Saturday, May 26, 2012

The humility of a good teacher

I've been reading through Eugene Peterson's memoir this morning, The Pastor. I fell upon a passage in which he describes an early encounter with the renowned biblical scholar William Albright. I'm not sure why exactly (though I guess I can surmise), the passage struck me in a poignant, melancholy way.

Perhaps it's the realization that I've encountered so few teachers like this, perhaps it's the certain fact that I want to be just this kind of teacher but am altogether aware of the temptation to be the exact opposite. Either way, it made me smile. I'm glad Eugene bothered to record the incident.

The centerpiece of the department [of Semitic studies at John Hopkins University], the world-famous William Foxwell Albright, had dominated the field of biblical archaeology and Semitic studies for thirty years. It was the first time I had been in the working presence of a world-class intellect. 

It was not so much that his knowledge was so wide ranging and integrative, but that being with and around him I experienced his mind in action--he was constantly thinking, reformulating, pushing the boundaries of ancient history, noticing the ways the several Semitic languages worked comparatively.

He entered the classroom one morning telling us that he had awakened having solved the meaning of Moriah while he slept. Both the meaning and location of Mount Moriah, where Abraham had bound Isaac for sacrifice, had always eluded scholars. Professor Albright went to the chalkboard and soon had it filled with words from Ugaritic, Arabic, Assyrian, Aramaic, and, of course, Hebrew. 

He continued, excited and intense, for twenty minutes, at which point Prescott Williams, an older student who had already spent four years with him, interrupted, "But Dr. Albright, what about this and this and this [he was making reference to items of grammar and etymology that I knew nothing about]. Do you think that holds up?"

The Professor stopped, stepped back, and stared at the chalkboard for twenty seconds. And then he said, "Mr. Williams is right--forget everything I have said."

The Pastor: A Memoir, p. 63

Friday, May 18, 2012

A questionnaire for worship leaders

A questionnaire is a fancy way in French to say, "Here are a few questions I want to ask you." It's always of course a little sexier to say things in a foreign language. I'm not sure exactly how Americans came to adopt this term in a normative fashion and when I write "questionnaire" in my online French-to-English dictionary, I get "questionnaire" and "quiz." Hm. Strange.

Anyhoo, over the next year I will be meeting with the worship leader at my church (All Saints Church), Ben Bowman. My purpose is somewhat simple: to help him listen to his life, as Frederick Buechner might put it. It always helps to have someone else listen to your life. We don't always hear ours rightly left to our own devices. So we'll be meeting once a month to read books together, to pray, to evaluate the previous month's services, to listen to new music he's written as well as to others' music and to encourage each other.

In preparation for our first meeting I asked Ben to answer the following questions. I thought they might be valuable to other worship leaders too, especially if said worship leader shared the answers with a trusted but no-nonsense friend, so I've posted them here. I've added two additional questions to the original eighteen.

For our first meeting, I'd like to ask you to prepare a self-evaluation. These are the questions that I think would be important to ask at the outset. As the Philosopher once said, "The un-examined life is not worth living."

1. What books have been most significant to you as a worship leader?

2. Who are your models as a worship leader?

3. What do you think your strengths are as a worship leader?

4. What do you think your weaknesses are as a worship leader?

5. What are your best assets as a worship leader at ACS?

6. What are your liabilities as a worship leader at ACS?

7. What's your vision for leading worship at ACS? What's the ideal? That is, if worship were "the best that it could be" at ASC, what would that look like, walk like, talk like, smell it, etc? Show me what that looks like as best as you can guess.

8. What kind of books or resources would you like to read in the coming year?

9. Besides historic hymnwriters, who are the songwriters whose music you use most often at ASC?

10. Whose worship music do you listen to regularly as a resource to your work at ASC? What sites or sources do you access weekly in order to discover what's being written and used by others?

11. How would you describe your musical aesthetic? Whom would you say you are most like (e.g., more like Keith and Kristyn Getty or like Matt Redman or like John Milford Rutter)? How would others on the outside, as it were, describe you musically?

12. Looking back over the past 2 years at ASC, what's the breakdown of songs/hymns sung in terms of percentage or usage? How often do songs get sung again? How often do new songs get introduced? When you look at the kinds of songs you choose and how often you choose them, what do you think that says about your musical and liturgical ethos? Give your best guess.

13. Who are the people who have influenced you the most personally and spiritually? Who are the people who have influenced you the most liturgically and musically?

