When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” John 21:15-17
The Call Committee continues sharing articles by Pastor David Wendel which have been an integral part of our learning and reflection as our congregation prepares its Congregational Profile. In Pastor Wendel’s article, Feed and Tend My Sheep, (article below) Pastor Wendel discusses the dangers of a narcissistic pastor – one who is in it for himself versus an individual who is confident as a saved, redeemed child of God who seeks not to be served, but to serve Christ and his flock. This requires that the pastor place the needs of others before his/her own wants, desires and agenda.
In another article, The Pastor and the Congregation’s Vision for Mission, (article below) Pastor Wendel emphasizes the need for the congregation to understand and be in agreement with what its vision and mission is. Before a new pastor is called is a natural time for this kind of evaluation and assessment. It’s critical that the congregation is unified with a shared purpose – in short, a congregation with “a clear vision for mission and shared understanding of where God is leading you.”
I encourage you to pick up a copy of the Mission Monday newsletter which will give you a good idea of what that group has been doing for the past year. The activities described there reflect the group’s ideas that were given life during 2021. The group is not exclusive… anyone can jump on board any time. The meeting takes place every other Monday both via Zoom and in person in the Adix conference room (formerly the Library). We want everyone to share in these brainstorming sessions so that what this group does reflects the heart of the entire congregation.
Most importantly, we need everyone to participate in the Congregational Workshop that will take place on Saturday, January 29th, from 9:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. We will provide a continental breakfast, a light lunch and childcare as needed. One of the purposes of the workshop will be to clarify our shared vision so we can articulate it on our Congregational Profile that will be used by available pastors to determine if they have the gifts to provide pastoral leadership to move us forward. We pray that you will make this time a priority. I always put such investments of time into perspective by thinking of it as “only one day out of my entire life.”
Thank you for your time!
What Is a Pastor? Jesus says, ‘Feed and Tend My Sheep’
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.” (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) And after this he said to him, “Follow me.” — John 21:15-19
Let’s be honest. There is something of a disease in our culture today that has “infected” the pastoral ministry as it has everything else. It is “narcissism.” Narcissism is defined as excessive interest in oneself. It is related to vanity, self-admiration, self-absorption, conceit, self-centeredness, egotism. While I don’t presume to be a psychologist, it’s obvious that narcissist pastors see themselves as the center of the congregation, with everything having to revolve around him or her. There is little desire to involve other leaders, a need to control and not share decision-making, and a tendency to show offense when and if anyone should disagree because “Hey, its all about me, and what I want and need and desire.” And before lay leaders might nod and conclude, “Yes, that’s our pastor — the Narcissist,” we also have to be honest and admit that many problems in congregations today are the result, not of narcissistic pastors, but self-centered, egotistical lay leaders who think the church is all about them!
And it doesn’t take a psychology degree to see why there might be conflict in congregations where there are both pastor and lay leaders who have narcissistic tendencies! Although there is an aspect in which the pastor is a central figure in the congregation and is called to preach, teach and lead, this position is entrusted to the pastor when he or she has earned the trust of the congregation. The faithful and true pastor never enters the ordained ministry out of an unhealthy desire to be the center of attention or to feed our self-centeredness or egotism. Such a person in the pastoral office diminishes others in the congregation, leaders and members alike. The strategy of a narcissistic pastor will always be: “I must increase, so you must decrease.”
This is not to say that pastors ought not be strong, competent leaders — self-assured, self-confident and capable of leading. The goal is not to have mousey, shy pastors who are not confident and allow others to walk all over them. Rather, healthy pastors are not “in it” for themselves, are not “needy,” are not always seeking attention to bolster their lack of self-confidence. A healthy pastor is confident and whole as a saved, redeemed child of God, washed in the blood of Christ Jesus, able to serve Christ’s Church with a stable, balanced, self-differentiated personality that seeks not to be served, but to serve — Christ and His “flock.”
That seems to be what the Lord is saying to Peter in their encounter at the end of the Gospel of John. Without a doubt, Peter had, at times, been self-focused if not self-centered. Now, Jesus is preparing to ascend and He has a heart-to-heart conversation with Peter, reminding him of the role of the disciple and apostle — to feed and tend the sheep! Peter’s purpose now was not to be the undisputed head of the Church, lording it over the others
in Jesus’ “absence,” taking control as if that was his calling as an apostle. Rather, the Lord tells Peter, “Because I love you and you love me, feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep.” This is how Peter was to follow Jesus, finally dying a martyr’s death as he gave all for his Lord and the Church.
The opposite of being a narcissist is to be unselfish, humble and willing to sacrifice for the sake of others. Being a called, ordained pastor doesn’t mean neglecting yourself or your family for the sake of others, but it does mean being prepared to place the needs of others, even others in your family, before yourself and your own wants, desires and agenda. A wise and trusted retired pastor in my former congregation in Colorado Springs once told me,
“What matters is that the sheep are being fed. Everything else comes after that.” Isn’t that what the Lord is telling us? That the primary thing in ministry is to love the Lord by feeding and caring for His sheep?” And not just the sheep who show up for Sunday worship. We are to care for the lost sheep as well. The faithful pastor also cares for the lamb who has gone astray, the sheep who has wandered unwittingly into a dark and dangerous place, the lamb who needs to be uplifted and carried back into the safety of the fold, where there is nourishment in Word and Sacrament, tender loving care within the community.
