What is pastoral excellence and how might a Center help it flourish? The first and most basic answer arises from scripture—1 Corinthians 12:31—in which Paul urges the church in Corinth to love one another: "Strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way," he says. Pastoral excellence arises from a fundamental love for God, for God's people, and for the call to ministry that God has placed on the hearts of some in the community.
Having instructed the church in Corinth on the diversity of spiritual gifts that God bestows, and having told them, "you are the body of Christ and individually members of it (1 Cor 12:27)," both one in the Spirit and possessing different skills in the one body, some called to be apostles, some prophets, some teachers, and some to other tasks, Paul seeks to balance this differentiation by claiming that the most important task is love. "If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing (1 Cor 13:2-3)."
But we know that living in "a still more excellent way" takes time and attention. It must be cultivated and seasoned. Craig Dykstra opens his essay, "Pastoral and Ecclesial Imagination" (Dorothy C. Bass and Craig Dykstra, eds., For Life Abundant
, Eerdmans, 2008), as follows: "It is a beautiful thing to see a good pastor at work." It doesn't just happen, he says. "The pastoral imagination emerges over time and through the influence of many forces."
Dykstra continues, "Ironically, even though ministry is hard work that requires considerable preparation and enormous discipline, the pastoral imagination that emerges within it comes not as an achievement but as a gift." One body, many members. One Spirit, many gifts.
How does one help a gift to flourish? That is a great question, and one we will seek to answer as a Center for Pastoral Excellence over time. We do know that to help the gift of pastoral excellence flourish the Center will address the long arc of ministry from vocational discernment to training to sustaining ministry over a lifetime.
We do believe that the initiatives that comprise the Center offer a variety of ways to help this gift to flourish. From the Pastoral Excellence Network
that teaches a specific approach by nurturing communities of clergy in various stages of ministry, to the New Media Project
that helps us understand how digital communication can be used to support pastoral excellence, to The Discipleship Project
that helps shape seminary students in the ways of excellence, the Center for Pastoral Excellence will continue to pursue the "still more excellent way" of love. Verity A. Jones is the executive director of the Center for Pastoral Excellence at Christian Theological Seminary.
The Center for Pastoral Excellence at CTS addresses the long arc of ministry from discernment to training to sustaining excellence ministry. To request permission to repost this content, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.