more serious about her faith, she’d come participate in the activities that would strengthen her faith. But since she didn’t, I figured, she and her family wouldn’t grow deeper in their faith life. I would revise this now, at least in part, because I don’t as directly equate seriousness about faith with increased hours spent at church. This book gives witness to the conviction that faith is lived out in daily life. Church, therefore, plays its part—but faithfulness does not equal hours clocked under the shadow of its steeple.
However, I will stand by my second response that day—my conviction that something is wrong with thinking of faith as a piece of the week, containable, and useful in its place. As Jane joked about how I “think about this religious stuff all the time,” I felt like I’d failed. Clearly she and her family wanted something from church. But it was largely faith as a balm—something to smooth over the difficulties of life—rather than faith as a fundamental orientation and guide in all of life. I wondered how I could communicate differently so that she might see faith not just as a sort of “essence of peace” perfume that one sprays over one’s life once a week, while that life is otherwise is largely untouched by the impact of faith. I wondered how I might make the case that God wants all of Jane’s life—her ‘church’ time as well as her time with family, at work, in the community, out shopping, or at the baseball game? I went away that day pondering how many of us live compartmentalized lives. I mulled over the way our faith so often fails to do the work of orienting our decisions in these various parts of our lives. How often, in fact, faith simply rides to the (spiritual) rescue in times of trouble rather than serving as the beating heart pumping life-blood through all aspects of our lives.
I begin by facing up to this challenge of pastoral leadership so that you, dear reader, know two things straight away. First, I hope you find yourself moaning in recognition, having had many experiences of a similar sort. Second, I hope you find yourself smiling, knowing that I wrote this book having struggled to do that which I write about in its pages. Not only that: I have also talked with many pastoral leaders about their struggles, and tried to learn from them as well. Despite the strong temptation to write a book that gives you the answers, I have not. Such books overestimate the potential of transplanting ideas from one context to another. To make use of this book you will have to do practical thinking in your own ministry context. While the book doesn’t provide answers, it clearly identifies the endemic problems pastoral leaders face in offering a vision of Christian faith as a whole and lived daily. This book, then, casts a vision of pastoral leadership centered on the ability to shape persons and communities for living such a vision of faith. Let me now say more about the core phrase—“faith as a way of life”—and about how this book came to be.
Faith as a Way of Life (FWL) Project
The Christian faith is a coherent vision for a way of life in response to Jesus’ invitation to “follow me.” The life of faith lived in response to Jesus’ invitation—and the leadership called to guide and foster faithful lives—follows a basic pattern. That pattern is one of gathering and scattering; gathered into the life of God in Christ through the power of the Spirit and scattered for the sake of witness and service in daily life. In an era when many churches focus almost exclusively on gathering, the reassertion of this pattern has very real power.
Yet simply pointing to this pattern isn’t enough. It needs to be further said that the way of life this pattern implies finds its intellectual and moral content in God’s action for us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is, faith is a shorthand way of saying the creedal orthodoxy of the Christian faith—the beliefs summarized at the climax of Peter’s Pentecost sermon in Acts of the Apostles 2:38 “God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” The story of Jesus Christ as gospel is the faith we confess and that faith, rather than some conglomeration of vague beliefs, is the shaping force orienting Christian faith.
Yet our way of life is not simply an interconnected set of beliefs, either. We must go one step further to finally get the necessary picture. The Christian faith as belief gives shape to a life lived daily in and for the sake of God’s reconciling work in the world. Yale theologian Miroslav Volf, who wrote the proposal for the FWL Project, argues that “the core task of pastoral leadership today—and a signal mark of its excellence—is the task of shaping persons and communities for living faith as a way of life in the world.” Christian discipleship, and the life of the Christian ministry that serves such discipleship, is, as Volf so plainly states, a way of life not for its own sake, as if sectarian purity were the goal, but for the sake of the world.
Christian ministry is deeply concerned with connecting faith to the daily lives of disciples. Pastors will be able to impart this vision of faith only if they themselves are compelled by it and if their parishioners find that the model helps them make sense of life as a whole. One of the most pressing needs of pastoral ministry is therefore to develop, sustain, and legitimize reflection on Christian faith not simply as a set of propositions to believe, commandments to obey, or rituals to perform but as an orienting force that impacts every aspect of daily life.
Generously supported by Lilly Endowment, Inc. as part of the Sustaining Pastoral Excellence Program, The Faith as a Way of Life Project was designed to address the problems and prospects regarding such a vibrant life of faith. Based on this shared understanding, a working group of pastors, laity, and theological educators met over a period of three years. In a series of reflective retreats, the purpose was to uncover both the problems with and possibilities for pastoral leadership that models and mediates faith as a way of life. The term “pastoral leadership” is used consistently throughout this book for two reasons. First, it is a way to focus on the Church’s great task of ministry in and for the sake of the world. That is, the term, with echoes in the great Vatican II statement Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes), seeks to describe the Church’s pastoral role in relationship to faith lived out in the world. All Christians fulfill this role through their callings in the world, and it is a special role of pastoral leadership in the church to foster, equip, and encourage faith as a way of life. Second, “pastoral leader” is one term that helps deal with the great diversity of kinds of formal church leadership, not all of whom even fit under the fairly general rubric of “clergy” (as in the example of lay ecclesial ministers in the Roman Catholic Church).
