Balancing grace and growth in the ministry of the church

I came across an interesting discussion on LinkedIn regarding the state of the American church, namely that the “seeker” model has failed to create real disciples and failed to make an impact in our culture. “Felt needs” (always a poorly defined term) have replaced authentic discipleship, and the church and culture are sick because of it.

There is a pretty fair divide between those who see the role of pastor or church (not “the body of Christ” Church, but local body “church”) as to evangelize and bring people into the body of Christ (the Church), and those who see the main role of the pastor/church as teacher or pedagogue.

The first will use any means necessary to get people through the doors because it sees salvation as the end result. People come to church, hear the gospel, and get saved. If it takes a light show and Starbucks in the lobby to get them in, so be it. I worked at one of these churches for a time and saw the good and bad of it. They were great at getting people in the door, but it didn’t know what to do with them afterward. Growth was secondary. It was part of the program, but was not a primary driver. The church grew and became very influential, and still is. But the leadership had difficulty seeing themselves as something other than a youth group for adults (thankfully I can say that has changed). Continue reading

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Problems in Caregiving Relationships: Neglect of God

We’ve seen how neglect can happen in caregiving relationships between the Chaplain and the person being cared for. For example the caregiver can neglect the other in the relationship by taking away their power and authority regarding healing, and the caregiver may neglect their own needs as well. These problems often show themselves in co-dependency, overcompensating and undercompensating, burnout and meaninglessness.

Now to the third member of the therapeutic relationship, God. It’s interesting to note that we tend to relate to God similarly to how we relate to others, yet God does not relate to us in the way others do. Perhaps this is why our relationship to God can be so puzzling and frustrating at times! Continue reading

Problems in Caregiving Relationships: Neglect of the Other

Last time I wrote about how caregivers, including Chaplains, can neglect themselves in caregiving relationships. This happens when Chaplains, clergy and others who are providing care to another don’t recognize or reject their own power and authority, and also when caregivers don’t recognize their own needs and therefore neglect themselves. Continue reading

Chaplaincy and Evangelism: Is “Sharing the Gospel” the Same as Proselytizing?

So in reading a few other blogs yesterday looking for other comments and thoughts on faith and chaplaincy I came across the following clip.

I found this clip interesting on many levels and got in to a discussion with the blog poster who brought it up as an example of how postmodern Christians, especially mainline chaplains, seem unable or unwilling to present the Gospel to those who need it. But I found this clip very interesting regarding the skills a chaplain needs as well as whether or not it is considered proselytizing for a professional chaplain to share the Gospel. Continue reading

Peter Rollins on Seminary Dropout

I just wanted to give a shoutout to one of my favorite podcasts, Seminary Dropout. The host, Shane Blackshear, interviews some real movers and shakers in the Christian literary and cultural worlds, as well as people you probably never heard of. I’ve been listening for years, and Shane is one of the best interviewers I’ve heard.

Peter Rollins, author of “The Divine Magician”

He recently interviewed author Peter Rollins and I thought it was so good I wanted to highlight and link to it. You can go to the show’s episode page here, subscribe in iTunes or your podgrabber of choice, or click the link below to listen right away. You can even enter contests for books here and there. And he’s not famous, so he will actually interact with you if you hit him up on Twitter!

listen to the episode

“Do your worst!”

I came across this excellent post regarding CPE verbatims that I wanted to link to. In it, Allison Kestenbaum writes about how she asks students to present their “worst work”, that is the cases in which they have been stumped, messed up, or feel that they otherwise didn’t do their best. This goes against the grain for many of us especially in areas where we feel that we are being held up to critique. However Kestenbaum shows us that the real growth happens in the margins and troublesome areas of our lives.

“Vebatims also teach seminary students to develop more balanced assessments of their strengths and weaknesses.  I have encountered many seminary students who are achievement-junkies who seek to master every academic task put before them.  One of my students, an experienced Lutheran pastor and D.Min. candidate, told me that, “I am taking a leap of faith with writing verbatims about encounters I feel least secure about.  This is a completely new pursuit for me; I have not encountered this directive anywhere in my schooling so far.”

A rabbinical CPE student who was required to do CPE with no intention of becoming a chaplain told me that verbatims “have helped me not be so scared of my mistakes” and to learn from them.  For those going into a ministerial—really any—profession, the ability to have a nuanced perception of one’s strengths and weaknesses can help prevent burnout.”

I highly recommend that students and supervisors review the article as I think it’s insightful for all.

And I know that I’m not the only one who’s hyperactive mind went right to this scene after reading the title:

The Dying Art of Pastoral Care

I may have said this before, but I think pastoral care is a dying art.

The evidence for this is overwhelming, at least from my vantage point. Seminaries demand multiple years of attention to developing skill and knowledge in exegesis, languages, hermeneutics, and preaching, but I doubt if most require more than a semester devoted to pastoral care issues such as counseling and crisis management. I’m thankful that at Yale Divinity School I was able to focus my attention on this area, and that it offered several different courses on pastoral care and counseling to different groups. I had a great deal of freedom to do this in that I was not tied to denominational requirements. I didn’t take any languages because I never saw myself as an exegete to that degree. However most of the other students there were following programs to meet their respective denominations’ requirements. In some cases this required a semester of pastoral care or CPE, but I don’t know if that was across the board.

When did ministry become an academic exercise, focused primarily on sermon writing and exegesis? When did ministry become a business for that matter? When did pastoral care become something that only happens in a couple marriage counseling sessions or when talking with a family about what songs or scriptures they want at their dad’s funeral? When did pastoral care get assigned to lay volunteer prayer and care groups, who may get little if any training or support beyond a space and time to meet at the church? When did clergy become too busy managing the church to provide care to the people in that church? Continue reading

Clinical Pastoral Education isn’t just for Chaplains

Back in seminary I had the opportunity to do CPE at a local hospital in New Haven. It was a great facility and a prime opportunity – the slots fill up fast. But I didn’t take it because I planned on doing more traditional church ministry, not chaplaincy. While some of my classmates jumped at the opportunity to get CPE, others, like myself, said “why bother if I’m not going to need it?” Looking back I can see that I missed out on a great opportunity.

So do you need Clinical Pastoral Education if you’re planning on traditional ministry? Is it really only for hospital chaplains or navel gazers? Absolutely not.  Continue reading

Mixed Messages

Every so often you’ll come across a case that’s difficult because of competing messages and needs. For example I have one patient that had declined spiritual support for several months. He was always on the forefront of people’s minds though, because of the many needs he had. He had alienated his entire family and been through most of the assisted living homes in the area, burning his bridges in the process. He suffered from a great deal of depression and anxiety, never seemed satisfied or comfortable (even after massive doses of pain medication), and seemed to be always wanting to change things in his care plan – though nothing made a difference. He had declined chaplain services for months (he was Catholic) but the team thought that he would greatly benefit from support, if only to give him someone else to vent to other than the on-call staff. Continue reading

Choosing a career in Chaplaincy: 8 steps to take

On one hand, planning for a career as a Chaplain is easy – get board certified and get a job. Well it is that easy, sort of (if you consider about two extra years of career training easy), but getting to the place of “I want to be a Chaplain” is much harder.

Personally, I did not plan on becoming a Chaplain. I had a background in undergraduate and graduate level psychology from a religious college, had interned and worked in heath care settings after that, and while in seminary developed a passion for pastoral care. However Chaplaincy was never in the picture. Now I see that my path led me right to this career. Continue reading