One of the old adages in ministry is that the pastoral task is like a 3 legged milk stool. It's held up by three primary tasks: Preaching, Administration, and Counseling/Pastoral Care. I love this analogy. I've often used it to describe and categorize how we should understand the scope of our calling, identify our strengths & weaknesses, and how to shape a pastoral job description. It works.
But just because something "works" doesn't mean that we shouldn't evaluate it. One of the most dangerous phrases in leadership is "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's fine on your car, but in a church or organization, just because something works doesn't mean it's healthy or best. Ideas and practices always have a shelf life, and when something cruises because it works we can often overlook our need to evaluate and possibly alter it.
That's where I think we are with the milk stool.
It's not that Preaching, Administration, and Pastoral Care aren't critical elements of a pastor's calling. They are. But the fourth thing that holds it all together is vision. The three milk stool legs are great. They help us shape our day. But they don't cover a key element, vision. If we're going to faithfully lead the congregations God has placed us in, we can't be content to do the tasks of ministry. We must lead with vision. We must point our people to the place God would have us go. We must chart the course, take the risk, and lead our churches towards what God has.
Vision is the stool itself.
Vision holds together our Preaching, our Administrating, and our Pastoral Care.
Our Preaching Points to Vision - Whenever we preach, we have the option to do a couple things. One is to faithfully preach the text. We may do it in series. We may do it in topical exposes of whatever is going on in culture. We may do it through one-off messages every week. The second though is to be both faithful to the text and preach it as it was written and capture vision. My desire as a pastor is for our people to be captured by the Gospel, shaped by the Word, have a biblical worldview, love their neighbors and the nations, and fall into worship. When we preach with our vision in mind, towards the place God wants us to go, we're not just telling people what the Bible says, we're pointing them towards a place to go.
Our Administration Supports the Vision - If Preaching is the public part of our ministry, Administration is the behind the scenes. This is the skeleton of our pastoral work. And it supports the vision if we seek to align our processes, our budget, our resources, our volunteers, etc. towards the vision. If your church has as its vision "we want to reach young families" but you're not dedicating budget resources, volunteer training, facility space, and staffing towards family ministry, you're not really serious about your vision. Administration is where we take the vision and we seek to align what our church does, what our money goes to, what our staffing looks like, and how we spend our time towards the vision.
Our Pastoral Care Reinforces the Vision - Pastoral Care is the time part of our pastoral ministry. And this is where we spend time with people one-on-one or in small groups. We're visiting and ministering toward the sick and hospitalized, we're working through family dysfunction and trauma to see redemption come as a fruit, we're helping walk people through the day-to-day of their Christian life. Pastoral Care reinforces the vision because it reinforces the one bringing the vision. If you're in pastoral ministry, your ability to lead and influence comes through the strength of relationships that you have. And you develop those relationships slowly over time when you're laboring in the trenches with people. If all people see of you is a talking head on Sunday and you don't love them enough to visit them in their distress or hold their hand after their spouse dies, you can't lead them. Pastoral Care is, as Maxwell says, walking slowly through the crowd.
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Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.