Carroll, God’s Potters

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Jackson W. Carroll, God’s Potters: Pastoral Leadership and the Shaping of Congregations. Eerdmans, 2006.

Referenced in: Pastoral Theology

LifeandLeadership.com Summary

This book functions less as pastoral theology in the strict sense and more as a well-researched statement on the state of ministry in contemporary society. It is based on one of the most extensive surveys of Protestant and Catholic ministers ever undertaken as part of the Pulpit and Pew project.

Carroll builds upon the metaphor of “earthen vessels” from 2 Corinthians 4 to refer to ministers as “God’s potters, whose work is shaping, glazing and firing those congregational clay jars so that they reveal rather than hide God’s power in their life and practices.” The acknowledgement from the outset, however, is that pastoring is “a tough, demanding job, one that is not always very well understood or appreciated.” Thus “the aim of the book is to ask what God’s potters do in their work in today’s church. Who are they? How are they faring? What does excellence in the craft of ministry look like? And how can it be nurtured and supported?” (2)

Chapter 2 looks at the complex and challenging setting in which pastoral work occurs. Chapter 3 presents a portrait of who does ministry today by social categories such as age, gender, ethnicity as well as others such as vocational or bivocational, doing as many comparisons as possible with ministers from previous periods to see what changes have occurred. Chapter 4 discusses what ministers do, their core tasks, how much time they spend in each, where they feel more or less competent, and how they are compensated. Chapter 5 looks at ministers as leaders, their most common leadership styles, and how they feel legitimated to do their work (ordination, degrees, etc.). Chapter 6 concerns how ministers are doing personally. To what degree are they satisfied, handling stress, juggling family and work, living balanced lives, etc.? Chapter 7 takes on a different task of designating the primary marks of good and faithful ministry. Finally, chapter 8 considers what congregations, seminaries, denominations, and pastors themselves can do to sustain pastoral excellence.

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From the Publisher

Pastoral ministry is an occupation in flux. In this comprehensive study Jackson Carroll considers the many factors — changing roles among clergy and laypeople, the opening of ordination to women, an increasing shortage of clergy, and more — that are shaping congregations and ministers today. Building on Paul’s image of Christians as “clay jars,” Carroll paints a portrait of “God’s potters” — pastors whose calling is to form their congregational jars so that they reveal rather than hide God’s treasure.

A veteran clergy watcher, Carroll uses data from what is likely the most representative survey of Protestant and Catholic clergy ever undertaken, as well as focus group interviews and congregational responses, to take a hard look at who is doing ministry today, what it involves, and how pastors are faring in leading their congregations. Significantly, his study covers clergy from a broad range of traditions — Catholic, mainline Protestant, conservative Protestant, and historic black churches.

Replete with pertinent tables and figures, God’s Potters culminates with specific strategies for strengthening pastoral leadership and nurturing excellence in ministry.

About the Author

Jackson W. Carroll is the Ruth W. and A. Morris Williams Jr. Professor Emeritus of Religion and Society and recently retired as director of Pulpit & Pew: Research on Pastoral Leadership at Duke Divinity School. An ordained United Methodist minister, he is also the author of such books as Bridging Divided Worlds: Generational Cultures in Congregations (coauthored with Wade Clark Roof) and Mainline to the Future: Congregations for the 21st Century.

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