The twenty-five members of the project’s working group represented diverse regions of the country and traditions within the Christian church. As we met twice a year over three years we explored from as many vantage points as possible one central mark of excellent ministry: the call to shape persons and communities for faith as a way of life. We came to believe that the most effective way to find traction on the idea of living faith in all spheres of life was through theological reflection—itself a difficult practice that surprisingly did not come naturally to us. By theological reflection, I mean the practice of moving through a reflective circle, starting with an examination of the realities confronting us, drawing on biblical and theological resources to envision a response, and envisioning strategic action that would lead us back into our realities with hope of change.
Yet in actual fact, our capacity to practice theological discernment lags behind its importance for living faithful lives today. One of the key learning points of our work together came midway through our process at a meeting focusing on the relation of family, or kinship broadly speaking, and faith. We read scripture and theology related to families prior to our meeting with the hope of thinking theologically together about faith and family. David McCarthy, whose book The Good Life: Genuine Christianity for the Middle Class, we had read, was present for our conversation.
After a particularly striking session where David talked about issues his book raised regarding the relation of technology and family in contemporary culture, Miroslav Volf and I debriefed in the hall. We both came to the same conclusion: how hard it is, even for theologically trained pastors, to sustain practical theological reflection together. Our conversation had quickly and predictably settled into the ruts of the “primary languages” of American culture—what amount to a mixture of feelings, experience, and pragmatism, without reference to faith’s conviction rooted in Scripture.
At this midpoint in our project we saw in living color some of the difficulties pastors face in embodying excellent pastoral practice. In particular, we saw how all of us, pastoral leaders included, can revert to other powerful languages to orient our work while covering it with a veneer of faith language. Clergy are often attracted to the emotion-driven therapeutic and the results-driven managerial models of leadership so prevalent in American culture. Caring deeply about how people feel or pressing for effective results with people are often highly rewarded skills among clergy; yet when they dominate, faith becomes a weak sibling, doing little work as a community enacts its faith in daily life.
However, many excellent clergy in some measure understand the overwhelming power of other moral languages in our culture and the temptation to substitute them for a model grounded in substantive faith language. They long to grow in their ability to model and mediate a strong and comprehensive vision of Christian faith in relation to contemporary cultures and feel that little matters more than this in their ministry. My effort in this book is to directly engage these problems with the hope of fostering pastoral leadership that is grounded in a vision of faith as a way of life.
This small book, however, is not a summary of the proceedings of our project. Rather, it draws inspiration from the work of the project, and under the voice of one author, tries to say back both to the group and to the church more broadly some of what we learned. In that sense, what I say here is greatly indebted to the group and the work we shared. Yet I have imposed my own ideas and given shape to the argument in ways that both reflect the broader group discussions and seek to go beyond them. I hope that those who participated in the project see the ways this work learned deeply from the project, and yet find challenge here for further reflection.
The breadth of the topic is appropriate for a book on pastoral leadership in that its concerns are of the “generalist” sort rather than the “specialist” literature common in many fields. Seeking to write about faith as a way of life, let alone trying to live it and offer help to others on their journey, necessarily means treading into areas where I am not an expert. In a sense, the generalist—as I consider myself here—must be willing to be corrected by the specialist in many areas for the sake of asking the specialist to see the interconnection and coherence of the whole. I apologize to those people whose areas I have too briefly and, perhaps, misguidedly, discussed.
Outline of the Book
As a whole, the book has three main parts that work together in sequential fashion. The first part attempts a sketch of the major structural and cultural forces that account for the constrained role faith and the church play in the lives of many people today. The second part, while certainly not exhaustive, moves through some of the central aspects—or spheres, as I call them here—of our lives. Finally, in part three, I sketch what congregations, and the pastoral leadership within them, would look like if faith served a way of life.
The middle section, then, is really the heart of the book. These chapters attempt to think theologically about various spheres of life (such as family, work, politics, and the arts) that we often experience as fragmented and disconnected from one another. It is my belief affirmed concretely during my three years learning with the FWL national working group, that theological reflection is crucial to a full understanding of pastoral excellence. By encouraging the practical skill of thinking theologically about everyday matters, I hope to aid pastoral leaders (and those to whom they minister) in the task of living faithfully in the world.
Each of these sphere-focused chapters follows a similar pattern. Each deals with one of the distinct spheres of our society (and of our lives), and in each, I will offer a three-part process of reflection. First, I will highlight how the social-structural and cultural realities discussed in part one of the book come to bear within that sphere. Second, I will propose some biblical and theological resources that evoke a vision of faith’s impact on the realities facing us. Third, I describe an example of a robust practical pastoral exercise that might foster the kind of leadership that holds faith’s vision in tension with the realities of life. The hope of this process is that lives and communities are drawn more deeply into the shape of God’s gathering and scattering of Christ’s body for the sake of the world.
In the end, this brief book takes on nothing less that how Christians might more fully participate in the great mission of God always already at work in the world. Such a big topic, done in a few pages, necessarily means I often paint with broad brush-strokes. A final word, then, by way of introduction: I encourage you to see this work not as concluding a conversation but as provoking one. I encourage you to think, to pray, and to seek more resources for a conversation with others who care deeply about the character and faithfulness of our life in Christ. We have developed a website partner to this book with many additional resources. You can turn there for theological readings, sample sermons, adult and youth education plans, graphics and art, poetry, and more. I hope, therefore, that reading this book serves as a spark to further reflection on what really matters in ministry. Faith as a way of life is not a “new” model of pastoral leadership that requires you to attend seminars for training. Rather, it is an attempt to clear away the obstacles that prevent us from seeing the height and depth and breadth of our core task as disciples and as leaders for the sake of communities of discipleship living our faith as a way of life.