Blog Post for Problems and Possibilities Facing the Church in the 21st c.

During seminary I’ve found that I’m a type-A person. I’m the guy who the teacher is talking to when she says, “You don’t have to copy everything on the board.” Ha, yeah right; if you said it, I wrote it. It comes to no surprise to me when I calculated the copious amount of notecards I made over the course of the semester.[1]

Identifying and accepting my type-A personality has helped me begin discerning what kind of pastor I hope to be one day and what strategies I can use now to be a better Sunday School teacher.[2] Joe Holland and Peter Henriot give a fantastic model called the pastoral circle model in Social Analysis: Linking Faith and Justice.[3] It looks like the following:

Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 8.37.39 PM

The pastoral circle begins with the practice of insertion, then moves from social analysis to theological reflection, ending on pastoral planning. Then the process repeats.

When I first saw this model, my type-A yelled “Finally! A process I can theoretically apply to my context!”[4] But after some reflection over the model with my pastor Rev. Kent French, we decided that any act must begin and end with theological reflection. After this reflection, I couldn’t use the pastoral circle and needed to craft my own diagram. Enter the pastoral sine model!

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 10.46.43 AMThe pastoral sine model borrows from the mathematical function of sine.[5] The pastoral sine model depicts the process of sandwiching action between theological reflections. I’ve noticed that often when pastors are feeling burnt out or declining, they’re usually neglecting either theological reflection or practical action. With the pastoral sine model, I’ve combined theological reflection with practical actions, acknowledging that you cannot have one without the other.

The pastoral sine model offers a way to discern how to best serve a given context, but the first theological reflection is often the most difficult step. Christians must perceive what the Church’s function is. N.T. Wright places the Church as the penultimate act of God’s creation while Tim Keel argues that the Church is an actor in the final act of redeeming creation.[6] I’ve found that I agree with the latter perspective. The Church has a role to play and isn’t an end in and of itself.

Under this perspective, it becomes imperative that pastors reflect on how his or her church is to participate in their role. I’ve found that the hardest part of role discernment is understanding the context a church serves. Christopher Smith and John Pattison write on a 17th century French phrase le gout de terroir in their book Slow Church.[7] Le gout de terroir can be translated as “the taste of a place.” Originating as a culinary concept, the taste of a place means the unique flavor due to the blend of natural and human factors that affect the taste of food of a certain location. For a church, truly having a taste of the place means being deeply invested and familiar in the surrounding context.

My type-A personality leads me to searching for strategies that I can implement in church settings. Yet I’ve found that I cannot restrict myself to programs alone, but must be flexible and patient in cultivating relationships with whatever context I’m serving.

[1] The answer is 872. I didn’t want to brag, but I wanted to let y’all know. So I put it in a footnote. That makes it all acceptable.

[2] I teach 7th and 8th graders at United Parish of Brookline and I absolutely love it. Also, sidenote within a footnote, churches call Sunday School “Church School” up here.

[3] Joe Holland and Peter Henriot, “Social Analysis: Tool of Pastoral Action,” in Social Analysis: Linking Faith and Justice (Washington DC: Orbis Books Maryknoll, 1980), 7.

[4] What, not all of y’all have the same inner voice? Weirdos.

[5] Who ever said that pastors don’t use math! And yes, I do realize that sine is often abbreviated as “sin.” The irony is not lost on me.

[6] Tim Keel, Intuitive Leadership: Embracing a Paradigm of Narrative, Metaphor, & Chaos (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2007), 166.

[7] Christopher Smith and John Pattison, Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus (Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 41.


One thought on “Blog Post for Problems and Possibilities Facing the Church in the 21st c.

  1. You, my friend, a re brilliant! This was incredibly well done! Wonderful model… I laughed in shared acknowledgement over being Type A!! I will share with you, what a retired pastor friend of mine said to me when I announced to him via text that I had finished finals this semester, “…BU, ministry, and life have more exams in store for you. The good news – I’m pretty sure that God grades on a curve. It’s called grace.” — (And Thank God for that, because my blog post is not half of what yours is!! lol!)

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