November 20, 2017

We Have All the “Tools” We Need (2)

This is part two of a piece in which I contend that, in essence, no new tools have been invented since the days of Jesus and the apostles (save one) that are absolutely essential for us to fulfill the Great Commission or encourage spiritual formation in the church.

My focus is on pastoral ministry, because we have been engaged in a discussion involving Mark Galli and Tod Bolsinger that Scot McKnight and many others have noted. This conversation has been about the nature of the pastoral ministry, in particular, do we need more “Chaplains” or “Leaders” in ministry in the church?

In the previous post to this one, I stated my intention to set aside those concerns for awhile and focus on a few foundational “tools” that all ministers must make use of in order to fulfill their ministry. My contention is that, in the final analysis, basic tools such as these are really all that are needed to do the job.

Other things may be helpful. Only things like these are essential.

We noted three in the first article:

  1. Newness of life in Jesus.
  2. The Holy Spirit.
  3. The Gospel.

Those who want to give Christ to the world must be people who die daily to the old way of life and rise again to walk in newness of life. Each day, we reenact our baptism and live in Christ as we experience his forgiveness, renewal, and leading. For this, God has bestowed on us the promised Holy Spirit, who gives us power. From the depths of our inner being, he energizes us to point to Jesus and keep pointing to Jesus, come what may. The great message entrusted to us is the Gospel, the message that God, through Jesus, has begun to reign on earth as he rules in heaven. We represent Jesus the King, who is making all things new.

Here are two more essentials. We’ll talk about the last two on Friday.

Word and Sacrament. “All authority in heaven and on earth,” he said, has been given to me! So you must go and make all the nations into disciples. Baptize them in the name of the father, and of the son, and of the holy spirit. Teach them to observe everything I have commanded you. And look: I am with you, every single day, to the very end of the age.” (Mt 28:18-10, KNT)

Note the two “tools” Jesus gave the church for fulfilling his “Great Commission” — Word and Sacrament; the waters of baptism, the words of God. Through the washing of water and the Word, the people we reach with the Gospel become observant disciples.

“They all gave full attention to the teaching of the apostles and to the common life, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42, KNT) Baptism is the initiation sacrament, while the continuing sacrament by which God nourishes believers in their “common life” together is the Lord’s Supper, here called by Luke, “the breaking of bread.” Both the “teaching of the apostles” and “the prayers” (i.e. the liturgical prayers of the temple — the Psalms) represent examples of God’s Word. God communes and communicates with his people through these practices. The common life we share together (koinonia = fellowship, communion, partnership) is nourished as God speaks to us in Scripture, we speak to him in psalms and prayers, and he feeds us at the Table.

These are fundamental “tools” in the basic toolkit of a Christian minister. In my tradition, we recognize them as “means of grace,” which signifies above all that they are not things through which we work for God, but things through which God works on our behalf. These are the primary ways our Father provides for his family. They are the divinely ordained “methods” by which we as his ministers care for the flock.

Do we really trust in the simple tools of Word and Sacrament and believe they are sufficient to accomplish God’s purposes for his people?

Love. Of all the qualities required in a Christian and in a minister, there is one that stands supreme. He or she must be a person of love.

The NT contains a virtual mountain of evidence pointing to love as the bottom line of the Christian life and ministry. Paul said love is greater than faith. Greater than hope. The greatest virtue of all. If you want to fulfill the Law, Paul said, love your neighbor. “What matters is faith, working through love.” (Gal. 5:6) If you were to ask Paul what the goal of his ministry was, in the end he would not talk in terms of reaching the world or building a great church, he would say, “The goal of our instruction is love…” (1Tim 1:5).

One thing that has disturbed me as I have come into contact with a number of Christian ministers over the years has been the realization that many of them don’t really like people. They love doctrine. They like having a position of authority in the church. They enjoy being in front of crowds and preaching. They relish the mission and savor the challenge of “accomplishing great things for God.”

But they have little patience for people, especially needy or weak people. They don’t like to listen to people’s problems. When people interrupt their schedule or ask them to change their agenda, they resent it. They can’t stand people who disagree with them. They are demanding and expect people to change just like that; they’re not interested in the process. You don’t want this minister to visit you in the hospital, help you with an intractable problem, speak at your family member’s funeral, or even come to your home for fellowship. They may know how to wring tears out of a crowd with a heart-rending personal story, but in person, there’s nothing personable about them.

This “minister” may run an efficient, “successful” organization, but I wouldn’t want to work on his or her team, would you?

As I’ve watched certain pastors function like this over the years, I find there is always a lot to admire about them — from a distance. People who don’t really know them and who haven’t worked closely with them usually sing their praises and commend them for being strong leaders, effective communicators, and successful faces of their organization.

Rarely does one see the trail of hurt and disenchantment they leave behind. The blood is usually shed behind closed doors and the wounded leave town silently while the big wheel keeps on turning. Because most of the pain is caused in the name of the mission, the leader is able to justify his actions, and those who are devastated by the leader become filled with self-doubt. They think they must not be as strong or committed as the leader. Maybe they don’t have what it takes to be in ministry after all.

This can happen in organizations small and large, simple and complex. People go into ministry for all kinds of reasons, and many of those reasons are inadequately vetted by wise elders. In America, we value charisma, talent, ambition and drive, and if a minister has those qualities, it’s often enough to secure a pulpit and a senior pastor’s office.

But, in my view — and I think the NT will back me up here — there is only one real reason for me to go into ministry: My heart has been captured by the love of God in Jesus Christ, and I want to share that love with others.

Without love, a minister is nothing.

What kind of a minister am I?

