Words for Thought…Lutheran Education: Our Ministry and Calling

Sep 19th, 2017 | Category: Columns
By Shirley Morgenthaler

This column is taken from The Ecology of Ministry: Beyond Shepherds and Shepherding by Shirley K. Morgenthaler, a monograph published in 1992 by Lutheran Education Association. Over the next several issues of Lutheran Education Journal, additional excerpts from the monograph will be considered, expanded, and brought into the 21st Century as needed. These will find their way to the almost-last pages of each respective issue as Words for Thought. For this issue, the introductory overview of the monograph provides the Words for Thought.

As we consider what it is we do in ministry among and within our parishes, we almost always turn to the shepherd metaphor to illuminate our understanding and guide our thinking. Jesus spoke of shepherds many times as he taught his followers. While this is certainly helpful, it is not the only metaphor available and applicable to help us understand ministry. Jesus used other metaphors which may inform and illumine our concepts of ministry and leadership in the church as well. Two of these metaphors are particularly helpful.

Many of the parables of Jesus involve farmers and farming. Pictures of sowers and sowing, seeds and planting, tending and harvesting are found in these parables. Other parables and teachings of Jesus include the idea of fishers and fishing. Pictures of nets and casting off, of searching for and finding the catch, of patiently seeking again and again until the catch is successful.

These words for thought come as the result of several years of thinking about and being somewhat uncomfortable with the metaphor of shepherding as the primary picture ‘of ministry and leadership in the church and the community. They were originally published as a part of a larger document published by Lutheran Education Association in 1991. The full document can be found at http://www.lea.org/Portals/10/Monographs/BeyonShepMorgenthaler.pdf.

We have said and thought—and even written—much about the need to emulate the Good Shepherd in our work as His spokespersons and servants. We have a common understanding about the need to serve, to not dominate. About the need to lead, to not dictate. About the need to care about the well-being of others, often above ourselves. We have a ready concept of Jesus as the Good Shepherd and our need to follow His example.

But that’s not the only example Jesus gave us. He gave many other words and metaphors for thought. Other metaphors are farming and hunting, both also agrarian activities. Both are also found in the metaphors that Jesus used in His parables and teachings. These metaphors may be thought of as descriptors of each of us in our work with God’s people. Maybe we aren’t simply shepherds after all. Maybe some of us are more farmer-like, or hunter-like than we have assumed. Maybe there are different qualities needed in different ministries—or at different times in the same ministry.

One additional issue needs to be examined at this point. This issue is that of gifts, talents and interests. What brought you into full-time or public ministry? Was it the desire to serve? The desire to nurture? The desire to help others feel the joy of God’s love and forgiveness? Was it the desire to nurture and to shepherd? Do you have a nurturant personality? To be able to answer this question, one must identify the qualities of a nurturant personality. The list presented for your consideration may be far from complete, but it does give an overview of the key traits of a nurturant personality:

• One who wants to help others to feel good, to feel better.

• One who is self-sacrificing, putting the good of others above the good of oneself.

• One who has a concern for the psychological ecology of the group or the situation.

• Interest in a happiness index.

How does this personality support your ministry? Does it ever create stumbling blocks for effective ministry? Does the nurturant personality serve well for a teacher of young children? A teacher in the elementary grades? A high school teacher? A principal? A director of Christian education? A pastor? A professor? Are there ever any times when shepherding is not the best approach to ministry? Are there other metaphors that have helpful concepts as we think about effective ministry?

In order to answer these questions we need to take a closer look at the nature and role of the shepherds among us and at those in Scripture. It would also be helpful to refer back to the excellent monograph written in 1988 by Erv Henkelmann on the shepherding role of the classroom teacher. After we have reviewed our roles as shepherds, we will, in later issues of LEJ examine the possibilities of farmer and/or hunter roles as additional helpful metaphors for a deepened understanding of ministry. For this set of Words for Thought, I simply want you to think about how comfortable you are with the overall goal of your ministry. What is that goal?

• Are you nurturing those who are already in the faith and supporting their growth in an ever-closer relationship with Jesus?

• Are you planting seeds that you pray will take root in the hearts of people or children with whom you work? Does your concern focus on those with a small, beginning faith, helping that faith to take root and grow?

• Are you focusing on the lost, those still outside the church and outside the faith? Are you always looking for new ways to get the attention of the least and the lost? To turn their attention toward Jesus?

• Are you finding that your classroom, your Bible study class, or your youth group has one or two people representing each of the above groups: those who are still lost, those with a beginning faith, and those with a strong and growing faith?

How you answered the above questions will guide you as you consider my words for thought. What is it you need as understandings and as resources for your work among God’s people? These few words may give you an entirely new way to think about your ministry. Do some of that thinking. Pray over your thinking. Then come back to the next and subsequent issues of LEJ for more Words for Thought. LEJ