Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Preparing for a new pastor, continued...

I might mention that, in preparing to teach on this idea of preparing for a new pastor, I have a personal stake in it. The church that we are members of here in St. Louis is going through the very beginnings of transition right now: our Head Pastor of 15 years is leaving, as is our Youth Pastor, who is the primary “second” for preaching and general leadership. Thus, when I think through these things, I am faced with the reality of them as a layman myself, not only as someone who hopes that one day a church will do these things in preparation for my ministry.

The first step in preparing for a new pastor is that we must understand his calling. This means that we recognize the significance of all that has happened in the process of the new pastor getting to where he is, if he is about to begin a ministry as the pastor of your church.

For example, to be a pastor in my denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), a man goes through quite a process before he may be ordained for ministry. The PCA's Book of Church Order outlines this process in detail. The steps are essentially three, though they are not completely exclusive of one another.

First, a man must submit himself to the oversight of the church, both locally and regionally, to be overseen as a “candidate for Gospel ministry.” He is then said to be “under care” of a presbytery. To be under care means:
  • He is called on to demonstrate his faithfulness to God and His church before others (others being first the Elders of his local church, then the presbytery of which his church is a member)
  • He gives testimony of his faith and Christ and both his inward and outward call to ministry
  • He is then to be shepherded by presbyters (and presbytery as a whole) for the duration of his training for Gospel ministry
The next step in the process is the candidate's testing as an intern (for a minimum of 1 year). This step, though distinct from being under care, can be done concurrently with the first step. In addition to all of the oversight offered as a candidate, this step requires of him that he demonstrate the practical use of the training he has received. An intern is:
  • Held accountable for faithfulness and diligent pursuit of training
  • Called on to demonstrate extensively his abilities and the usefulness of his training; this is done across the spectrum of pastoral ministry, including the areas of:
  • Teaching and teaching
  • Counseling and care
  • Theological soundness and application
  • Understanding and exercise of church government
  • Discernment and wisdom
This step is truly a comprehensive testing of the intern's calling. Interns are presented with a checklist that covers all of these areas of testing, and they must fulfill the requirements of the list to the satisfaction of the presbytery. And the list is made up of things like “preach at least 12 sermons” or “teach at least 30 separate times.” Though the requirements are that this step last a year, an intern would have their work cut out for them to get it done in only a year.

The final step is that the candidate/intern is examined as an ordinand-- that is, they are being considered for ordination. This examination includes some very basic aspects, but also some complex and, frankly, grueling. The examination includes:
  • That he has fulfilled his training— including both a Bachelor’s degree and a Master of Divinity
  • That he express a continued affirmation of his testimony of faith
  • That he undergo a continued examination of his call to ministry
  • That he is tested extensively on his knowledge, both in theory and practice, both written and orally, in all of the following areas:
  • Use of original Bible languages
  • Intimate familiarity with the English Bible
  • Historical, biblical, systematic, and practical theology
  • Meaning and mode of sacraments
  • General church history
  • Specific history of the PCA
  • Rules and application of church government
  • Ability to preach and teach
  • That he be interviewed by an examining committee and by the whole presbytery
  • That he be approved for ordination by no less than a ¾ vote of the entire presbytery
By this point, in addition to the implicit oversight that is innate to the Master of Divinity degree (assuming the professors were concerned about the training of future pastors), a pastor-- even recently ordained-- has been overseen, cared for, mentored, and approved for ministry by a substantial body of other ordained leadership, over a substantial period of time. They have approved him and trust him as a minister of the Gospel.

Why is this important for preparing for a new pastor? Because too often we reserve our trust for those whom we know; we won't serve alongside those we feel are strangers. But when a new pastor comes to our church, we must trust him-- even before we know him; we must serve alongside him-- even though we've never even seen him serve. We can do so, because we know that his abilities, his trustworthiness, and his commitment to service in the Kingdom-- in other words, his calling-- have been tested and verified by representatives of the collective leadership of the Church.

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