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‘Looking for ways to give themselves away’

Pastor’s APCE workshop focuses on the pastor’s role shaping followers of Jesus

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Zeta T. Lamberson

GALVESTON, Texas — Not only do pastors have the privilege of walking alongside parishioners, “we also aid them and guide them, helping to craft and form them into disciples of Christ,” the Rev. Zeta T. Lamberson said during a workshop last week at the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators event. “That doesn’t just happen. We must be intentional and think about how to do that.”

Hence, the title of Lamberson’s workshop, “The Pastor’s Role in Shaping Followers of Jesus.”

Lamberson serves Covenant Presbyterian Church in Marietta, Ga. Most of the 150 or so members are age 60 or older.

“An important role is to walk with them as they figure out their ministry in retirement and experience the loss of other members,” she said. “It’s a lifelong journey of faith, but in retirement people find they have a little more time.”

After years of sermon-writing based on the Revised Common Lectionary, Lamberson decided to preach on what she called “The Great Stories of the Faith.” Eventually, she crafted a 10-year preaching cycle that got her through most of the Bible.

“It’s fascinating to preach your way through an entire epistle, especially Paul,” she said. “You can see more clearly what (the author) wants to say to you if you walk your way all the way through. It’s been powerful.”

Preachers who aren’t careful “end up preaching the same things over and over again,” she said. “So much of Scripture is so rich, but we often don’t preach it. A woman who’s been a Bible study teacher in our church for probably 40 years said to me, ‘You do have a different way of looking at things.’ I thought, ‘Good! Someone who knows Scripture is noticing.’”

On any given Sunday, Lamberson said she reads “a lot of Scripture” out loud during worship.

“I read the whole story,” she said. “Often the Old Testament passage is so long I don’t read a New Testament passage. The Old Testament teaches us who God is and what God has done from the beginning of time for us. That affirmation is something we need to hear today.”

Since worship is one of the few activities people regularly do intergenerationally, “crafting intentional worship is very important,” she said. “It’s a gift (pastors and worship leaders) bring to society. We ought to be teaching the basics of the faith in how we worship.”

When planning worship, no detail is too small. Lamberson said she spends an hour or two every week selecting the hymns the congregation will sing. Each month, she unveils a “hymn of the month” for worshipers to learn and, she hopes, love.

Seasons including Lent and Advent lend themselves to go deep into Bible study. Lamberson has a 47-day “Lenten Journey through the Life of Christ” that asks participants to read a chapter or two from the gospels daily. Each day during the 40 days of Lent and the seven Sundays included, Lamborson emails participants commentary on what they’re reading that day.

“By doing that every day, I was transformed,” she said. “I wrote about what jumped out at me, asked a question or two and ended with a prayer. People who did the study said it was one of the most powerful things they’d done.”

Nearly every evening, Covenant Presbyterian Church hosts a community group or two. “The way we care for one another shapes the way we care for the community,” she said. “We provide food for people at funerals, even people outside the congregation. We don’t do it for the accolades, but because that’s how you love people.”

Upon her retirement, one member decided she’d serve the community by opening a day camp at church on each of the 21 days during the school year students aren’t in class.

“She thought it would be a way to bring people into church,” Lamberson said. “It’s not been that, but it has been a ministry and it’s something we can do. It was her dream and she made it happen.”

“They are becoming mission minded,” she said of the congregation she serves, “and they’re looking for ways to give themselves away.”

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