Pastoral Formation 2

Last week I had the privilege of updating the convention attendees at TAALC East Region about our seminary, American Lutheran Theological Seminary (ALTS). My report included an updated status of the seminary, and especially the online program, Master of Theological Studies (MTS), as well as an update on the new database system that will support our continued growth. The other half of my report included some thoughts on Pastoral Formation, specifically related to online seminary. This is just a sketch of the topic; I am writing a more complete version for our theological journal.

When someone raises the issue of pastoral formation and seminary education, the focus always leans to the theological education. And rightly so, because a solid theological education is important for pastoral formation. In traditional terms we speak about four areas of theological education: exegetical, systematics, historical, and practical. Each area assists in providing the necessary tools, experience, and knowledge to effectively carry out pastoral duties in the congregation.

But other aspects influence Pastoral Formation. Here are four critical components in that formation: spiritual formation, character formation, catechetical formation, and Churchmanship formation.

1. Spiritual Formation

Spiritual formation involves three realms: worship, Bible reading/study, and prayer. Luther wrote about spiritual formation for all Christians as: Oratio (prayer), Meditatio (read/study), and Tentatio (affliction). This is vital for spiritual formation and growth. I leave tentatio out of this discussion at this point, only because it affects all areas of pastoral formation.

Worship: What kind of worship experiences has a seminary student had? Does he live in a congregation that has only one form of Divine Service? Where and how does the student learn about the great traditions of divine service? What can be done to help him learn not only history but also to practice that? As part of our seminary training, we examine how to best form the pastor regarding worship and leading worship. For online seminary this is a particularly challenging area.

Bible Reading/Study: In Peter’s second letter he writes about end times and the Christian in the midst of waiting for Christ’s return. His last words express this point of spiritual formation:

…but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:18 NAS)

It might be a surprise to some, but pastors struggle with daily Bible reading and study. They study for preparing to preach a sermon or teach a Bible study. For some that is the extent of reading/studying. But the issue of spiritual formation is “How can someone grow spiritually without regular, consistent Bible reading and study?”

When I visit with seminarians and pastors I will ask what they are reading. Some respond with the latest theological books (which can be good). My concern, however, is what are they reading in the Bible. I then say, “If I ask you what you are reading in the Bible, you should ask me what I am reading.” So, for the record, my wife and I are reading through 1 Samuel, last night it was chapter 24. In my private reading I am reading through Genesis; last night I read chapters 28-30.

Bible reading and study are the means to grow in this knowledge. Yes, many theological books can help. But they can never replace Bible reading. To do so is to stunt the seminarian’s spiritual growth. When a student learns Greek and/or Hebrew then the desire is to also read the Bible in those languages. If we are not reading God’s Word daily, regularly, then we are short circuiting God’s desire for spiritual growth. Ultimately the seminarian/pastor will have little to nothing to offer his people in sermons and teachings.

Prayer: Prayer is speaking to God. It is the human response to God speaking to us in His Word. Prayer is individual and corporate. It is often easy to get used to leading prayer in the corporate worship setting. But it can also become mechanical. The right entry phrases, the right endings, the appropriate statements of petitions.

When prayer is individual and privately with one or two other people, then the words may not come so easily. Instead prayer is the outpouring of a heart devastated by sin. Prayer reflects the struggle that we face in a sinful world. Prayer reveals our broken hearts, our desire for answers, our pleas for mercy. And many times it is joyful, but quiet contentment to praise God with hymns, songs, and spiritual songs. Prayer isn’t necessarily learned by a book, but by imitating a praying person. I have grown much in this area in the past four years because of a group of people who pray, pray, and pray. Philippians 4:6-7; Ephesians 5:18-20; 6:18-20; 1 Timothy 2:1-2; and many other Scripture texts can be used to encourage and grow in prayer.

2. Character Formation

Most people are surprised to learn that there is only one talent/gift for a pastor: “he is apt to teach.” Everything else about the formation of a pastor has to do with character. And so little is written/spoken about this. We have a seminary class, Pastoral Theology and Life, in which we explore this whole concept of character formation.

It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and cthe snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:1-7 NAS)

This is a challenge, but also an encouragement to those whose who serve as pastors. It does not mean that pastors are perfect in all of these areas. But unless he wrestles through each of these, he is only examining his life to satisfy “what can I get by with?”

Character formation affects all relationships: with God, with spouse, with children, with members, with neighbors, with outsiders. Notice how especially negatives in vv. 3-5 highlights the need for self-examination. For me, the one about “keeping his children under control with all dignity” became a four decade battle and challenge. I almost left the pastoral office three times because of that. I have known some who struggle with drugs or alcohol. In reality, every pastor fails in these areas whether in deeds or in the thoughts. As always, when we fail, we confess and seek forgiveness (1 John 1:8-9), but we also recognize that there may be further consequences.

One particular issue that affects the current state of the church is that the pastor is not to be “pugnacious, but gentle” or as one translation has it, “not a bully but gentle.” Unfortunately the internet provides a platform for bullies in the church. But even worse is a pastor who is a bully, whether on the internet or especially in his congregation in his dealings with people.

