Ah, middle of winter. Dark. Cold. Snow. Sleet. Time for being indoors and enjoying a good book by the fireplace or maybe taking a long afternoon nap. Every season in the year brings with it a different rhythm of life. Summer is for parks, pools, and playgrounds. Fall means raking leaves, planting bulbs for the Spring, and large bowls of chili and soup. Springtime means getting the garden ready and planting those vegetables. I enjoy the change of the seasons and look forward to what each season may bring.
The season metaphor is exactly how Bruce and Katherine Epperly envision ministry: every season of ministry brings with it new challenges, trials, tribulations, as well as joys. The Epperly's are co-pastors and are active in ministerial formation at Lancaster Theological Seminary in Lancaster, PA. I came across their book by accident while browsing through the new and recent book selections at the Alban Institute. I am glad I found them.
Four Seasons of Ministry (Alban, 2008) is a book that should be on every pastor's shelf. They go through the various stages of ministry, the immediate post seminary years, the early years, mid-career, and then those pastors heading towards retirement. Each of the six chapters includes not only solid academic and theological reflection on ministry, but this information is far from dry theological jargon. Bruce and Katherine have a lovely way of weaving personal vignettes from their own ministry experience as well as from numerous narratives from former students or from their colleagues. This narrative approach is very appealing. As a pastor who has served a parish for ten years now I identified very much with many of the "seasons" which the Epperly's discuss: those early years of excitement after graduating from seminary which then turn into the hum-drum of the daily routines of parish life. While not exactly mid-career yet, I can certainly see the challenges and issues which I might encounter as I grow older. Ministry is not for the faint of heart and as we increasingly are challenged by continuing economic pressures due to the recession as well as decreasing parish membership the wider Church must reflect on what it means to "be Church" in 21st century North America, but also, what it means to minister in this new world in which we live.
I could easily go on and on about this book, yet I would be doing readers a disservice.
After reading this blog post. Go over to Alban Institute or Amazon.com and order yourself a copy (or more!!) of Four Seasons of Ministry. You won't be disappointed.
For more information about the Epperly's and their ministry at Lancaster Theological Seminary click here