Company of Pastors: a Model for Renewing and Sustaining Pastoral Passion
Core Convictions about Nurturing Pastoral Ministry
The Company of Pastors is founded upon several key convictions about practices that shape and sustain faithful, fruitful, and fulfilling pastoral ministry. These convictions have been developed and sharpened since the mid-1990s as the Office of Theology and Worship has been gathering pastors from across the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to study, pray, break bread, encourage, and admonish one another. This pattern of nurturing the Christian vocation goes back to the very origins of the Christian community; from the day of Pentecost forward, it is said of the apostolic community, "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." (Acts 2:42)
1. Pastoral ministry is essentially a corporate, rather than an individual calling. This conviction lies at the core of Reformed pastoral identity, and was exhibited in Calvin's Genevan Venerable Company of Pastors, a direct antecedent to our presbyteries. Calvin convened the pastors of Geneva weekly to study an assigned biblical text, hear a paper from one of the pastors, pray together, consider together the obstacles and opportunities facing the witness of the Gospel in their region, and to determine how best to address the pastoral challenges presented by those obstacles and opportunities. In our time, presbyteries are so often consumed with the urgency of putting out pastoral wildfires and with the constitutional mandates of regulating pastoral ministry that careful, intentional nurture of good ministry gets short shrift.
2. While good pastoral work requires a broad variety of skills and aptitudes in areas of management, communications techniques, leadership, self-understanding, social awareness, and community relations, the pastoral vocation is singularly set apart from all other vocations by its theological character. When the theological core of pastoral identity is robust, a pastor will usually seek out all necessary resources to strengthen those critical skills and aptitudes; passion for ministry motivates the pastor to do whatever it takes to be most effective in the cause of advancing the Gospel (1 Corinthians 9:16-23). The task around which pastors will continue to gather regularly and from which they will continually profit over a lifetime of ministry, is sustained attention to the Christian faith through disciplined study and prayer. We have discovered that pastor gatherings focusing on peer support as the primary agenda run out of steam quickly; sustainability requires that the components of prayer and study be front and center. Of course, peer support and friendship will quickly emerge as a crucial component and benefit of these gatherings, leading to what we call “Communities of Theological Friendship.”
4. The pastoral vocation must continually be nourished at levels that both antecede and extend beyond the scope of a pastor's current job description. Fruitful vocational nurture always digs deeper and stretches broader than the development of particular skills related to a pastor's current call. Thus, pastors' practices of prayer and study ought to go beyond the concerns of lesson preparation and pastoral care. The ministry locale rarely encourages, let alone rewards such work; covenant with pastoral colleagues to practice such disciplines together is crucial for sustaining such commitments.
5. Pastors who gather with colleagues to think and pray the faith in disciplined ways renew the wells of passion and substance that fund faithful, fruitful, and fulfilling ministry. But as welcome as such events may be, episodic gatherings offer only episodic benefits. Enduring benefits are realized only as these practices are woven into the very warp and woof of one's ministry.