Before pastors or church leaders point fingers at others in the congregation, declaring, “Narcissist!” the more helpful exercise is to engage in self-reflection and self-examination. The starting place is to ask oneself, “Is this all about me?” “Is this about what I want and need, or about feeding and caring for the flock entrusted to me?” “Is this about my power and position and how I will look to others, or is this about the health and well-being of
the congregation as a whole?” “Is this self-serving or in the service of others?” “Is this about making myself feel better or about building up the Body of Christ?” Ministry and leadership that is narcissistic is all about “me, myself and I.”
Ministry that is about Christ and His sheep is about being humble, sacrificial and unselfish, confident in who I am as a child of God and servant of the Lord. In the Body of Christ, we all do well to keep that in mind and strive for that as we seek to feed and tend Christ’s sheep!
The Pastor and the Congregation’s Vision for Mission
Pastor David Wendel, Assistant to the Bishop for Ministry and Ecumenism
“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Proverbs 29:18
Within the last few months, we have implemented a new congregational workshop in preparation for the call process. This exercise is intended to help congregations, during a time of transition, to benefit from intentional, helpful reflection upon the current reality of the congregation as a whole and lay leadership in particular.
Often a congregation is caught up in day-to-day and Sunday-to-Sunday activities so that we take little time for looking at ourselves and how we are functioning in an honest and clear manner. After a pastor leaves and before a new pastor is called is a natural time for this kind of evaluation and assessment.
One question in the workshop which then goes directly onto the congregational vacancy profile is “Does the congregation have a clear vision for mission — a clear and shared understanding of where God is leading you? If so, state it as succinctly as possible.” We’ve added this question to both the congregational workshop and the congregational vacancy profile because all too often, when asked this question, congregations and their lay leaders have no idea what’s being asked. They give little thought to “vision for mission,” have not thought of ministry in those terms, and have no answer to the question. The difficulty in congregations with leaders who have no shared vision is that everyone has their own vision, idea and agenda which are often competing.
I’ve shared before that when called to a congregation in Colorado Springs which had been fighting for 15 years (they were only 15 years in existence), part of the problem was that there had been little pastoral leadership. In a congregation with many military officers, the worst possible situation is to have a lack of leadership, so that into the vacuum step many folks who believe they know clearly and without question what the vision of the congregation should be and what to do to get there. There is little more divisive and harmful to a congregation than leaders and others pulling in many different directions, each with their own ideas, intentions, and agendas.
Does this sound like a congregation you might know? A congregation where there is little unity and shared purpose — in short, a congregation without a “clear vision for mission and shared understanding of where God is leading you?” When a congregation is beset by competing visions, it is common for individuals to try to gain
power and authority, to take control and establish one’s own vision and direction. Unfortunately, elected lay leaders often consider their election as the opportunity to set the vision and direction of “their” congregation, without involving the congregation as a whole, with all the leaders, so that there is truly a shared understanding and commitment to the vision for mission. And yes, pastors fall into that same trap. No wonder pastors and lay leaders so often find themselves in the midst of tension, conflict and power struggles.
Pastoral leadership, as with any leadership in the congregation, doesn’t mean the pastor or the council president determines the vision and direction of the congregation. Pastoral leadership means it is part of the pastor’s responsibility, together with elected lay leaders and the congregation as a whole, to work together to seek God’s will, realize it, and develop a vision for mission which is clear, appropriate and most of all, shared by pastor, lay leaders and congregation. Only then is it possible for all (or at least most) to move in the same direction, with one goal in mind.
How do the pastor and lay leaders engage the congregation in such discernment? The congregational workshop mentioned above (found at thenalc.org/call-process), may be used profitably by any congregation, as all congregations are or should be in transition — moving from who we are today to who God is leading us to be in the future He intends for us. The workshop asks the question, “What is our current reality — who are we today?” Next we ask, “Who is God calling us to be as a congregation?” And once there is agreement on that, the question becomes, “Now how will we move toward that?” Make a list on whiteboard or newsprint with strategies and action steps that are clearly defined and measurable. Indicate who will be responsible for each — will it be the pastor, the council, or one of the committees or task forces? Revisit these regularly, perhaps at each council or congregational meeting to assess movement, adjust and keep focused.
The key to living into the vision for mission of the congregation is that it be shared, both in understanding the vision and living it out. What does this mean? It means making a list of strategies and action steps that involve all, not just the pastor, or the executive committee, or the council. A word to the wise: pastors often cause themselves problems by thinking they are responsible for setting the vision based on their agenda, causing members of the congregation to assume, rightly
so, that “this is the pastor’s ‘thing’ — he/she should take care of it.” This leads to frustration for pastors who complain that “no one is supporting our (‘my’) vision!” It also leads to frustration and inactivity among leaders and members who don’t share the vision, don’t consider it “our” vision and believe the pastor is just “doing his/her own thing.”
The key, again, is that the vision for mission be developed together and shared. Congregational leaders and members of the body get excited about and involved in a vision for mission they “own,” rather than an agenda they believe has been imposed upon them. “Where there is no vision, the people perish!” A congregation thrives when the pastor and leaders lead by hearing God’s Word, giving all the opportunity to respond by heeding His Word and helping to discern and develop a vision that is faithful, and which all can embrace and support.