Paul provides the proper perspective on character formation, for everyone.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; (Galatians 5:22-23 NAS)

3. Catechetical Formation

Catechetical formation is not “how to teach the catechism.” It is much more comprehensive than that. Catechetical formation refers to the entire approach of the congregation in “growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Thus, it includes catechism instruction, family devotions, family and church gatherings that reflect the life of grace and mercy, shaped by proper distinction and application of Law and Gospel.

How easy it is for the pastor to be distracted from this essential task. Meetings are important, but they do not direct the congregational life. Activities are important, but they can divert energy and interest away from learning the essential truths of the Christian faith.

Catechetical formation also involves a consistency throughout congregational life. Hymns, prayers, and readings done in worship form the basis for shut-in visits, hospital visits, family crises ministry. That is the faith confessed, and expressed, in worship is not about a la-la land, but of real life, lived in the trenches as well as on the mountains. Thus, catechetical formation provides the threads that unite and emphasizes the Christian life and growth. In our seminarian curriculum we have a course, Catechesis, in which we explore the dimensions of catechetical formation.

4. Churchmanship Formation

Of all the areas mentioned, Churchmanship formation is the least mentioned or even acknowledged as important. Yet, when Churchmanship is missing, everyone suffers. So what is Churchmanship?

In church life, life can be messy for the church and for pastors. Churchmanship calls pastors and lay leaders to stand up to do what is right, whether it is popular or not. Paul gives some guidelines here:

The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning. I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality. Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin. (1 Timothy 5:17-22 NAS)

Note, then, that Churchmanship is not taking charge as if you are the only one who knows what to do. It means that sometimes when the system is broken, the pastor identifies areas that need fixing, but not going on a vendetta against someone. In cases of difficult discipline, the pastor is a churchman who takes the avenue that is appropriate and consistent with the sin involved.

Churchmanship may also involve leading the congregation, the area group, or the entire church body in a way that will be difficult, challenging, frustrating but ultimately good for the body. This means that a churchman will listen to advice, seek consensus if possible, and move with deliberate yet responsible steps to achieve the goal.

Sadly, over the past four decades in church service, I have seen many examples of poor Churchmanship. When I quoted Peter above, it was a continuation of a previous thought. Now look at it in context:

You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:17-18 NAS)

But sometimes, silently I have observed Churchmanship demonstrated that was outstanding, but was seldom, if ever, recognized as Churchmanship. I have had the pleasure of knowing churchmen who upheld the highest integrity and concern for the church at large. One of my professors (now deceased) in seminary was not the flashiest, but I refer to him with the accolade: “a gentleman scholar.” My hope is that in the seminary, the other professors and I can follow that path.

Dr. Curtis Leins,  Presiding Pastor of TAALC. Churchman
Dr. Curtis Leins, Presiding Pastor of TAALC. Churchman

Weeping to Joy

Guest post by Shan:

Today is Good Friday. It is on this day that I end up in tears. I think about my Savior who was spat upon, beaten and killed—willingly for my sake. I remember that He lived the perfect sinless life in my stead. I know that He died and rose again so that I may have eternal life with Him. I am so very grateful for it all, yet today I weep.

I weep because I have the full realization that on this day, in all of my sinfulness, I am found standing with the crowd shouting, “Crucify Him!” How could I say that! I’m so ashamed that I would rather see my Lord suffer and die so that I could live. And yet…still I say the words, “Crucify Him!”

Pilate asked them, “What should I do then with Jesus, who is called Messiah?”
They all answered, “Crucify Him!”
Then he said, “Why? What has He done wrong?”
But they kept shouting, “Crucify Him!” all the more. (Matthew 26:22-23 HCSB)

I am weeping because that is just how sinful I am; I place “self” before my God.

I admit that I am rebellious. My sin is always in front of me. I have sinned against you, especially you [LORD]. (Psalm 51:3-4 GW)

I am weeping because He chooses to die for me and my sins.

Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne. (Hebrews 12:1-12 HCSB)

I am weeping because that is how much He loves me, a pathetic sinner.

This is a statement that can be trusted and deserves complete acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and I am the foremost sinner. (1 Timothy 1:15 GW)

I am weeping because though I am not worthy, Christ declares me worthy and crowns me with His righteousness.

He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21 HCSB)

There is reserved for me in the future the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me, but to all those who have loved His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:8 HCSB)

I am weeping because that is how mighty and loving my God is!

This is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the payment for our sins. (1 John 4:10 GW)

Blessed is the person whose disobedience is forgiven and whose sin is pardoned. Blessed is the person whom the LORD no longer accuses of sin and who has no deceitful thoughts. (Psalm 32:1-2 GW)

I am weeping because my joy is complete in Jesus!

Christians in Relationship 2

In the first post (Christians in Relationship 1) I presented an overview of Ephesians 4:17-32 as the heart of developing Christian relationships. This also forms the basis for marriage relationships. In other words, how do Paul’s words apply specifically to those who plan to marry or who are married and are struggling?

I use the following diagram as a starting point and work through the relationship from two perspectives.


