Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Review of The Competent Pastor pt1

I have been reading through Ronald Sisk's recent work: The Competent Pastor: Skills and Self Knowledge for Serving Well (The Alban Institute, 2005) and have found it both challenging and useful.

Sisk seeks to answer two key questions: What does it mean to say a pastor is competent? How does a competent pastor function?

Sisk defines competence as “the ability to do what needs to be done.” He writes:
Sometimes that means understanding yourself and others. Sometimes it means getting some task completed in the church. Always it means keeping a realistic perspective on your own life as a human being, a Christian, and a minister - what works for you and what doesn't.

I appreciate this definition mostly for what it doesn't say than what it does say. Competence doesn't mean one has to be Rob Bell to be a good pastor. Instead, he is saying a good pastor is one who has a strong sense of self-awareness and self-understanding/knowledge. So long as a pastor has a solid sense of identity and calling he or she will serve well.

He then addresses the question of how does a competent pastor function?
A competent minister functions, then, by moving forward toward understanding, resolution, and self-fulfillment. She will be happy in her job or able to find out shy she is not happy, and will be capable of moving forward. He won’t get stuck. Or, at least, when he does get stuck, he’ll know some specific steps to take to get unstuck.

For Sisk, this is his job description in sum, to ensure that the graduates of the Seminary where he teaches as professor of homiletics and Christian ministry graduate at leas on track to becoming and functioning as competent pastors.

The first chapter deals with the role of family systems in being a pastor. Our family or origin is a significant factor in understanding how one functions in nearly any capacity – pastor or other. If a pastor is from a family that fought a lot and he or she hates confrontation and avoids conflict then it might explain why his or her church is out of control and run by one or two over controlling people. Does this mean this person should not be a pastor – Sisk would say no, it does not mean this person should not be a pastor. Instead, this is where understanding and awareness comes in. Is this person aware of the tendency to avoid conflict and that it is why the church is out of control? If not, then he or she will probably remain unable to move forward in ministry until he or she comes to awareness of the problem. Once aware, he or she can begin to move forward in resolving the issue of avoiding conflict and regaining control of the church.

Sisk is good to observe that many might try to explain the situation as related to sin and that the pastor needs to repent and change – well, it is not that easy. According to Sisk, in discrediting the power of the past folks often fail to deal adequately with the conjunction of emotional, behavioral, and spiritual factors in personal and or ministerial development. This risk is real regardless of one’s spiritual commitment and sincere desire to follow Christ. As a Pentecostal I want to affirm Sisk’s comment here and say a pastor can even be baptized with the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues and still risk not functioning well as a competent pastor due to the influence of family of origin issues on his or her life.

Competence has little to do with how spiritual one is or how sincere one is about that spirituality – it has to do with openness to self knowledge and a willingness to address areas of weakness. Now, this is where Craig Keener has a good point in that praying in tongues can help a person receive from the Holy Spirit wisdom and guidance a to areas in a person’s personal life that need addressing. Now the question would be is that person willing to obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit? I want to be careful here and not get off track – but I think a combination of understanding family systems and how they influence our lives and our ability to function and spending time in intense prayer with the Lord can bring a lot of growth in a persons ability to function well in ministry.

Will the move forward help the person I used as an example become perfect in dealing with conflict? Not necessarily – but it will help him or her be more aware of his or her personal feelings and responses in the midst of the situation so he or she can act accordingly. He or she will probably always have problems with conflict and or confrontation, but to function will he or she will need to maintain a level of self-awareness and understanding so as to work through these issues. This is how a competent pastor functions – doing what needs to be done so as to be effective in shepherding a church and leading it in the way the Lord has directed.

More to come. Feel free to comment.



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