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William T. Brewer
- Published on Amazon.com
Part 1 of the Pastor deals with four questions for the minister: Who Am I? What's my address? What time is it? And who's church is this? The first deals with pastoral identity. The second addresses the importance of geography. The third focuses on the larger culture. And the last deals with the necessity of a sound ecclesiology. In Part II, Fisher elaborates the pastor's identity using metaphors drawn from Paul's epistles: "Christ's prisoners," "jars of clay," "God's penmen," "father and mother," "farmers and builders," "servants and stewards," and "ambassadors and preachers."
Two themes are most prominent in Pastor: (1) the privilege and joy of being a pastor and (2) the burdens and frequent despair of shepherding God's people. Pastoring a church means being intimately connected to people in deeply fulfilling ways, but it also has a dark side. Clergy abuse has two dimensions. In the popular mind, it usually refers to pastors who abuse their privileges and mistreat the church and its members. A more common reality though is of the clergy being abused by the church and larger society. Fisher deals with both kinds of abuse, but he is most memorable for his treatment of the latter. The percentage of unhappy clergy is large and growing. Low self-esteem is the number one problem of pastors, followed by depression. Ministry is one of the most troubled professions in the U.S. Cultural influences that diminish the office of pastor and disparage its holders are one cause. Neglect of pastoral and ecclesiological theology is another. Another factor is seminary education that fails to prepare pastors for the harsh realities of pastoral work.
Fisher is correct in grounding pastoral theology in the larger theology of the church. Ministry and church are intertwined theologically and practically. On the theological level, shepherding has no meaning and no reason to exist apart from that which is being shepherded. Concrete communities are the arenas in which Christian life is made real -- where moral struggles are won, lost, and redeemed.
At the practical level, ministers and the churches they lead have a way of reaching an equilibrium. Great ministers elevate their membership while poor ones do the opposite. The same is true of memberships. Good groups lift up their leaders. Bad ones pull them down. Over time, churches and their leaders tend to deserve each other, for better or for worse.
The alternative to an explicit theology of ministry is to let the practice of ministry become self-determining. Evangelicalism tends to do just that with telling results. Popular preachers "can lose three hundred people simply by wearing the wrong tie." Ministries cut off from theological reflection tend to focus on image rather than substance, activity rather than essence, organization and function rather than ontology and transcendence. The result is a growing mass of unbaptized Christians unfit for real community led by showmen uncertain of their ultimate purpose.
Pastors nevertheless must adapt to culture, but not for pragmatic reasons, but rather for theological purposes. There is a wisdom perspective to ministry that should be respected. God does not reward programs or practices that are sociologically or psychologically suspect, but technique is secondary to sound theology. In that respect, ministry is not pursued simply for ministry's sake. Rather, the church continues the ministry of Jesus. It is the way in which Jesus continues to "enflesh" Himself in the present age. Ministry therefore has an "incarnational" aspect that provides a framework for both pastoral theology and ecclesiology.
Since the church has an incarnational nature, it is subject to the kind of Christological controversies that surrounded the Incarnation. On one hand, there is a Docetic view that disparages concrete communities of faith in favor of a heavenly church that has no burdensome connection with the world of flesh. Conversely, there's also an Ebionite view of the church that neglects the incarnational nature of the church in preference for viewing it as a purely human institution. Both views are wrong.
What then constitutes a real church? Historically, the answers have included the presence of an ecclesiastical authority with lineage back to the apostles, administration of sacraments, preaching of the Word, and so forth. Fisher's answer is the presence of Christ -- a correct, but difficult to employ test.
In any case, it is the presence of Christ in His church that constitutes it as a church, not the presence of the Spirit in individual believers. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit in individual believers does not make individuals self-sufficient or render the church irrelevant. Rather, the Spirit is intended to make individual believers fit for being built together with other Christians into a temple of God -- the church.
That building is increasingly out of place in the Western world. Internationalism, urbanization, secularism, consumerism, individualism, technology, alienation, moral decay, culture wars, and declining quality of life make the church and its pastor appear irrelevant. The answer is to emphasize the distinctiveness of church and ministry rather than accommodate them to the surrounding culture. The church has no choice but to be the contrast community it was called to be. Likewise, the pastor's role as prophet and spokesman for God must be more prominent.
In the meantime, Pastor will help pastors old and new alike with their difficult work. Much of that help will come through the large amounts of practical advice Fisher interweaves into his pastoral theology. For example, a pastor must have an internal and external call. Of the two, the internal call will be the one that most sustains a pastor through difficult days.
Although all of Fisher's practical advice is good, some of it illustrates the insidiousness of present-day culture. For example, "just be yourself" is sound advice from a wisdom perspective, but it's hard to imagine the Apostle Paul putting it in those terms. Likewise, Fisher's quotation from Spurgeon on page 215 (which he framed and put on his office wall) concerning "the position of complete independence of all men" could be a goad to virtue on one hand or it could be a subtle manifestation of self-sufficiency on the other.
