Sacramental Leadership (Part 8 of 10)

Editor’s Note: This is part 8 of a 10 part series on pastoral leadership that I am writing for my seminary class, Leading Christian Communities, with Dr. Kyle J. A. Small. My reflections in this series are based on the project “Learning to Follow, Learning to Lead” (2012) by Dr. Megan Mullins & Dr. Kyle J. A. Small, which assessed seven competencies for the practice of pastoral leadership. 

In the “Learning to Follow, Learning to Lead” project, sacramental leadership is to be “personally and corporately united with Christ through worship, spiritual disciplines, and through the participation and leadership of the sacraments.” In the Reformed tradition, we center around baptism and eucharist as the good gifts of grace from God to the people of God.

Western Theological Seminary does sacramental leadership well. The bath and the meal are regular and robust practices of our life together—well, remembering our baptism (since we don’t actually perform baptisms at the seminary). But we do share in the Lord’s Supper every Friday. Not coincidentally, sacramental leadership is the competency rated highest by both faculty and recent graduates in terms of how WTS models the seven competencies. Additionally, in a brief survey taken in one of the first Leading Christian Communities class periods this semester, sacramental leadership ranked the highest among my classmates as feeling “most prepared” and lowest as feeling “least prepared.”

And Western Theological Seminary is becoming known for this competency not simply within the denomination but also in other circles. In church history, we learn about the two major centers of biblical interpretation, exegesis, and theology: Alexandria and Antioch. To summarize briefly, the Alexandrian school emphasized an allegorical method of interpretation of Scripture and the Antiochene school emphasized a more literal method of interpretation. (And yes, that’s a massive oversimplification!) I find it exciting that now Western Theological Seminary is becoming known as a school of sacramental though, practice, and living.

If you ask me, that’s really cool, and it’s exciting to be a part of it!

However, there is more to sacramental leadership than just the bath and the meal. According to Drs. Mullins and Small, sacramental leadership also includes “regular practice of Sabbath rest” and “nourishing one’s spiritual life.” As I near graduation—now just three weeks away!—I have been increasingly reflecting on my experience during these last three years. And I have a confession. One thing that I was never quite able to master was enjoying a fruitful and regular practice of Sabbath. And I know that I am not alone.

Sabbath practice in seminary is the spiritual discipline that all professors love to value, but few like to make possible. It’s like everybody wanting to harness the wind for eco-friendly power but nobody wanting the windmills in their own backyard. But I digress.

Explore this a little more with me. At WTS, we have a course workload calculator in the student handbook that is supposed to act as a guide for faculty in designing their courses each semester. It’s a valuable tool, if the assessments and measurements it uses are appropriate. As an experiment, I began this semester explicitly sticking to workloads according to the calculator. It didn’t last long; it was unsustainable if I was going to have a respectable academic semester. I needed more time for homework, reading, and studying. And—another confession—that was not even giving my best work to some classes.

I know I used to be an accountant, but it’s not difficult to see why. According to the handbook, there are three hours of work per week per credit hour (1 hour in class & 2 hours outside of class). The full-time M.Div. program completed in three years requires an average of 15 credits per semester (assuming you earn 6 credits through J-term or summer courses). So, for coursework alone, that’s 45 hours per week. Add to that an expectation of 10 hours per week in a teaching church internship, and that’s 55 hours per week. Don’t forget half an hour of chapel every day, for a grand total of 57.5 hours per week…as a minimum expectation, not including any other seminary, friend, or family activities. And then we are still puzzled why there is such a high burnout rate among pastors.

Now, I’m not opposed to working hard. In fact, many people would probably label me as a workaholic. In my accounting days there were weeks on end of 70 to 80 hour weeks. That’s about what I’ve been averaging this semester.

Anyway, I don’t intend this as a complaint, but I would like for it to be the start of a fruitful conversation. I think that Sabbath is an area calling for deep engagement from both faculty and students to find a sustainable and life-giving practice that will continue to nourish as pastoral leaders for many years to come.

If we don’t know how to sustainably practice Sabbath as pastors, how will we ever lead our congregations to faithful and sustainable living when we are gathered around the font and table?



Read the rest of the 10-part series on the practice of pastoral leadership:

  1. Pastoral Leadership (21 February 2013)
  2. Organizational Leadership (28 February 2013)
  3. Learning Leadership (7 March 2013)
  4. Public Leadership (14 March 2013)
  5. Collaborative Leadership (21 March 2013)
  6. Reconciling Leadership (28 March 2013)
  7. Resourced Leadership (11 April 2013)
  8. Sacramental Leadership (18 April 2013)
  9. Pastoral Leadership II (25 April 2013)
  10. Leadership Transition (2 May 2013)
«Photo of art glass in Mulder Chapel at Western Theological Seminary»

About Joshua

Joshua is the lead pastor of Massapequa Reformed Church (RCA) on Long Island, New York. He and his wife Kathryn have one young daughter. He loves coffee and board games, ice cream and sports—he's an avid fan of the Green Bay Packers, UConn Huskies, Boston Red Sox and Milwaukee Brewers.
© Copyright 2017, All Rights Reserved