In “Dying to Live: The Power of Forgiveness”, Harold Senkbeil makes the observation that when a Christian is baptized, Satan puts a target on their back. Since we cannot see the flaming darts Satan is constantly hurling at us (Ephesians 6:16), we can easily let our guard down and become spiritually apathetic. It seems that Satan has a few special arrows in his quiver designated especially for those responsible for caring for Christ’s flock, His pastors (John 21:17).
Burnout is a widespread problem among pastors. It can impair their ability to preach the Gospel and administer His Sacraments and often leads to resignation. One of the benefits of DOXOLOGY is that it helps pastors and congregations to become more aware of Satan’s attacks and therefore better able to defend against them. Having recently begun participating in this program, I would describe DOXOLOGY as an experience that refreshes, refocuses, and further equips pastors for the care of souls.
DOXOLOGY is a refreshing experience. The location for our first meeting (the Gathering) was at the beautiful Chiara Center in Springfield, IL. The Chiara center, with its hospitable staff, beautiful grounds, and exquisite Church, proved to be a very serene location for our time together. But most refreshing of all was the time we spent together in God’s Word. Prayer Offices were held every morning, afternoon, and evening. Pastor Shawn Kumm of Zion, Laramie (WY) served as our chaplain for the entire event, who participated in the sessions, preached, conducted the liturgy, and made himself available for individual confession and absolution. DOXOLOGY did not only talk about pastoral care; it actually provided it. Professor Jonathan Kohrs of Concordia, Chicago served as Cantor for the event, whose musical leadership greatly enhanced our time of worship. One of the recurring themes during our time together was that in order to care for others, the pastor must be daily refreshed through oratio and meditatio (prayer and meditation on Scripture), and also be intentional about seeking out care from other pastors (e.g., having a father confessor, encouraging & supporting one another).
DOXOLOGY is a refocusing experience. When you’re in the trenches of real-life ministry with all the many and various demands that are put on pastors, it can be very easy to lose focus on what pastoral ministry is all about. DOXOLOGY emphasizes the classic seelsorge (soul-care) model as being essential to pastoral ministry. Pastors are the spiritual physicians of their flock. Faithful proclamation of Law and Gospel are just as much a matter of life and death as proper diagnosis and treatment of illnesses by physicians of the body. Pastors should be just as attentive and dedicated to the welfare of Christ’s sheep as physicians are to their patients.
Attentiveness to the pastor’s own spiritual health is vital if he is to provide faithful pastoral care to others. It will be difficult to bring the Gospel to others where it is not present in one’s own life. As St. Luke writes in Acts 20:28, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”
One thing that DOXOLOGY was able to do that was impossible at the seminary was giving us the chance to reflect on the art of soul-care in light of real-life experience as pastors. The seminary does a fine job forming men for pastoral ministry, but pastoral theology apart from pastoral experience can be somewhat abstract and remain limited to the realm of the theoretical. I found myself hanging on every word of the DOXOLOGY sessions, as the relevance of our discussions was immediately apparent. DOXOLOGY is a highly practical program, one which will be a great resource for pastors and congregations for years to come.
The sessions focused on a variety of topics, drawing on insights from both theology and contemporary psychology. Dr. Senkbeil led the more theologically oriented sessions, and Dr. Yankhe the ones of a more psychological nature. DOXOLOGY emphasized a complementary relationship between theology and psychology, where some of the salutary aspects of modern psychology were called upon in service to the task of pastoral care. What I especially appreciated was the constant focus on what is essential vs. what is important in pastoral ministry. While the insights of contemporary psychology are not essential to the Word and Sacrament ministry, there are many important things for pastors to learn here. And bonus: the psychological insights we discussed are not only beneficial to pastoral ministry, they are also valuable for living life as a well-adjusted human being and have great benefit for marriage and family life!
Topics covered on the theological side included the relationship between theology and psychology, the pastor’s identity as soul-physician, the importance of self-care, serving our flocks with divinely given authority vs. making political power plays (a session worth the price of admission alone!), and the reality of spiritual warfare (see Ephesians 6). The sessions of a more psychological nature included discussions on ethics, compassion fatigue, emotional intelligence (also worth the price of admission!), depression, and sexual misconduct. There were many things Dr. Yankhe talked about that I had never considered or been exposed to before, and I suspect the same is true for many pastors. Throughout these sessions there was a constant emphasis on vigilance/attentiveness, especially as it pertains to the pastor, his family, and his flock. DOXOLOGY is all about encouraging pastors to be more attentive and intentional in providing the care of souls.
Finally, DOXOLOGY is an equipping experience. This equipping goes far beyond the many hours we spent each day in learning sessions. Many theological and psychological resources were given, including an extensive, 5-page bibliography and with access to online resources at DOXOLOGY’s website (http://www.doxology.us/). Participants also received a comprehensive analysis of their EQ (Emotional Intelligence) along with specific suggestions and online resources for improving EQ. Participants were also given a DVD called “pastoral care of pastors (vol. 1)” featuring John Kleinig (whose fingerprints can be seen all over the curriculum), which was also made use of throughout the sessions.
DOXOLOGY encourages and fosters connections with colleagues in ministry (especially the other participants), highlighting the importance of pastor-to-pastor relationships. Interaction with the DOXOLOGY faculty (Dr. Senkbeil and Dr. Yahnke), is not limited to the time spent on-site. Each participant is entitled to up to 5 additional hours of personal consultation with them which can be utilized in the year following the DOXOLOGY experience. Pastors are not the only ones who participate in DOXOLOGY. In addition to the pastors-only gathering, there is also a reunion where pastors attend with at least one lay person, and a grand reunion which is for pastors and their wives.
In short, DOXOLOGY helps pastors to be better pastors. The program is very practical and goal-oriented. Rather than gather for a few days and then hope for improvement, DOXOLOGY helps pastors identify specific skills to work on that are useful in providing soul-care and provides strategies and resources for aiding in growth. With its unique blend of the insights of ancient theology and modern psychology, pastors and congregations are sure to benefit long after their time in this program has ended. This is one program Satan doesn’t want your pastor to attend.
 Many of the insights here and throughout were based on the observations of John Kleinig (see especially his book, “Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today” (http://www.cph.org/p-486-grace-upon-grace-spirituality-for-today.aspx).
 In addition to our discussion, all DOXLOGY participants participated in an EQ survey and were given access to a wealth of EQ resources online, including comprehensive survey analysis, suggestions for improving EQ, 10 hours of instructional video.
 DOXOLOGY gives participants their money’s worth. Scheduled activities begin around 8am each day and usually concluded around 9pm. The total expense for DOXOLOGY was $3400 for the 2013–2014 cycle, with a $2000 grant provided for each participant from the LCMS Office of National Ministry and other funding partners, leaving the total cost to each congregation at $1400. For more information on DOXOLOGY, visit their website at http://www.doxology.us/ .