Soul of a Pastor, part 2
With the blessing of our church council, I am applying to Doctor of Ministry programs. The D. Min. is basically a three year program, with a few weeks per year of intensive courses on site, and online course work throughout the rest of the year. It is a degree program that does not take one out of the context of ministry; in fact, the whole focus is practical, and the course work and projects will relate directly to my call at Grace.
The following is a slightly edited (I took out some names) version of application essays for one of the programs. Pray for me, my family, and my church, for this is a major commitment of time and energy (especially for my family).
Assessment of Vocation and Ministry
- Describe and reflect upon your practice of preaching, making explicit the theological themes, principles, and values that inform it.
I have been called and ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament: to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, to make disciples, to baptize them in the name of the Triune God, and to “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” through sharing the Lord’s Supper. My practice of preaching flows from this call. It is the specific form that the priesthood of all believers takes in my life, to “proclaim the praise of God and bear God’s creative and redeeming Word to all the world.” In the Augsburg Confession, the ministry of Word and Sacrament is explained as a means through which God gives the Holy Spirit, “who effects faith where and when it pleases God in those who hear the Gospel” (CA V). The Gospel is the message that we are justified, made right with God, not through our own efforts or merit but solely by God’s grace, through faith in Christ (CA IV). In my preaching, I strive to keep the Gospel at the center, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, by grace to be a means through which the Holy Spirit will effect faith in those gathered for Word and Sacrament.
I see Ephesians 4:11-13 as a key text for understanding my call as pastor and preacher:
11The gifts he [Christ] gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.
Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, all have different gifts, and in different ways, all are called “to equip the saints for the work of ministry,” to build up the church, “the body of Christ.” I am not the ‘professional Christian’ who does the ministry for (in place of) the congregation. If the pastor prays, studies Scripture, visits the sick, advocates for the poor, and shares the Good News for the congregation, for example, how will the members of Christ’s body “come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ”? I am called, certainly, to do ministry alongside my fellow Christians, but my specific calling as pastor is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” In fact, two years into my call to Grace Lutheran Church, I am discovering the joy and synergy that comes from equipping and empowering others for ministry, and ministering with them. For example, I am learning much about prayer from the prayer team formed in our church this past year, and growing in prayer through the example of faithful church members. We also have empowered a team of people to share with me in visiting our homebound members; the homebound receive more visits from different people, and the joyful, but time consuming burden is shared.
The Ephesians passage applies directly to the task of proclamation. The ministry of Word and Sacrament to which I am called in this congregation is not the only ministry of this congregation; it is not a one-person show. When I preach, I am equipping the saints, including myself, for ministry. Together, we are gathered to hear the Word and receive the Sacraments, and together we are sent to the mission field of the world. I nurture in faith, I exhort to faith, but I do not do it alone. I walk with my fellow believers.
Weekly, I study Scripture alone and with others. On Monday morning, I attend a men’s breakfast and Bible study at our church, where we discuss the coming Sunday’s lessons. I find it very helpful to start the week listening to the effect of the lessons on farmers, laborers, and managers. On Tuesdays, I attend a lively text study with about 8 other pastors, with different backgrounds and perspectives, different church contexts, both male and female. It is an enlivening and enlightening experience. In writing the sermon, I attend to the Scripture texts, hopefully in the original Hebrew and Greek (my knowledge of Hebrew, especially, is rusty and needs improvement), and consult various resources – New Proclamation, Interpretation and New Interpreter’s commentaries, etc.. I strive to keep the Gospel of Christ in the center, without ignoring the prophetic concerns of justice and righteousness that pervade Scripture, both Older and Newer Testaments. By Thursday, I have a rough draft of my sermon, to which I return on Saturday. Sunday morning, I am usually up at 4 AM to pray and prepare, and my sermon usually gets tweaked one more time. I read over, mark up, and practice the sermon, so that, when I actually deliver it, my manuscript serves more as a full outline. On Sunday afternoons, my wife Mindy, a wise educator and passionate follower of Christ, gives me an honest assessment of how she experienced worship, and especially my sermon and children’s message.
- Reflect upon how you hope this D. Min. program will help you to improve your preaching, describing what you see as your strengths and primary areas for growth.
