The pastoral lifecycle is not a demarcation of biographical chapters or the notation of key milestones of a person’s life. Rather the pastoral lifecycle is an observable movement in the life ministry of a Christian shepherd, i.e., a minister of the Gospel.
The movements are based on Biblical models of vocational service to God and His mission in the world. Since the transitions are observable in Scripture (and evidenced in the larger study of pastoral theology), the movements of the pastoral lifecycle are predictive. This post considers the life of the Apostle Paul, Saul of Tarsus, as an observable model for the lifecycle of a Christian minister.
The ministry of the Apostle Paul, as recorded in Scripture, affords one example of a pastoral life cycle. It is suggestive and prescriptive that we who are called as pastors may be stewards of our ministries.
One caveat: this is suggestive. The model certainly holds expository truths but recognizes that God in His sovereignty could cause our ministerial career to look more like St. Stephen’s. We do not move through each of these stages with a guarantee because death waits for no man. Also, the tide of affairs in the life of a minister may overwhelm the movement from one stage of the cycle to another. So we offer this with prayer and dependence upon the God who calls and the God who sustains. It is, we say again, suggestive. Yet, we hope it is helpful.
The five-part movement is intended to reflect the movements observed in St. Paul’s ministry. These movements are discussed below.
Conversion and Calling (for Paul it is one divine moment filled with a spiritual conversion and divine calling. For others, the two supernatural events may be separated by years. The conversion is forever linked, however, to the call. | Acts 9:1-19 | Spiritually reborn | “He is the Son of God.” (Acts 9:20). | Need to obediently receive the risen Christ in all of your life. | God calls. | The season moves into the next intentionally.
Preparing | Galatians 1:17 | Spiritually young | “I went away into Arabia…Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem…” (Galatians 1:17-18). | Need to humbly yield yourself to a prolonged season of vocational guidance in character and competency.| The season moves into the next by completion of necessary education.
Growing | Spiritually growing | “Now Paul and his companions set sail…” (Acts 13:13). | Need to faithfully move to the fields of ministry.| Season transitions to the next by providential event (persecution).
Mentoring | 2 Timothy 2:1-2 | Spiritually seasoned | “You then, My child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1) | Need to gracefully give away insights to others.| Season transitions into the next by providential events (Continued imprisonment).
Reflecting | 2 Timothy 4:7-8, 17-18 | Spiritually surveying | “But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed…” (2 Timothy 4:17)| Season concludes through death.
- Where are you? What stage are you in? Are you transitioning from one stage to another? What are the “controlling” needs in your transition (i.e., how could turning the lever of education be helpful in your stage?)?
- What are the challenges inherent with each stage? Is there a more singular sinful condition exposed in each stage? If so what is that condition? What is the threat level to the hopefulness of a given stage?
- Consider each stage from the following “controls:”
- Controls (i.e., variables) are “levers” on the “dashboard” that can help you successfully navigate the stage. Thus, each of the controls is the dominant area of impact—positively or negatively—in the movement.
- Family Life
- E.g., Ministry demands may likely be more intense in “Growing” than in other stages.
- E.g., the Life stage (i.e., geriatric health issues) in “Reflecting” likely creates special family needs during the “Reflecting” stage.
- Devotional life
- E.g., Mentoring stage may be enhanced for greater ministry effectiveness with less text and more meditation on singular Scriptural portions (e.g., reading one Psalm over an entire week [or month] and using, e.g., a Lectio Divina (or your own tradition’s faithful application of that third-century Christian practice)—a slow and thoughtful reading of the Scripture that prayerfully seeks Jesus Christ as the interpretive principle of the text—to pray through the Psalm).
- E.g., the “Reflecting” stage may be enhanced through intentional friendship with a pastor in the “Growing” stage (“Tuesdays with Morrie”) who might choose to journal the reflections.
- Physical life
- E.g., keeping fit during the “growing” season may be used by the Lord to extend that season for greater effectiveness and longer service.
- Fallen condition realities
- E.g., There is an observable tendency of new Christians in the “Conversion” stage to be over-zealous and short with others who don’t share their own experience of God. As you disciple a believer at this stage introduce the reading of several spiritual biographies and assign a more mature friend to meet with the convert and reflect on the similarities and differences in the several conversion stories.
- Education or training
- E.g., One might be supported in the midst of the “Growing” stage by a return to an education program, a scholarly degree, or a professional degree like a Doctor of Ministry degree.
A slide presentation of the Pastoral Lifecycles is available here.