5 ‘p’s for pastors

A reflection (St John’s College, Auckland NZ, 28 May 2004)

By Kirsten Abbott

John 21:15-19

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.” (NRSV)

Three times Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me,” three times Peter protests his love, three times Jesus charges him, “Feed my sheep.” Jesus' call is urgent and important. This story challenges each of us to listen to what God is calling us to do with our lives.

In the Easter edition of Taonga, there was an article entitled, “What makes a good priest?” In it, five clergy were asked to name five essential qualities or skills for ministry. It was an interesting article – some things I found inspiring, and some I disagreed with or struggled with. But perhaps most helpfully, the article stimulated me to think about what my top five essentials for ministry might look like. Although I’m coming from the perspective of someone who’s been training for ordained ministry, Jesus calls all those who follow him to participate in ministry among people. So while this reflection will reflect the bias of my own experience, I hope these thoughts about ministry resonate with you, in whatever ministry Jesus is calling you to fulfil.

The first essential for me is prayerfulness. If I’m not making space for God to nurture me, and to listen for God’s direction, then I have very little to offer anyone else. It’s no coincidence that just before this conversation between Jesus and Peter in our gospel reading, we have Jesus saying to the disciples, “Come and have breakfast.” I love that picture of the generous and practical nurture of God. I know for myself that when I am not spending that time in prayer, that time connecting with the source of my being, my life becomes a shrivelled and bare thing.

The second of my five essentials is preparation. It takes time to grow into the tasks God gives us. It takes training, resources and support. Sometimes being at theological college can be a difficult time. Sometimes I wonder what I’m doing here, and whether I should be out there “doing” ministry. But for those of us who are studying, this time of preparation is a gift, and an essential part of being able to fulfil our calling. God honours time spent in preparation, and it is not wasted.

The third attribute that I think is essential for ministry is perceptiveness. To me this means to notice what is going on within myself and with those around me; to discern what’s happening in a group or in an institution; and to see the appropriate responses to the situations around me. Perceptiveness, an alertness to the place and people among whom I minister, seem to me to be an incredibly important aspect of what I need to develop in order to fulfil God’s call to me.

Related to these three essentials is a fourth ability, presence. To be in your own skin, to be with yourself, to be with God, to be with others – this is something to keep practising as a basis from which a real encounter with another person can occur. I know I don’t always find it easy to be present. My mind wanders off so easily at times. But it is worth continually bringing ourselves back to presence, attentiveness to where we are right now.

Prayerfulness, preparation, perceptiveness, and presence. By now you will have noticed that they all start with the same letter, (so you know they must be true!). For the fifth essential quality for ministry, there were several other ‘p’s I could have chosen. I could have chosen persistence, or patience, though I certainly would not have chosen perfection. I could have chosen persuasiveness, panache, personality, or simply potential. But for my final essential, I chose passion, in all its depth of meaning. That love, that spark, vision, fire, and yes, that willingness to suffer for what we love, is what will sustain us when it gets too hard. Passion, to me, says something about the risk of loving God’s people. It’s about daring to pray to a God who might challenge us, about daring to prepare ourselves in ways that might change us. Passion drives us to perceive ourselves and others with honesty, and it enables us to dare to be truly present. To me, ministry, in all its many forms, is about participating in the passionate love of God for creation.

I hope this reflection has encouraged you to consider how Jesus is calling you. Maybe you could make your own list of essentials for the journey ahead. God go with you on the way.

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© Kirsten Abbott 2004