Friday, February 3, 2012

The Absurdity of Ministry Models

Richard Lischer's wonderful memoir, Open Secrets, reminded me of an oft repeated phrase from divinity school days. Being a "quivering mass of availability" was an epithet used for those of the Rogerian bent. Carl Rogers, the founder of the Rational-Emotive School of Psychotherapy, was the Socratic figure of the Twentieth Century.

In contrast to the Rogerian method of listening to and validating others, we were warned not be rudderless and passive in our pastoral leadership. It was the 80's and the new model, "pastoral assertiveness," was in. But the assertive leader, I later learned, assumed that one is available first to God and to oneself, in order to be fully present to others. As one wise clinician in pastoral care said, "The quality of any pastoral intervention depends on the quality of your inner self."

Like a vortex of false promises, the tempting lie is to try to please others or ourselves by copying some ideal. It makes us susceptible to being led away from our true self. We might become less aware of everyone in our life, even to God and ourselves. We easily wander off our true path- what we are gifted to do- in ministry to others.

Assuming we can conform to the image of what people consider to be successful, we may not be better off at all. Maybe the best "model" is none at all, because the people we serve are not abstractions --and neither are we! Why search for the ideal in what is ultimately false in you and thereby encourage others to do the same?

Our identity itself is a mystery, known and loved most exhaustively by God alone. (Psalm 139, I Corinthians 13). Our true self, our most alive and God -infused life is not about finding the ideal model or scheme in ministry, but rather, being connected to the life- giving Holy and Loving Spirit. This connection is the head water and the source of all ministry.


  1. Scott, thanks for these challenging thoughts on identity in ministry. Many times I have felt empty in the months after various ministry conferences where 'modeling' successful ministries is what we were there to consider!

  2. Thanks James. Your point reminds of me why I am impatient with a lot of continuing education for pastors. I think good continuing Ed should deepen, not minimalize our spiritual life. Thanks again.

    1. It is easier to know God than to know ourselves. Agree?


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