Regular readers of this blog know that I am a proponent of strong pastoral leadership. I don't believe in dictatorial, controlling leadership, but I do believe one of the reasons why the church struggles today is because of a lack of strong leadership from their pastors. I believe in discerning God's vision for the church, setting goals to enable that vision to be achieved, and being very intentional about hitting those goals. Sometimes I can become so focused on the doing aspects of ministry leadership that I can forget the being aspects of ministry.
Out of all the books in my library the one that has helped me stay grounded in the work of ministry more than the rest is Eugene Peterson's book Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity. In the book he describes the three tasks of visible ministry: preaching, teaching, and administration. Peterson calls these the visible lines of ministry. These are the tasks on which we are most often evaluated by our congregations. If we can perform these tasks well we can enjoy a fairly productive ministry that will be approved by most congregations.
However, the author points out that the invisible tasks of ministry, what he refers to as the angles, are prayer, scripture reading, and spiritual direction. Because these are seldom seen by anyone other than God we can ignore these at least for a season and no one will challenge us. As Peterson states, "It is possible to do pastoral work to the satisfaction of the people who judge our competence and pay our salaries without being either diligent or skilled in them." However, these angles provide the necessary foundation for a long-term, effective ministry.
Peterson writes, "Working the angles is what gives shape and integrity to the daily work of pastors and priests. If we get the angles right it is a simple matter to draw in the lines. But if we are careless with or dismiss the angles, no matter how long or straight we draw the lines we will not have a triangle, a pastoral ministry."
Later he writes, "We can impersonate a pastor without being a pastor. The problem, though, is that while we can get by with it in our communities, often with applause, we can't get by with it within ourselves. At least not all of us."
Some of us in ministry leadership spend all our time putting out fires. It seems everyone wants a piece of our time. In addition to that there are the regular duties of the ministry such as sermon preparation and the administrative duties that are a part of the job. It's very easy to ignore the angles of ministry because no one notices them anyway. Few pastors are asked by their boards how much time they spent last month reading the Scriptures for their own personal growth or how much time they spent in prayer. But, many are expected to give a report on how many visits they made to parishioners and how many committee meetings were attended.
However, if we continually fail to practice the angles we will grow empty spiritually and have nothing of real value to give our congregations. This is one reason so many ministries go off track. The visible lines of ministry begin to shoot off in different directions because there are no angles to attach them to. I've seen it happen in my ministry and in the ministries of many others. That's why I re-read Peterson's book from time to time. I need to make sure I stay grounded in ministry and work the angles to keep the ministry God has given me healthy and spiritually productive.