On the left side is the worldly pattern of establishing and building a relationship; on the right is the Biblical perspective for doing so.

Left Side: Worldly Pattern

Dating: In a worldly approach to relationships the dating phase is physically oriented, most often focused on outward appearances. There is an attraction of some kind on the part of both people. In today’s world that often means the beginnings of a sexual relationship.

As many point out to me, sexual intercourse is the expectation very soon in a relationship. If that doesn’t happen, then questions arise about the other person, and most often about the person himself or herself. Performance becomes critical. In my work with couples the issue is not about the other person, but “How am I performing?” (with the fear of being compared to others).

Engagement: As the couple moves into the Engagement phase, then the focus is on mind, will, and emotions. Here the people begin to know each other in various situations. One learns what makes the other happy, angry, how they speak to and treat one another. During this phase, there can be some heated arguments, what I call “knock-down, drag out fights” (not physically but emotionally). The method of “resolving” the conflict is often by having passionate sex. This leads to the assumption that things will work out because “we have found how well we work through our problems.”

Marriage: In the marriage phase the focus is on the spiritual. Will we have a church wedding? Will the sanctuary be beautiful enough for lasting memories. The first 2-3 years seem idyllic. But then move five years into the future, and see what changes take place. At that point what happens when there is a “knock-down, drag out fight”? Now instead of sex being the soothing balm to reconcile, it becomes the weapon: “You think we are having sex after that? Not on your life!”

Sadly, the pattern that seemed so exciting, soothing, and satisfying now sets the pattern for frustration, anger, and separation. In my experience, such emotions and responses are the stepping stones to divorce.

In my work with married couples on that side of the diagram, they look at me with surprise. Why? Because they recognize the pattern they followed in their relationship. Many times I have heard them exclaim “How did you know?”


Right Side: Biblical Pattern

Then I follow the right side of the diagram and walk them through the same three phases. In this perspective Ephesians 4:17-32 plays the crucial role. The assumption on this perspective is that both people have a right relationship with God, knowing that they are justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

At the very beginning, then, the relationship involves three, not two: man, woman, and Christ. The one person recognizes that the other person is perfectly holy, righteous in God’s sight because of Jesus Christ. They both recognize that they are also 100% saint and 100% sinner. Sin is not absent, but it is dealt with in a Biblical way:

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9 NAS)

and especially in the context of Ephesians:

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (Eph. 4:32 NAS)

Such an approach then is not demanding or expecting the other person to meet your needs. Rather, you help the other person find their spiritual and emotional needs/desires in Christ. This approach gives freedom to both and the best way to resolve problems.

Dating: The relationship develops on the basis of how to speak to one another, and about one another. Respect, appreciation, and concern for the other person comes first. Thus, according to Eph. 4:25-27 anger is not resolved by having sex, but speaking the truth in love. That means addressing both the anger and the underlying issue.

Of course, this approach requires listening to each other, not just to words, but emotions/background as well. The other key point about speaking and listening is how far do the boundaries of the argument extend. In other words, Paul writes:

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths,a but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Eph. 4:29 (NIV)

Thus the argument is not helped by bringing in family or friends. That only compounds the problems and leads to distancing rather resolution. If sin is involved then each person goes back to 1 John 1:8-9 and Ephesians 4:32.

Engagement: In this phase, the process of developing relationships is strengthened and tested. In other words, the proverbial “knock-down, drag out fight” is met head-on with confession and forgiveness (liturgically, absolution). Resolving is not achieved through someone winning, but through Christ and forgiveness. This frees up the couple to deal with the hard issues of mind, will, and emotions that can be debilitating.

Marriage: Now the relationship moves to the joining of husband and wife physically. In this approach, sex becomes a reflection of the love they have for each other based on their relationship to Christ. Now five years later when another major “knock-down, drag out fight”occurs, the resolution is confession and forgiveness. This, then, frees up sex to be not a “solution” but a demonstration of the solution of forgiveness and love in Christ.

So what?

About this time the couple (whether married or considering marriage) begins to despair. The usual question is: “What can be done, since we began on the left side, following the worldly model?”

Here is the astounding good news for them: No matter where they are on the left side of the diagram, confession and forgiveness bring about a new reality; they start over on the right side. Many pre-marital couples then commit themselves to not having sex again until marriage. A few will say “But we love each so much, how can we do this?” That question actually is “me-directed” not “you-directed.” So I ask, “How much do you love this other person?” The typical response is: “I love her/him so much!” Then I ask, “Do you love the person enough not to have sex?” Notice that moves the love from self-centered expression to other-centered.

Over the past 28 years I have seen couples moving to the divorce court who have come through this process, and the divorce court no longer becomes their solution. I continue to work with couples as they learn to develop a love based on confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation. So also, with those contemplating marriage.

This approach takes time, because the world pattern and influence is invasive, persistent, and seductive. This means that not just the pastor but every Christian has to encourage, support, and teach the Biblical pattern. And if sin is involved, then we don’t hold it over someone’s head, but forgive, restore, and continue to help them grow in their relationship with Christ and one another.