Three Important Pastoral Lessons

Greg Strand – January 30, 2014 6 Comments

This past summer Scott Manetsch, professor of church history at TEDS, taught at our EFCA One Conference on the lessons we can learn from Calvin’s pastoral ministry in Geneva. His lectures came from his magnificent work, Calvin’s Company of Pastors, and were given under the title, “The Reformation of the Pastoral Office.” It was an excellent seminar.

In a recent article Manetsch addressed this important work again. Setting the context, he acknowledge that we must “not glamorize the past, assuming that ‘older is better’ and thus seek uncritically to transplant ancient ideas or practices into our modern contexts.” But neither should we have a mindset that “equates the ‘modern’ with the ‘good,’ and thus turns a blind eye to wisdom gleaned from the lives and lessons of people in the past.” Since the world is the “theater of God’s glory” (as spoken by Calvin), there are things to be learned from everything.

The past is not necessarily better. They had problems like we do. But the key that enables us to glean and gain from a study of the past is that it allows us to understand the present better. If we only focus on the present, we become blind to our own problems. This is why C. S. Lewis recommended reading an old book for every contemporary book you read. Though the old had problems, they were different problems from our own.

Manetsch focused on “three important pastoral lessons from Calvin’s Geneva” that are important and helpful for us as we consider pastoral ministry today. I include excepts only.

In Calvin’s Geneva, ministry was profoundly Word-centered. At the heart of Calvin’s sense of vocation was the conviction that Christians “needed to hear their God speaking and learn from his teaching.” . . . Calvin and his reformed colleagues believed that where God’s Word was faithfully proclaimed and gladly received, there the Holy Spirit was at work in power to effect moral transformation in the lives of men and women. The case of Calvin’s Geneva reminds us today that spiritual reformation and scriptural proclamation go hand in hand.

For Calvin, pastoral ministry involved intensive personal care. . . . Calvin once stated:  “the office of a true and faithful minister is not only to teach the people in public, which he is appointed to do as pastor, but also, as much as he is able, to admonish, exhort, warn, and console each person individually.” . . . In our modern world where men and women so often struggle with spiritual dislocation, fractured relationships, and deep-seated loneliness, Calvin’s vision for pastoral oversight that includes gospel proclamation and intense relational ministry appears especially relevant and important.

Calvin was committed to accountability and collegiality in pastoral work. . . . though pastors’ roles might vary from parish to parish, the pastoral office was a single office, and all pastors were equally servants of Christ and ministers of the Word of God. Calvin formalized this commitment by creating a number of institutions that constituted the DNA of pastoral ministry in Geneva. All of the city’s ministers belonged to the Company of Pastors, a church council that met every Friday morning to address concerns of the church. . . . A second institution was the weekly Congregation, a body created by Calvin (patterned after Zurich’s Prophetzei) where the city’s pastors met to study Scripture together and evaluate one another’s exposition of biblical texts. Calvin insisted that the formation of ministers and the preservation of right doctrine depended on the pastors studying Scripture in community. . . . One additional church institution that reflected Calvin’s commitment to accountability and collegiality was the Quarterly Censure. Four times a year, before the quarterly celebration of the Lord’s Supper, Geneva’s ministers met behind closed doors to air their differences, to address colleagues suspected of immorality or teaching wrong doctrine, and to promote mutual trust and common vision. . . . Though Calvin’s collegial model of ministry did not foster bold innovation, nor allow for strong dissent, it did create a pastoral culture in Geneva where ministers depended on one another, learned from one another, were accountable to one another, and sometimes forgave one another. One suspects that contemporary Protestantism, with its infatuation for robust individualism, celebrity preachers, and ministry empires, has much to learn from the example of Geneva’s church.

These are great lessons, models and exhortations for us. May we be profoundly Word-centered in all of our ministries, not just the pulpit ministry; may we be pastoral in the sense of applying the truths we preach in our own lives and the lives of others in the context of relationships; and may we commit to and accountable to doing and living theology in the context of community.

Greg Strand

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Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA’s Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

6 responses to Three Important Pastoral Lessons

  1. Excellent thoughts. My one concern would be about the “intense” pastoral care. Too often in our culture pastors are pushed by popular authors and seminars and societal trends to be therapists rather than pastors.

    I think very few pastors are trained well enough to answer the needs of our culture in regards to be counselors. We are pastors, and as you stated (or Calvin stated) we are to be Word-centered.

    For too many years I thought I was a bad pastor because I could not, or did not supply the deep and therapeutic counsel some of my parishioners needed and/or demanded. In turn I beat myself silly for not “caring enough” to desire to help those in need. Thankfully, I have grown to the point where I know my limits are, and I communicate that to those seeking pastoral care. It’s better for all involved. I often use the illustration that if a church member has a heart condition they want me praying for them and with them, but they surely don’t want me cutting on them.

    Our seminaries need to rethink this as well. What I learned in my “counseling courses” was enough to make me dangerous.

    Yes, we need to shepherd the flock, but sometimes even the shepherd has to call the veterinarian.

    Just some thoughts from a crazy shepherd.

    • Thank you for sharing your personal experiences and reflections. This is where the body of Christ comes in – not everyone has all the gifts, but all the gifts are there in the local body. Hebrews teaches us, and pastoral experience validates it, that sanctification is a community project. Under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we recognize and acknowledge our own strengths and weaknesses, and we under-shepherd people to the right people, those who are gifted to do so. And we are not duped or deceived into thinking we need to do it all, or that we must because we are not expendable, i.e. either we do it or it doesn’t get done. We all enter into ministry with great hopes and expectations, often with far greater visions of our gifts and abilities than match reality, and it is only through dependency on the Lord and interdependence on others int eh body of Christ and through years of experience that we get to a place where we can say what you did. At that point we exclaim with Paul that it God’s grace that is perfected in my weakness, which means we can boast in them to exalt the greatness and power of God (2 Cor. 12:9-10).

  2. Thanks!
    Keep feeding us, Greg.

  3. Thanks for the informative and edifying blog. It does warm my Orthodox Presbyterian heart to see these insights from Calvin :), but I’d find them just as edifying if they came from Wesley. Thanks again for the gems you glean from various sources.

    • You are welcome, John. And yes, I agree about Calvin and/or Wesley. Truth, both doctrinal and experiential, is truth. You will be interested to know that I will be quoting from both of them in the same blog in the near future.

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