Although Pastor is ten years old, nothing much has changed except a change in intensity. Pastoral ministry is now more discouraging, more demanding, but more rewarding than ever. Traditional approaches to church and ministry now seem quainter and more provincial in the face of cultural preoccupations with pluralism and diversity than ever. The relevance of a gospel that makes exclusive claims and exclusive promises seems so implausible when the existence of so many "who have never heard" is so prominent. A transcendental solution would begin by first asking what it would take to make ministry relevant in such a culture. The answer is a more holistic understanding of corporate humanity, failure, responsibility, and redemption. Rereading scripture with that mindset reveals a sobering truth. The apparent narrowness of the Christian message does not lie in the message itself, but in the limited imagination of those who haven't fully appreciated its all-encompassing perspective. Adapting Fisher's quote of P.T. Forsyth is a proper conclusion. "The church [does] have a Lord big enough to oppose the demonic powers unleashed by the twentieth century."
-- Bill Brewer
- Published on Amazon.com
In an age of increasingly `burnt-out' pastors and ministers, declining ministry initiates and increased secularism, there is a need for the Church to reconnect with the foundations of ministry. While there have been various books written addressing these needs at different levels, David Fisher's book, 'The 21st century pastor', gives a fresh and balanced perspective between the human and divine elements of pastoral ministry. These pages are filled with his own extensive personal experience and practice, but also driven and seen through a theological-biblical foundation drawn from a Christological framework and the life and words of the apostle Paul. Fisher aims to encourage and challenge those entering, and already, in pastoral ministry, addressing issues that are rarely dealt with in one's preparation for pastoral ministry in theological education. This book is a most welcome and needed change for those of us, whether novice or veteran, in the world of ministry.
Fisher's purpose is driven by an age of increasing secularism. With increasing secularism, Fisher recognises the declining place of the Church within modern society; as such, in the midst of this decline, Fisher articulates the need for pastoral ministry to step up to the plate or lose its impact upon this generation. One aspect Fisher highlights is the change within pastoral ministry from being a theologically-driven practice to an organisational-driven practice, essentially, a change from a divine foundation to a human business philosophy. He states that "the result is, more often than not, a failure of theological-biblical integration and, at the heart of it, a base for ministry that is not properly biblical or theological." Recalling his own experience, he finds that our theological education system does little in equipping ministry initiates for sustainable, theological-biblical-based pastoral ministry within this changing world.
Fisher's heart is evident throughout his writing drawn from his experience, as a pastor of nearly 40 years, from his theological education through to his various pastorates over the years. Within the world of theological education and ministry preparation (in any form), preparation for pastoral ministry may be dealt with theoretically, theologically and prayerfully, but very little space is given to adequately preparing initiates for the real-life practice ministry requires, as Fisher says recalling the day he entered his first pastorate, "I had a growing awareness that I wasn't ready." His book is divided into two parts, firstly, focusing on questions which each ministerial initiate should understand in their consideration to taking up the charge of a ministry; secondly, focusing on the various issues in the ministry journey. Fisher deals with these key issues, such as pastoral identity, ecclesiology, calling, etc. all within a theological-biblical perspective. For the most part, his theological-biblical perspective is drawn from the writing of the apostle Paul.
At first, these questions seem unnecessary, however, as many in ministry can testify, the question, "Who am I?", "Why am I here?", "What am I supposed to do?" are not uncommon. Fisher empathises with those in ministry and gently guides the reader to understand the significance of these questions; he encourages and challenges those engaging in ministry to find answers to these key questions. In the area of identity, Fisher turns to Christology and the Incarnation which form a theological, but also contemporary, foundation for pastoral ministry. In addressing practical ministry issues, Fisher draws upon his experience and reflecting upon the writing of the apostle, Paul, to provide a biblical framework for pastoral ministry.
The Christological and Incarnational reflection is a far cry from the human-organisational drive that we find in ministry today, as the title of John Piper's book equally emphasises, "Brothers, we are not professionals." It is not to say that books on human organisation and leadership, such as those of John Maxwell, are not welcome--but they are secondary to the theological-biblical foundations that should be driving ministry in today's society. Where human organisation is the norm, the Church must once again return to its supernatural, divine call if we seek to be a contemporary voice in today's society.
Fisher's reflections upon Paul are largely drawn from the letters to the Corinthians. Given the nature of Corinthians, particular the second letter where Paul was being criticised, it speaks loudly today where the Church is increasingly being rejected for being irrelevant. Fisher encourages those engaging pastoral ministry to reassess their role, moving away from the contrasting organisational descriptions (administrator, counsellor, manager, etc.), to focus upon a biblical model returning to the heart of pastoral ministry illustrated by Paul's various images: prisoners of Christ, jars of clay, farmers, builders, servants, stewards, ambassadors of Christ.
All in all, Fisher's theological and biblical insights are both highly encouraging and challenging for godly, yet contextually relevant, ministry in the 21st century. It is interesting to note that the book was written in the mid-1990s with an American ministry context, which provides an aptly relevant message for the Australian ministry context today. Fisher is slightly repetitive in some points of his book, however, it does serve to reinforce particular key points of his book. Fisher's book is by far from being exhaustive, however, it does encourage the building a strong theological and biblical foundation of pastoral ministry.
David Fisher has been a pastor for almost 4o years. He is currently the senior minister of Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims. A graduate of Bryan College and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, a Ph.D. in New Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His academic specialty is the Jewish background of early Christianity. He has served as an academic in New Testament at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.