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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Mothering as an Example

Written by: on June 1, 2019

When I picked up What Clergy Do: Especially When It Looks Like Nothing by Emma Percy I expected another book on possibly pastor burn out, or a defense of paying pastors to pastor, not what I read. At first, I will admit the topic caught me a bit off guard. It did so, not because I value women as less, I have one of the strongest persons I know as a wife and my own mother. Neither of them has failed to break glass ceilings in their chosen fields. I did so because I have never thought of what I do as mothering, just as being a pastor. While I will admit the idea of being a mother is completely foreign to me as a pastor (I am a man and thus don’t know what it means to be a woman) I do appreciate the idea and the execution Percy brings to the table for her argument.

Over the past decade many pastors have embraced the role of CEO in their calling as leader of the church. I have always been uncomfortable with this idea, mainly because I spent 15 years in the computer industry and saw many CEOs drive a company into the ground for their own gain. To be sure, I have worked under some good ones, but they never last, moving onto the next job. If a pastor sees themselves as a CEO there is less incentive to stay within the church they are, always looking for the next big or better job. The quote Percy uses as part of her discomfort with pastor CEOs sums up another issue: “Part of the difficulty for most clergy is that, unlike the conductor of an orchestra, or the CEO of a major corporation, they lack the powerbase to execute decisive initiatives or decisions… There is no relationship of compulsion between the leader of the church and the led. [1] For an example I will use the church I am serving at currently. There is a wall of pastors with the picture of the pastor, sometimes with his family, with the years they served. With two exceptions since 1954 none have served over two years. The two outliers were for 12 years and for 8 years, interestingly enough those years saw the greatest effectiveness of the church and the greatest growth. Now one might ask if both were exceptional pastors, one I do not know because it was in the 60’s, but the other, according to those who knew him was average at best, and a complete mess at worse. The one thing they were both good at was attending to their flock. The rest of the pastors who served did one of two things, moved on quickly to a bigger church, or they were there to retire. Both are not healthy for the church, and the church’s history bears this out. Getting back to Percy, her argument falls in line with what I have seen, a CEO is looking for returns on product investment, a pastor is there to influence the lives of others for Christ.

I know many in my denomination would probably bristle at the idea of the metaphor of priest as mother. To be honest, we do not have the greatest track record when it comes to women in leadership positions. I do find it rather ironic that the three biggest drives for missions donations are in honor of women. You have the Lottie Moon Christmas offering for international missions, named in honor of a great missionary to China. Next there is the Annie Armstrong Easter offering for North American missions, again named after the woman who founded the Women’s Missionary Union or WMU which was instrumental in bringing missions to the states. Then, in the state of Texas, we have the Mary Hill Davis offering, she was the president of the WMU for twenty years and the offering goes to help missions within the state. All three women were strong leaders who have been recognized. In his article on Percy’s book David Warbrick closes with a poignant statement, “as a male priest, it gave me permission to explore feminine imagery without a hint of pretence or awkwardness. Those of us who are not mothers should feel refreshed, not marginalized, by this exploration. If we use it to recalibrate priorities and retune our pastoral heart, noble but frustrated ministries may rediscover their calm integrity, offering our neighbours what they need in their priest. I have a hunch this book is written by a priest who is rather more than ‘good enough’.” [2] 

Moving to Percy’s chapter on Dependence and Interdependence she discusses the difference between the two. She writes “It is clear that a baby is dependent on someone older to care for him.” [3] The comparison to a new Christian is that they must have someone teach them or disciple them into maturity. Just as a baby grows and the dependence turns to interdependence or both relying on each other so does a Christian who matures. A pastor can come to have a interdependence with those who are discipled to to the “work of the saints” This is where my problem comes into play. There are two many baby Christians in the North American church who think they are mature, but they depend on the clergy to do all they need for church. Yes they throw in when asked, but without their pastor they are lost. They leave because they are not being fed, or the music is not to their liking or any other of myriad of reasons, but they never take their faith on as their own responsibility. Reaching out to those who are different scares them, challenge them to do something out of their comfort zone and they laugh about how they failed in the 30 minutes after church services. There is no personal responsibility and because of this, the next generations behind them see their faith as shallow and not worth following. I would not want to be the “fly on the wall” when they stand before Jesus and have to answer the question, did you reach out to those whose life was different. 

[1] Percy, Emma. What Clergy Do: Especially When It Looks Like Nothing. SPCK, 2014. 10.

[2] Warbrick, David. “Emma Percy, What Clergy Do, Especially When It Looks like Nothing.” Theology 118, no. 5 (2015): 391-93.

[3] Percy, Emma. What Clergy Do: Especially When It Looks Like Nothing. SPCK, 2014. 66.

 

About the Author

mm

Jason Turbeville

A pastor, husband and father who loves to be around others. These are the things that describe me. I was a youth minister for 15 years but God changed the calling on my life. I love to travel and see where God takes me in my life.

6 responses to “Mothering as an Example”

  1. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Jason,

    I think you would make a great mother of your church. You have the humility to step away from the more traditional CEO model and recognize that even in your current church the greater impact for the Kingdom has come about because of pastors who were committed for the longer haul. I know my mother is still committed to me in the same way though I have been out of the house since I was 18.

    I think both you and I will find it useful to consider and apply aspects of this mothering metaphor to our own ministry contexts. I especially found the ‘good enough’ picture freeing and wish this was communicated clearly to all seminarians.

    Keep mothering your congregation and allowing God to grow you in the work set out for you in that place, even when it takes on different aspects than you anticipated.

    • mm Jason Turbeville says:

      Dan,
      It is funny to think myself as mothering but even in my marriage, whenever we go to marriage seminars I am always separated out with mostly women and my wife is usually with the guys in character traits. My mom is still looking after me with love as well. It is funny, even through the difficult times God has seen fit to give us mothers to nurture us.

      Jason

  2. CEO is such a poor metaphor for pastor, isn’t it?

    Shepherd is better, both because it is biblical, but also because it speaks of the care and guardian aspects involved in the role. But shepherd is a metaphor from an agrarian age.

    I have to say, I think that Percy has found an even better metaphor on the role with ‘mother’. It is universally applicable in all cultures and in all ages.

  3. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    Good post Jason, I too could see many being uncomfortable with this. I also wonder why God chose the image of Shepherd to describe a pastor, when the image of a mother was around then as well. BUT, You are spot on that this topic should be encouraging for men to consider this aspect of pastoring and these images.

  4. Greg says:

    Jason, of course I am writing this late and after your prezi presentation. This blog reflects what I was going to say to you today. Your openness to not simply be influence by differing thoughts but to engage intelligently difficult and sometimes controversial subjects in order for you to understand where that fits into your theology has always impressed me. From South Africa on, I have seen you love for people of all colors, all beliefs, not just in works but to be sensitive to allow God to move your heart as well. Thanks for letting us journey with you!! I appreciate you.

  5. Dave Watermulder says:

    Wow, thanks for this post, Jason!
    You packed in a lot of reflection and information here– I’m impressed. It was particularly interesting where you wrote about the previous pastors of your church and how long their tenure was: “With two exceptions since 1954 none have served over two years. The two outliers were for 12 years and for 8 years, interestingly enough those years saw the greatest effectiveness of the church and the greatest growth.”

    There definitely seems to be something about longer stretches with people and pastor together. I wonder if there’s a sweet spot– like, is it just “the longer the better”? Or, is there a zone you can reach or a season where there is deep fruitfulness that can happen.

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