Sabbatical Reading - Shepherd of Souls
+Bishop Jon V. Anderson
During my sabbatical, I read a number of books. One that I want to lift up is called
, Shepherd of Souls: Faith Formation Through Trusted Relationships, by David Anderson. Anderson has been involved in the work of the Augsburg Youth and Family Institute; Vibrant Faith and Milestones Ministry, seeks to invite people to grow their capacity to live out their vocation to be a "shepherd of souls."
Anderson's book invites people to a life-giving faith and ministry. It makes the case that our vocations are larger than we often imagine. As baptized ones we are called as a vocation to "build up one another in faith... "all the saints engage in the enterprise of strengthening one another in the faith." p. 79.
As we traveled in Scandinavia, I learned that our sisters and brothers in Christ there have been exploring the power of milestones, one of the faith practice strategies that Anderson highlights in his book. There were multiple ways that the Swedish and Norwegian pastors used this strategy.
My favorite was "Baby Sing." I am sure I don't have all the nuance or details, but in a world where parents in Scandinavia are given much more time to care for their new born children, one of the ministries they are most excited about is inviting parents to come to the church and sing to their children. The parents sing hymns and songs often around a globe that is full of candles. This prayer globe was in the cathedral in Stockholm and most that I saw were smaller.
The singing to their children happens, they pray for the children and one another. They gather for fellowship. Everyone in the community is invited and they mark the entry of a child and the growing of an infant with singing, support and fellowship. Almost every pastor I talked to mentioned this strategy when I asked what was something in their ministry that they were feeling good about. I wonder if this would not work in our culture as well.
The milestone approach is one strategy of engaging the faith formation of young and older people acknowledging key moments and bringing our faith's resources to that moment for reflection and blessings. It is a supplement for Sunday School models in most of our congregations.
Vibrant Faith and its expressions earlier have highlighted four basic faith practices; Anderson uses these practices to equip the saints for their ministry as shepherds. "Four basic practices can assist effective shepherding. Conversations, reflection and prayer take place through the Four Key Faith Practices of: caring conversation, devotions, service and rituals and traditions.... [which] help clarify and facilitate the important task of shepherding souls." P. 95 Anderson teases out ways these practices might serve lay and rostered ministers as they seek to grow as "shepherd of souls".
Shepherding souls also utilizes the Five Principles of Faith Formation: "1) Faith formed and nurtured through trusted relationships; 2) Equipping shepherd through the ministry of the congregational church; 3) serving others through the ministry of the home; 4) Understanding and developing faith formation through experiences and relationships, not just by understanding concepts; and, 5) affirming that shepherding souls is a cross + generational ministry where adults support children and youth and children and youth support adults of all ages." (https://milestonesministry.org/books/shepherd-of-souls/)
The book will make you think about how our programs sometimes get in the way of people living out their ministry. Anderson wants to invite pastors and all the baptized into a deep and wide ministry through a variety of proposals. I found the book growing in energy as I got deeper into it. Anderson's thought stretched me to imagine what our synod's call to "Embrace God's Mission + Equip God's People" might mean as we equip lay people to love and serve.
If I was a parish pastor, I would use this book to train and equip people to live out their faith in God's world and also to equip people to deepen their capacity as a minister. For example, here Anderson lifts up the important work of ministry in deep relationships. "Such deep listening includes candid conversations, imaginative reflection, and prayerful attentiveness that explores the spiritual dimensions of life. This kind of caring relationships involves a significant level of trust and personal concern." p. 28. Relationships are where faith is caught and supported. Anderson invites you as a reader to grow deeper regardless of where you are at in your faith journey.
One last reflection about our Norwegian sisters and brothers in Christ; When they engage in milestone ministry, they invite everyone in town. When they get together for "Baby Sing" everyone is invited so this becomes an opportunity to experience the open door of the church. When they have their "I Spy" event for late middle school children, they invite everyone to come and play in the church building with the pastor in I Spy (from MAD Magazine back in time) and learn about God's Church and their faith in the process. Too often when we do milestone ministry, it is mostly focused on our members. What if we pushed the welcome wider and invited all the folks around us? In an increasingly secular context in Scandinavia they are ahead of us on this. We can invite people into the community that bears Christ's name and into following him in simple practices that grow people deep in faith, hope and love.
I grew up raising sheep. I love the image of a shepherd and this books invitation to all the baptized to see their ministry as shepherding the souls God has placed around them. The whole book was a reminder that "Shepherding is about caring, supporting, feeding and protecting" p. 43. The great news is that our God sent Jesus to be our Good Shepherd. If you hear command or law in some of what Anderson proposes, be sure to flip it and hear the promise that God can use you...all of you. God's Spirit is with you. More so, God cares like a shepherd for you, your neighbors and this entire world.