Many parts, one pastor

Ministry today requires multiple strategies and layered identities.

Horse doctors and weather prophets were among the many roles as­sumed by black preachers after the Civil War, writes W. E. B. Du Bois. In those days, congregations were community centers, and the multiple leadership roles of clergy were obvious. Multiplicity was taken for granted. Not so today.

This is why we need Cynthia Lind­ner’s study of 21st-century pastors, which dem­onstrates the value of pastors drawing from multiple internal energy sources in order to exercise their gifts in multiple forms. Lindner, who has experience in parish ministry, hospice work, and psychotherapy and directs the ministry program at the University of Chicago Divinity School, examines the stories of pastors serving mainline congregations, many of which are now small but not long ago were bursting at the seams.

Lindner draws on the tradition of autobiography as theological narrative from Augustine to Dorothy Day, the psychological category of multiplicity with roots in Eakin’s How Our Lives Become Stories, and the work of several other contemporary psychologists. But she doesn’t dwell on theory and moves quickly to the best part of the book, the stories themselves. Her storytellers—female and male, gay and straight, old and young, African American and Caucasian—talk straightforwardly about the challenges of contemporary ministry and the need for multiple strategies.