I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you…
These familiar words of Paul to Timothy are a Scriptural example of what has been going on for centuries since in the church: the mentoring process in ministry formation. I am one who has been blessed by mentors from early on in my pastoral life, and in this current 42nd year of ordained ministry I am grateful to think out loud on what I can share.
Allow this brief autobiographical comment. How can pastoral formation be told without it? We are all the beneficiaries of the myriad variety of those who have mentored the Gospel to us as did Lois, Eunice, and Paul of Tarsus to young Timothy. All of us have our stories of the mystery of that divine grace that graciously, wondrously sifts through all the layers of our old nature to claim us for the Office of the Word.
The towering sufficiency of Christ Jesus, the crucified and risen Lord, is what forms the pastoral calling. Growing up as I did in a Christian household, my parents were the first to mentor that Gospel to me. In recalling the pastor of my youth, another influential mentor, I smile at my earliest associations of the pastorate with his dark blue suits, cigar smoke, a book-lined study, the black Geneva gown in the pulpit, and other non-essentials. At the heart of all that, however, was the Christ-given love with which he loved us despite our confirmation class hi-jinks, the acceptance he showed my non-Lutheran mother, and the patient care with which he reclaimed my father from the Sunday mornings of golf to which he fled in disgust after the previous pastor refused him communion for joining the teamsters union. Another mentor made an impact early in my seventeenth year. While attending a Sunday evening rural mission festival service I went into the worship service thinking I would study law and came out wanting to be a pastor. An uncle preached that evening, one whom I admired because he once had a pro baseball contract offer. I look back with gratitude that what he offered me that summer evening was something better than a curve ball.
Richard Caemmerer, homiletics professor at Concordia Seminary in Saint Louis, has had a defining and enduring theological impact upon my pastoral formation that can be expressed in this sentence: “God has put his saving power through Jesus the Christ into a word which the Holy Spirit calls people to proclaim.”
Pastoral formation is Gospel-centered and biblically directed. The Word, the Good News, became for me the dynamic of preaching year in and year out through the sea-changes in church and society from the 1950’s to the present. More than that, the Word became and continues to be what that preaching does, equipping God’s people for their daily ministry in the world (Ephesians 4:11-13).
Pastoral identity grows as this living Word of grace knits pastor and people together in that rhythm of gathering for Sabbath worship and dispersing for service in the world. Through the thick and thin of congregational life, staff ups and downs, mission calling, budget struggles, ministry to the broken in heart and mind, servant leadership in monumental denominational battles and in sharp conflicts with false Gospels in the community, creative fidelity in liturgy, hymnody and prayer, and so much else that fills our days and nights as servants of the lively Gospel and gives us joy in the work: all of this shapes the ministers of the Chruch.
I have something to give and want to give it because so much has been given to me through spouse and family, parishioners of all sorts and sizes, several deep and lasting friendships with partners in ministry, participation in a weekly ecumenical lectionary study group for nearly two decades (why are these so rare out there?), two sabbaticals, participation in the Academy of Parish Clergy, activity in certain community endeavors, and reading and writing books and articles.
Where there is vision, health, and the energy needed to define one’s continuing ministry by the future instead of the past, much can be handed on to young colleagues who might be interested. Timothy and Paul, with Lois and Eunice, were a good team. For the glory of God, in the power of the Gospel, for the enrichment of the church, and for the world in which a faithfully equipped laity daily serve, let such teamwork continue.