Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Family First

Family first? What is meant by that title?

Oh, I realize that usually this matter of priorities is stated this way: "God first, family second, ministry third."

I understand and affirm what is intended by that "1, 2, 3" way of prioritizing things, but I do view it a little differently.

God is absolutely first in everything. He is first in my personal life, He is first in my family, and He is first in whatever assignment or task of ministry that is at hand. I have a difficult time just leaving Him as number one at the top of a list. Yes, He belongs at the top, but He belongs everywhere else in that list as well.

Okay, but what about "Family First"?

When I say "Family First," I am referring to the number one priority that God has entrusted to me in ministry. If I can't faithfully and effectively minister to my own household, how can I minister to anyone else? According to the Scriptures, faithful and effective ministry to one's family is a pre-requisite to being a congregational leader (1 Timothy 3:5).

My wife and I are committed to keeping our family as our first priority in ministry, but we are quick to admit that it has not always been an easy task. Vocational ministers are all too familiar with the "tyranny of the urgent" and the challenge that it brings to trying to maintain the health of the ministerial family. We know what it is like to hear many other voices crying out "Me first! Me first!" Every one of those voices deserve to be heard. Every one of those people are precious in God's eyes, and we should be very careful and sensitive in the way we respond. However, let us not consign our own families to some place of lesser importance for the sake of what we call "ministry."

Saturday, November 11, 2006

An Opportunity for Pastoral Renewal

Pastors may find this item to be of great interest. Lilly Endowment has announced its 2007 National Clergy Renewal Program. Over the next several months, up to 120 congregations will be selected to participate in 2007.

"Pastors and congregations both benefit from this period of renewal," said Craig Dykstra, Endowment senior vice president for religion. "They are given a rare chance to get away from the demands of daily parish ministry and explore 'what makes their hearts sing.' The renewal of a pastor's heart and spirituality is part of his or her 'job description' and is essential to the spiritual quality of a congregation's life.

"That is why we suggest that, before they move too quickly to figure out the details of their renewal proposal, pastors reflect carefully about what kinds of experiences will touch them most deeply and connect them most closely with the enthusiasm that led them to the ministry in the first place," he said.

Most pastors spend three to four months away from their churches, and their experiences both open their minds to new possibilities and connect them more deeply with what truly matters to them. They travel all over the world, study subjects they really care about, and reconnect with family and friends from years past.

"As they explore the roots of their religious traditions, write poetry, practice contemplative prayer, or spend weeks or months in significantly different cultural contexts," Dykstra said, "they come to see their ministry with fresh eyes. At the same time, the congregations often come to see their pastor and themselves in new ways as well. The planning process itself gives them a better understanding of what their pastors do, and their appreciation for them grows.

"Sometimes congregations decide to undertake a spiritual journey of their own alongside the pastor; they may read some of the same books the pastor is reading or form discussion groups around the sabbatical theme. Comments from former recipients prove to us that both pastors and congregations find the whole experience empowering and exciting," he said.

As many as 120 congregations will be chosen for the 2007 program. Each grant proposal may request up to $45,000; up to $15,000 of that may be used for congregational activities during the pastor's absence.

The brochure/application is available on the Endowment's Web site, http://www.lillyendowment.org/. Interested persons may call 317/916-7350, e-mail clergyrenewal@yahoo.com, or write Lilly Endowment, 2801 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, Indiana 46208.

To be eligible, ministers must be ordained and have earned a master of divinity degree from an accredited theological seminary or divinity school. The program is open to all Christian congregations in 49 states and the District of Columbia. (The Endowment administers a separate, similar program for Indiana congregations.)

The deadline for proposals is May 15, 2007.