14. What are your strongest fears at the moment?

15. What are you most excited about at the moment?

16. Describe for me one of your best worship experiences as a worshiper.

17. Describe for me one of your best worship experiences as a worship leader.

18. What are 2-3 ways that you would like me to serve you in this upcoming season?

19. How often do you expose yourself to music outside of your tradition or "heart language"?

20. What question have I yet to ask that you wished I'd ask you?

Monday, May 07, 2012

7 Books for Pastoral Ministry

(This is part of a note I just wrote to the students in Lester Ruth's worship course at Duke Divinity School. The note included remarks about their final projects, the Global Songs for Worship book, and practices of "naming God." It was a long note. I thought I'd share the recommended book list here. It'll be nothing new for most pastors, but perhaps an encouragement for others to pick up a book that looks interesting.)


I realize most of you have enough un-read books on your shelves to last you till Jesus returns in glory. That's good. A healthy pastor is a pastor who keeps learning. Healthy pastors are those who keep themselves humble enough to admit that they are students, rather than experts, till their dying days. Mindful that your night-tables are full and your days short, I'll still recommend to you books that stood me well during my years as a pastor. These are books that I returned to over and over as I sought to shepherd people well. Take them or leave them as you see fit.

1. Dallas WillardRenovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ (This is my one-stop shop for discipleship. In it Willard tackles the basic dimensions of human life--will and mind, emotions and sociality, etc. It's heavy lifting at times but immensely rewarding, especially for a small group that's willing to stick with it to the end. If you want a barnstormer, showstopper book on discipleship, read his Divine Conspiracy. It's not for the weak of heart, but this book radically transformed the way I viewed the Christian life.)

2. Larry CrabbUnderstanding People: Why We Long for Relationship (I asked a respected counselor once, If I only had time to read one book on how to counsel people, which would that be? He suggested this one, and the last two chapters, on the evidence and essence of a mature Christian life, are worth the price of admission alone. It's material that I've read and re-read innumerable times).

3. Gerald MayAddiction and Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions (People have them. They have them in abundance--addictions not only to alcohol and power but also to work, sex, performance, attention, and self-preservation, and it's a smart pastor who asks himself [in my case] what his addictions are before he seeks to help diagnose other people's addictions and to bring, by God's grace, healing to those areas of their life).

4. Henri NouwenThe Way of the Heart: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers (It's hard not to fall in love with Nouwen; it's even harder not to romanticize him a bit. But in fairness to the man's actual life, he didn't come by his insights easily. He came into them by the way of brokenness. In this little gem of a book he outlines three indispensable spiritual disciplines of a healthy pastor: solitude, silence, prayer. If you read this and want more, I heartily recommend In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership and Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society.

5. Eugene PetersonA Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society and Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer. Eugene taught me the meaning of slowing down. He also taught me the hard lesson on not giving up too quickly on the people of God, who, as the case may be, might make you want to give up ministry altogether or to move to greener (allegedly more exciting) pastures. He also, by the way, was the first person to inspire me to love the psalms as much as, it appears, Jesus loved them.

6. Richard FosterPrayer: Finding the Heart's True Home (If you ever wondered whether there was a book that confirmed your suspicion that there were in fact more than four ways of praying--adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication--then wonder no more. This is the book. From the "prayer of tears" to the "prayer of relinquishment" to the ordinary prayers and the sacramental prayers--Fosters offers both a tour de force on prayer and a tour through the history of Christian practice of prayer. Deeply moving material.

7. Richard Swenson, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives (When was the last time you said, "Gosh, I wish I had more time!" or "Where did the time go?" How often have you heard pastors complain about how busy they were? Or how they wish they could slow down, do less, resist manic schedules, enjoy a more measured pace to life? What if I told you it didn't have to be that way? What if I told you that pastors didn't have to live a roiling stressful life? What if I told you that the exhausting, time-crunched pace that pastors keep is, consciously or subconsciously, of their own choosing, that they don't have to live their lives with barely any margin to spare? That's Swenson's thesis and, with a pricked conscience, a very compelling one. While not addressed exclusively to pastors, it's a book that we should move to the top of the pile if we wish not only to tell Christians how to live well but also to model that kind of life ourselves.

While this isn't an exhaustive list and while it doesn't include a single book outside of the 20th century (a crying shame, I confess), it's a collection of books that have indelibly shaped my vocation as a pastor. I'm grateful to the friends who have brought these books to my attention and I pray that they prove of some help to you in your ministry in years to come.

Lastly, it's been a pleasure and an honor being your TA this semester. I look forward to seeing you in the hallways, as the case may be. Perhaps I'll even find myself one day sitting in the pew at the back of your church, listening to you preach and watching you make deft use of things you learned in class. If that happens, don't be surprised if you hear a loud amen erupting in the air. 

Knowing that you're the future of the church gives me great hope.

Easter blessings to you all,