Text Without Context Is …

Seventh-day Adventist pastoral development takes place within a dynamic triad –
the pastor, the local church, and the local conference

During the days of Greek, my professor would say, “A text without context is a pretext.” I learned that oftentimes a specific Greek word could have several interpretations depending on the context. Anyone else remember those days of blood, sweat and tears?

Unlike teachers in the classroom, or lawyers in a firm, or those in the medical profession, pastors primarily work within the framework of a volunteer organization. Each of these categories serve in the context of “services rendered.” Pastors do not…and thus the rub for those serious about their development. Some pastors must develop in the context of congregational members who believe they “pay” their pastor. And pastors, in this sense, do not get “paid.” Tithe is not payment for services rendered. Tithe is an act of faith confronting the consumer world. While Paul may not be speaking of tithe in 2 Corinthians 9, he does delve deeply into the motives for giving.

These motives ripple the context waters for a pastor’s development, as well as the surrounding system through which development occurs. Thus, the uniqueness of our context requires a nuanced way of developing. Pastors within the organization of the Seventh-day Adventist Church work within a dynamic triad: the pastor, the local district, and the local conference. Thus, the development of the pastor must include these three legs of the triad. A pastor develops within the context of a) being a conference employee (while remaining “self-employed”), b) the identified leader of a district, and c) the person. Thus, for a Seventh-day Adventist pastor, development must account for growth as an employee of a conference, as a district identified leader, and as a person.

This provides a window into how certain developmental strategies can evolve. This three-legged stool serves as a meta-platform for pastors. While it can be argued that as the person develops (the subject of a future article), the other two legs will develop, this may not necessarily follow. I have encountered pastors who are strong on the district leader side of the equation but find themselves less developed in their relationship with the conference office.

Thus, it is important to remember that first and foremost we are seeking to create climates where a pastor develops. There is a specificity to this role that must be recognized and understood. The role and function of a department person or conference officer, while being grounded in their development as a pastor, still inherit some unique differences for development. This is why Dr. Paul Brantley and Dr. Alvin Kibble, both Vice-Presidents in the Division Office, work closely with our external consultant, Barbara Davis, in creating developmental instruments for pastors and conference leadership.

Yet, even within the pastoral ranks, there are different contexts for development. With about a third of our conferences reporting across the Division, roughly 57% of district configuration across the Division is multi-church, while another 33% is single-church and another 10% is single-church, multi-staff configured. Each of these contexts bear within them variables influencing a pastor. In the Pathway to Ministry arch, it befits us to consider these contextual varieties to effectively fan the flame of ministry. After all, this remains a goal of pastoral development—to fan the flame of God’s active Spirit in the lives of His people.

John Grys is the North American Division Ministerial Department Associate Director for Pastoral Professional Development