Q&A with Glenn Packiam

Q&A with Glenn Packiam

Glenn Packiam is one of the associate senior pastors at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and the lead pastor of New Life Downtown, a congregation of New Life Church. He is author of Discover the Mystery of Faith, LUCKY, Secondhand Jesus and Butterfly in Brazil. He’s also the writer of beloved New Life worship songs like “Your Name” and “My Savior Lives.” Glenn holds a BA in Theological / Historical Studies, a Masters in Management and, after two years of graduate work at Fuller Theological Seminary, is pursuing doctoral research in theology at Durham University in the UK. Glenn, his wife, Holly, and their four children enjoy life in the shadow of the mighty Rocky Mountains.

Q: Pastors’ top three challenges are juggling the demands of the job, competing for people’s time and apathetic or uncommitted Christians. What is your advice to leaders who feel discouraged? 01

Let me say: I hear you! There are a few things that may help. First, be honest about your limitations. Discovering those limitations is the fruit of discovering who you are and what you do best. Tools like the Enneagram and Myers-Briggs are some of the ways you can deepen your journey of self-awareness to discover the unique ways God made you, and uncover the unique contributions you can make to your church. Once you know your limitations, you can recruit people to help (asking people to help is difficult, but is also a key component of making disciples) or decide to do fewer things as a church.

Speaking of doing fewer things, my second suggestion is to find ways to invite people into a different kind of rhythm. Rather than creating alternative experiences or events to the things they are already doing, our gift to our people is to show them a deeper way. We aren’t trying to add to the clutter of their lives; we are trying to call them to an inward journey. Church can’t be another thing to attend. Teaching a “rule of life” is one way to help people see the haphazard rhythms of their lives, the hollow goal that stands at the center and how everything can be reoriented around a different center.

Q: How do you think current challenges to pastors compare to those in the past? Are there any shared across time? Any especially unique to or pressing in this day and age? 02

I think our culture has no paradigm for what a pastor is, so we tend to borrow from existing paradigms. A few decades ago, a pastor was expected to be like a therapist or counselor. Then, a pastor was to be an entrepreneur. In some circles, a pastor is supposed to be a revivalist or inspirational evangelist. Today, pastors are often looked at as social activists, creating change in their communities. These expectations are not only unfair; they are incorrect. We have to teach our people, show them and embody for them, what a pastor is and why it is a unique vocation.

That being said, the role of a pastor is contextually shaped. The role of a pastor must be adaptive to some degree to the context of the congregation. We are always, as Eugene Peterson wrote, paying attention to the particularities of the soil.

Most of us don’t do ministry in a “parish” context, where a geographic community looks to a pastor as their priest, called upon when babies are born or loved ones are dying; instead, we are actively calling people to gather in worship, into a new kind of community and into a life of service. What’s tricky is the people we are trying to reach and shepherd arrive with pre-existing notions of what it means to be a Christian. We’re not working with a blank slate. This dynamic is more complex in our day because of the flurry of voices from social media, blogs, podcasts and so on with perceived authority derived from popularity. Many of our parishioners don’t know how to sort out solid theological reflection from what isn’t so, like it or not, our voice becomes just one of many Christian voices in their spiritual formation

Q: How can pastors be better equipped for the emotional and empathetic weight of leadership? 03

Pastors can benefit from more training in the psychological dimensions of human behavior. I have been helped, for instance, by learning about attachment theory, the science behind addictions and the way emotions work—just to name a few topics. Becoming conversant in the social sciences can help us have an integrated spirituality that does not separate “spiritual things” from our humanity, or “theology” from “psychology.”

However, most pastors will not, nor should we, become experts in these fields. That is why it can be useful to involve the counseling community in our congregation’s care. That may mean referring people to a professional counselor after one or two meetings with them; and it could mean having counselors teach premarital classes or parenting sessions. People need more than an exegesis of Ephesians 5 to help their marriages. And yet all the techniques in the world, unmoored from the theology of what marriage is for, will prove hollow.

So, bringing the two worlds together—the social sciences, like psychology and sociology, with theology—can enrich our care for people. But that need not be the work of one super-pastor. Rather it will likely be the result of curating a team of pastors and counselors, staff people and lay people, who know how to work together.

Continue Reading
Back to the Study

Cultural Leadership

Read Section