My latest column at ChristianWeek:
You wouldn’t think that paramedics have a lot to teach pastors about ministry. But according to Barry Parker, rector of St. Paul’s Bloor Street in Toronto and former paramedic, many of the same principles apply.
“When I took the paramedic’s course, the physician told us he could teach a monkey how to be a paramedic in a week,” Parker says. “All it takes is the basic skills. But, he said, it would take years for us to learn how to apply them.”
Paramedics need to focus on three main areas, the ABCs: airway, breathing and circulation. The order is important too. Every situation they face is about how to apply the ABCs. It’s important to focus on these three priorities without being distracted. Novices are tempted to focus on blood from a small cut and miss the fact that the patient has stopped breathing. Experienced paramedics understand the importance of staying focused on the ABCs in every situation.
Parker suggests that pastoral ministry involves three basic priorities as well: knowing God, knowing self and knowing ministry, in that order. All of ministry is about focusing on these three basics and working them out in the context of ministry.
“Knowing God is about having a deep personal experience of Jesus Christ which only comes through a deep prayer life,” says Parker. “It’s where I have to start. When it comes to ministry, you have to go here first. If this isn’t healthy, you’re in trouble.”
“Knowing self is about understanding myself, a redeemed sinner. It’s about knowing who I am in Christ. Do I know my psychological makeup? Do I understand my blind spots? How are my relationships, including my marriage and my relationship with my kids and parents?”
“Knowing ministry is about understanding my ministry gifts, and how they apply to the ministry that I’m in.”
It’s important that pastors keep an eye on all three areas. If one is out of order, Parker says, then disorder will creep in everywhere. You need all three to stay alive in ministry, but sometimes a pastor has to focus on one in particular.
“From my experience, we often ignore knowing God,” he says. “Knowing God has a formative effect. It reforms us from the inside out. It starts with knowing God and resting in his peace. For a lot of pastors, I’m wondering if it starts with developing our knowledge of God.”
Focusing on these three is not a quick fix, and it’s not glamorous, but it is vital. “The first call of leadership is that it’s not about you. You can’t live and lead effectively until you understand that. Paradoxically, you have to spend time on you through knowing God, knowing self and knowing ministry to get there.”
Parker says that these three core principles have helped sustain him through almost thirty years of ministry. He suggests that pastors must work to maintain a focus on these simple principles and enlist friends and mentors who will help them work them out in their lives.
“Ministry is complex,” he says. “I just need to keep working at keeping it simple.”