Isaiah knew his congregation. His word from the Lord spoke into the chaos and confusion of a people who had suffered not only a disruption of life, but also a disrupted understanding of God. Their cherished expectations of what it meant to be the covenant people had crumbled along with the destroyed Jerusalem. God had allowed this destruction of their naïve theology, and now they were exiled from both the land and the notion that God would protect them. It was this befuddled congregation that assembled to hear Isaiah’s sermons.
Several years ago I was part of a discussion of theological education which tackled two sets of questions: First, what skills does one need in order to be an effective clergyperson? What does one need to know? Second, how does one learn the skills and procure the knowledge? Where is it learned and procured? Who teaches?
The most common reason Protestant pastors leave parish ministry is an experience of stressful conflict, usually arising from differences with laity or staff but sometimes with denominational officials. Compounding these stresses, ex-pastors say, is a lack of support from church officials and fellow clergy.
When denominational officials look at the number of empty pulpits in their churches, they worry about a shortage of pastors. Some have strategized about new ways to recruit candidates for ministry. “The clergy shortage is impacting me at every turn,” says Bishop Ted Gulick of the Episcopal Diocese in Kentucky.
Eighteen Presbyterian laypersons were recently authorized by the West Virginia Presbytery to conduct services and deliver sermons. They had completed a two-year course of study to become authorized lay preachers. Earlier, a smaller group of women and men were commissioned by the same body as lay pastors, having received an additional half-year of preparation and invitations to serve churches.
Being the pastor of a small church is hard work. I know; I was one once. And the rewards are relatively modest by anybody’s standards. One of the most sobering experiences I ever had was a visit with college friends the summer after my installation as pastor of a 100-member congregation.
We’ve received a small but steady stream of letters objecting to the advertisements in our pages for military chaplaincy. Some have argued that military chaplaincy is objectionable on moral grounds and probably unconstitutional. Others have been distressed by the way the chaplain in the ads seems to be blessing military activity.
When war or national crisis sets our hearts churning, people normally accustomed to taking their cues from the daily news suddenly discover that Pentagon briefings, op-ed pieces and Oval Office updates provide little consolation for their deep spiritual distress. They turn to the one source they believe might have a spiritually significant word to utter—the church. And well they should.
1. Church members want pastors to succeed. Yes, there will always be resistance to change, and we pastors tend to fall into thinking that the church and its members are against us. But when we do, we are theologically and practically wrong. The church is our friend and our ally. It is in the church’s self-interest for those of us in pastoral roles to do well.
That the spouse of a college or university president almost always acts as a co-professional with the partner (especially when the spouse is a woman) is a situation that has for decades inspired questions. Should there be an additional salary for the spouse, or should this be a two-for-the-price-of-one deal?