Friday, July 11, 2008

Resurrecting Excellence

Over the past few days, I've been posting quotes from L. Gregory Jones and Kevin R. Armstrong's book, Resurrecting Excellence: Shaping Faithful Christian Ministry (you can find these here, here, and here). This morning I finished the book and found it a valuable piece of work and useful for a variety of applications.

The book appears as part of the Pulpit and Pew series, a publishing partnership between Eerdmans and Duke Divinity School's Pulpit and Pew: Center for Excellence in Ministry. The books in this series are important investigations into the lives of clergy from a variety of angles: historically (Brooks Holifield's new book God's Ambassadors), sociologically (Jackson Carroll's God's Potters and Dean Hoge's Pastors in Transition), and theologically (Resurrecting Excellence). The entire series will repay thoughtful reading and reflection by church leaders, sessions, and theological educators.

Resurrecting Excellence not only plays a role as the theological statement for the series; it also serves as the key book summarizing initial findings in Lilly Endowment Inc.'s Sustaining Pastoral Excellence program (SPE). As I've noted previously, Covenant Seminary has participated in SPE and recently received a major re-grant to sustain the programs associated with our programs. As a result, this book is vital for developing a theological understanding of what the endowment (and its major partner, Duke Divinity School) hoped to accomplish through the program.

Because the book is written for these purposes, it is written in a style that may turn some readers off. For those of us in the academic world and especially the world of the Association of Theological Schools and other accrediting agencies or the world of various endowments (whether Lilly, Pew, or Luce), the style is familiar. However, if one simply sticks with the book (I read a chapter a morning for six consecutive mornings), there are enough jewels (as I've already posted) to justify the effort.

At the center of the book is the multivalent metaphor, "resurrecting excellence." Playing off the theological theme "resurrection," Jones and Armstrong note both the power of the resurrection is necessary for pastoral excellence as well as the need to resurrect excellence in ministry, especially among mainline Protestants. The way to see such a resurrection is through a vision of pastoral ministry that "inhabits the intersections" between faith and life (chapter 2); an embrace of a richer and more thoroughly developed sense of Christian and pastoral vocation (chapters 3 and 4); a focus on lifelong learning to sustain pastoral ministry over the long haul (chapter 5); and care for those institutions and resources necessary to support pastoral ministry (chapter 6).

For pastoral leaders who often don't spend much time thinking about their callings from a macro-perspective, this book would be a brief yet useful conversation starter. In addition, for pulpit committees or sessions who are thinking through pastoral leadership or for struggling congregations that need to move from ministry mediocrity to excellence, there were a number of helpful thoughts here that would stimulate greater reflection and creativity. I particularly profited from the stories (especially the final story on pp. 175-6) which stirred the imagination or gave voice to my own pastoral longings.

1 comment:

Vitamin Z said...

Thanks for the recommendation. I'll check it out for sure.

Looking forward to the ACCESS residency in a few days!