First, some background. I finished the M. Div. Degree at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1998, and began the S. T. M. at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia 1998-1999 (which I finally wrapped up 2001-2) – since I joined the ELCA while in seminary, I needed a year at a Lutheran seminary. From June of 1999 until February of 2001, I was an intern, and then assistant to the pastor, at United in Christ Lutheran Church in Eveleth, MN, while I awaited ordination. From 2001 through 2005, I was the associate pastor in the same congregation. During my time at United in Christ, I preached one Sunday a month at the beginning, and then about two Sundays a month in the last two years (plus monthly nursing home worship services). My 6½ years in Eveleth were a challenging, fruitful time of training, and I grew as a pastor and preacher under mentoring by Pastor Dan Johns. We walked with the iron miners through tough times; we were on site after Paul Wellstone’s plane crashed; we built a beautiful new church building on a new site, with an 80 ton taconite wall behind the table in the sanctuary. It was also during those years that our family grew – our first son, F was born in New Jersey, but L and S were born while we were on the Iron Range. Those years in Eveleth feel like a whirlwind now: especially when Dan went down to 1/3 time during the building years. All in all, though, I am thankful for our years there and what God accomplished through us and our congregation.
Now, I have just finished two years as a weekly preacher, sharing the Word as pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Detroit Lakes, MN. Here in Detroit Lakes, we have a healthy, vibrant community of Lutheran pastors who meet weekly for a text study, as well as a healthy ecumenical ministerium. I am also fed and connected by involvement in leadership on the boards of Pathways Lutheran Bible Camps and our local Habitat for Humanity chapter, and by serving on our Synod Council. My wife Mindy has recently begun a part-time teaching position in Spanish language and culture, which is motivating us to re-learn Spanish together (she knows much more than I) and to begin teaching it to our three children. Starting this past fall, I have been learning Taekwondo with my two sons (S is too young at this point), and from my sons, since they learn so fast. I have also begun a website this past year – www.lemonholm.com – on which I post my sermons, occasional writings, and ‘archaeological recoveries’ of old writings from college, seminary, and my blog.
At Grace, we have finished a building project that doubled the size of our building (begun before I arrived), and we are growing our ministry and outreach to the community. We are continuing to heal longstanding conflicts in the congregation – average worship attendance has increased 68% in the last two years – though it is still below what it was in 2001-3. My first year here, we focused on building the new addition; during the second year, we focused on improving youth and family ministries, which are now beginning to thrive. We have recently received the results of a Natural Church Development survey, which revealed our minimum factor (our ‘growing edge’) to be Inspiring Worship, followed closely by Passionate Spirituality. This is proving to be a liberating and empowering revelation, a wake-up call. Already, we are seeing improvement in our worship and prayer life. Building on our strengths – such as Gift-Oriented Ministry and Loving Relationships – our mutual ministry committee, worship team, and prayer group are taking active roles, for example, in starting a nursery during our first service, attending to our liturgical and music life, and bathing our church life in prayer. My hope and prayer is that our third year at Grace will be a year of improving our worship and faith life.
This NCD survey is also a wake-up call to me. Though I was planning to apply for the D. Min. in Biblical Preaching before we did the survey, I have an extra incentive to focus on our worship life, including preaching. After two years of weekly preaching, and almost nine years since I was a full-time student, I recognize my need for more focused, disciplined learning and theological reflection. My sermons tend to fall into familiar patterns – I often focus on the Gospel lesson, walk the congregation through Jesus’ story, and then connect our story with the biblical story. There is nothing wrong with that pattern, but I need to expand my sermon crafting. I tend to write a sermon intuitively. I certainly read, pray, and reflect, but then I just sit down and write. The idea of crafting an outline beforehand is foreign to me, though I often have an idea of where the sermon needs to go. The idea of planning my preaching into the future is foreign to me – though I know it could help keep my preaching fresh, and help our worship leaders craft inspiring worship services. I need to broaden my repertoire of preaching and sermon styles, thoughtfully learn and grow into new forms of preaching, and, frankly, spend more time in preaching preparation (six hours has been common for me, not including our text study; ten hours would be more adequate). I need to get back to serious exegetical work and theological growth. It is time to stretch and grow. I will continue to build on my strengths – I preach with passion, conviction, and humor, I effectively convey biblical stories and truths, and I relate the message to the life of our church members. I am excited about the possibility of pursuing the D. Min. in Biblical Preaching at this time.