Comments

  1. I love this post!
    Too often I read articles or books & see a writer (who may be a Pastor or Theologian) who may love God, but shows little or no sign of loving his readers, & the wider human race.

    I just can’t deal with that stuff anymore, I consider it as heretical as coming out with a load of theological nonsense. It’s one of the reasons that very reformed opinions leave me cold – often the only truly loved things are doctrine & being right. Here Eagle’s favourite theologians come to mind…It’s one of the reasons I could read Schaeffer, while not agreeing on everything, his love is palpable & you feel he would value you as a person, likewise Philip Yancey & so on. Well said Chaplain Mike.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      It’s one of the reasons that very reformed opinions leave me cold – often the only truly loved things are doctrine & being right.

      Purity of Ideology.
      Just like classic Communists.

      • Pure doctrine is important because it is unloving to teach falsehoods. If I say, the Gospel is all about being the best you can be and then having God bless you with incredible riches! I’d hope somebody would be loving enough to me and hearers to correct that.

        Same with all doctrine. For example, when I as a Lutheran hear people teach credo-baptism, I should look for an opportunity to address that incorrect belief in an unloving way. Not because I love to be right (though of course the sinful Adam likes that) but because of the comfort and joy that comes with the correct understanding of baptism as a free gift of washing and regeneration.

        But we should be able to connect our theology to love and forgiveness in Christ. If your theological critique can’t be made in a pastoral way that gives comfort and forgivess to the despairing (or Law to the unrepentant loving his sin and rejecting Christ), then it’s not a good time to correct the bad doctrine.

        • ack! should look for an opportunity to address that incorrect belief, BUT NOT in an unloving way.

  2. Great post, CM. Your paragraph on Word and Sacrament are being copied and pasted to a file of treasures I have right now!

  3. So many good points here.

    And yes, love ought to be the driving force behind a minister of the Word. But we know thise ministers will be mixed bags like the rest of us, and often fail to be as loving as he or she ought to be.

    It’s a wonderful and gracious God who uses real sinners (who else does He have?) to accomplish His will theough Word and Sacrament.

    Thanks, Chaplain Mike.

    • sarahmorgan says:

      “But we know these ministers will be mixed bags like the rest of us, and often fail to be as loving as he or she ought to be.”
      No one is going to be “as loving as he or she ought to be” 100% of the time. But there actually is a proper Christian response to one’s failure to love: repentance and humility, demonstrated in a way people (especially the people towards which one was unloving) can see and understand. Too many ministers don’t even do that — after all, ignoring the issue and hoping no one takes notice is a lot easier on the ego. :-/

    • Steve, you are right. One of most essential qualities of love is humility, honesty, and willingness to confess my sins, admit my mistakes, and seek forgiveness.

  4. sarahmorgan says:

    Thanks for bringing these topics up is such a clear way.
    Once, in a church I was in, a person in the ministry I was leading groused about someone else and stated vehemently, “God says I have to love him, but I don’t have to like him.” I told him that was a cop-out and tried to explain how you can’t separate like from love. It really bothered me that somewhere, in some church, this was actually being taught as acceptable. Years after the event, it still bothers me, especially since I’ve still run across so many churchgoers with that same attitude. 🙁

    • This love and like can be very difficult. It’s something I’m working on at this time. It’s something I’m so aware of because of some people in my life. And this conviction that I’m supposed to love these people even though I can’t stand them. It would definitely take something supernatural to make it happen. There isn’t one thing to like about these individuals. At least not as it pertains to the workplace.

      God will have to do a work in me.

  5. Jesus told us to love our enemies.

    When someone steals our cloak, we must also offer him our flay screen t.v., also.

    None of us are really up to it. But we repent, as saramorgan and Chaplain Mike said, and move out in faith, speaking of the One who gave His life for the ungodly, and doing what we can, when we can, for the neighbor.

  6. ‘flay screen’…hmmm…no wonder my picture has double images…

  7. To be fair Chaplain Mike, some would say pastors don’t need to really love people. They just gotta give the Word and Sacrement, that’s good enough. Love ought to come from the church and Christian community. The pastors and priests ought to be mainly concerned with the Word and Sacrements.

    • IOW, we need wonks as officebearers. Let’s just ID those young people who demonstrate a capability of splitting theological hairs at 50 meters Annie Oakley style and immerse them in the theological monasteries, I mean *seminaries*, lay hands on them, and plunk them in various parishes. Talk about robots…

    • It seems to me that Jesus made it pretty clear that He desired that those with authority in His church should be the most humble and servant-like. Paul and other NT writers also support the servant model of leadership.
      In my opinion, doctrinal correctness without love isn’t any better than liturgical correctness without love. And I think trying to completely separate the functions of a pastor or priest and the content of their hearts and how they live their lives is a bit iffy.
      Check out the first chapter of Isaiah. They were performing the temple sacrifices and Levitical rituals just as God had instructed — yet God said that the whole farce was making Him sick at His stomach because of the rotten condition of their hearts and the terrible way they were treating each other.
      And why should we as the church not seek the best possible option — Word and Sacrament administered by someone with a true servant’s heart?

  8. Word and Sacrament – the Eucharistic celebration. I applaud your speaking of these as “means of Grace”, as essential tools for the development and growth in the Christian life. It pains me when I hear many refer to these as “human traditions” and “works”. One thing, however, that I’ve seen is often lacking is an in-depth teaching of what the Sacrament of the Eucharist, what the whole celebration around this sacrament, is all about. It doesn’t just “automatically” give you grace like one pulls up to fill their car with gas…there has to be a participation and desire, an openness to receive the Grace of the Sacrament. It can be and is meant to be an incredible means of growth and union with Christ – a means o being transformed into His image. All to often, sadly, it becomes a wasted opportunity.