November 24, 2017

We Have All the “Tools” We Need (3)

This is the third and final installment of a little “back to basics” article for Christian ministers.

Peter, the one Jesus charged to “feed [his] sheep,” wrote in his second epistle, “So I intend to go on and on reminding you about all this — even though you know it, and have been firmly established in the truth which has come to you. But it seems right to me, as long as I am living in this present tent, to stir you up with a reminder.” (2Pet 1:12-13, KNT). Like Peter, I don’t intend to say anything new or “cutting edge” with these posts. I’d just like us to focus back on some truly essential elements of ministry.

So far, we’ve identified five of those elements:

  1. Newness of life in Christ.
  2. The Holy Spirit.
  3. The Gospel.
  4. Word and Sacrament.
  5. Love.

Those who want to minister 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, going to him for forgiveness, renewal, and leading.

For this, God has bestowed on us the promised Holy Spirit, who gives us inner power, energizing us to point to Jesus and keep pointing to Jesus, come what may.

He has entrusted the Gospel to us, the message that God, through Jesus, has begun to reign on earth as he rules in heaven. We are ambassadors of Jesus the King, who is making all things new.

To fulfill his commission of making disciples of all nations, God has given us his Word and Sacraments. He communicates Christ to us, working his grace and mercy into our lives through the simple stuff of creation — words spoken and written on paper and ink, combined with water splashed over humble sinners, and combined with bread and wine served to those who stretch out empty hands of faith. Thus God creates and sustains his people.

Of all the qualities required for ministry, there is one that stands supreme. We must be people of love. God has poured out his love in our hearts by the Holy Spirit and continues to communicate his love to us through Word and Sacrament. What matters in life and ministry is faith working through love.

Two final essentials fill out our list…

One Another. “He supplies the growth that the whole body needs, linked as it is and held together by every joint which supports it, with each member doing its own proper work. Then the body builds itself up in love.” (Eph. 4:16)

Because I have written often with a specific focus on pastoral ministry, some folks have gotten the wrong idea. I can’t tell you how many comments I’ve received saying, “But Mike, the pastor is not called to do it all. We should not encourage the idea that the ministry belongs to one person or only a few.” I could not agree more. The same passage that says God gave pastors to the church (Eph. 4:12) also says that the body builds itself up as each part does its proper work (Eph. 4:16).

I have learned about teamwork on a whole new level as I have served outside the church on a hospice team. Hospice is a multidisciplinary endeavor. Each patient and family has a team that works together to care for them. The doctor oversees their care. The nurse cares for the patient and manages the clinical care they receive. Health aides provide personal and practical care. The social worker provides assistance with psycho-social needs. The chaplain gives spiritual and pastoral care. Volunteers serve as friends and companions. Back in the office, a host of others provide support, guidance, and accountability for the field clinicians. No one person bears the whole load. Each person’s gifts, talents, skills, and expertise are valued and utilized. Regular meetings are held to discuss cases so that we can learn from each other’s perspectives and thus provide better care. We call on each other, lean on each other, communicate with each other, and support each other in our daily work. We could not do hospice work without a team.

Nor can the church. And on this team of ministers that we call church, pastors serve a dual purpose. First, they do the ministry. Second, they equip others to do the ministry. They build a team of partners to share the work. But I’ve heard Eph. 4 interpreted often in a way I think is insufficient. The “equipping” aspect is stressed so much that it’s as though the pastor’s entire job is to focus on training others while he or she gets a pass on actually caring for people and doing personal ministry. No, pastors do both.

Pastors are exemplars as well as equippers. The role is like that of a master craftsman with apprentices. Both do the work. Both practice the craft. In addition, the craftsman provides oversight and devotes a portion of his time to bringing others along so that some may find ever more responsible roles within his shop and others may become masters in their own right. In the process, the apprentices who are developing their skills allow the shop to produce more and more work. As some of them become masters, the business may expand or the new masters may move on to start their own, thus multiplying shops in other locations.

Another question that should be explored is what pastors are called to equip others for. Far too many think of this in terms of institutional service. Richard Halverson, however, rightly distinguished “church work” from “the work of the church.” Church work is that which is done to keep the institution and its programs going. It’s necessary, but it does not represent the church’s primary calling. The work of the church is what people do to love God and their neighbors in all the various vocations to which they are called in their daily lives. Pastors are not primarily called to train temple servants. They are called to equip people to love.

Christian ministry is not solo work. Are we working in partnership with our gifted brothers and sisters?

Tradition and History. This is the one “tool” that has been developed after the days of Jesus and the apostles. It is still developing.

Why is being acquainted with our Christian heritage important for ministry? Why is understanding and appreciating tradition essential?

I think we would be wise to think of history and tradition like this: it gives us a record of what the Holy Spirit has taught the church since the days of the apostles. It is of course not infallible, it includes many examples of failure and gross negligence on the part of the church, and it is subject to interpretation as to what we may learn from it and how we should apply it. Having said that, I contend that we are always better off knowing our history and trying to learn lessons from the past rather than not knowing it and thinking we must create today’s ministry from scratch.

But somehow, so many of today’s Christians think studying church history is optional. They may even denigrate the idea, thinking it an impractical waste of time. What matters is what the Holy Spirit is saying and doing now.

I’m sorry, but when I say the Apostles’ Creed, I confess, “I believe in the Communion of Saints.” Today’s church has an organic, living relationship with the church of all ages, in all places. In fact, this point is an extension of my previous point — our brothers and sisters throughout church history are part of the “one another” that God has given us to fulfill the ministry. We are connected intimately to our family history and the people who have gone before us. We learn from their examples, whether good or bad. The Holy Spirit led them and taught them and helped them, and how can we ignore the lessons that emerge from their lives and ministries?

A large percentage of the silly things we see in the contemporary church could be eliminated if more ministry practitioners would take this tool out of the toolbox, get acquainted with it, and start learning how to use it wisely to shape the ministries in which we are involved.

• • •

When it comes to ministry, let’s become experts in using tools like these, before we start relying on other strategies and techniques.

Comments

  1. “A large percentage of the silly things we see in the contemporary church could be eliminated if more ministry practitioners would take this tool (tradition and history) out of the toolbox, get acquainted with it, and start learning how to use it wisely to shape the ministries in which we are involved.”

    Truer words ne’er spoken.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      And instead, we get newly-formed New Testament Churches who constantly reinvent the wheel and go off on tangents (which were called “heresies” the first time they appeared, oh, 1000-1500 years ago).

  2. Excellent post Chaplain Mike ~ I have always been passionate about the “one another” issue but you would be surprised (maybe not) at the flack and hostility I have received ( I believe much of it to be spiritual warfare and witnessed regarding this issue. I think it is both human ego and the Individualistic American style of “Christianity”. Everyone wants to be a “star” and to get the credit – to do their thing. “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, But to Your name give glory” is not a real popular way of thinking. But I have experienced the “glory” when this “one anothering” is lived out.

    The study of church history is a little more difficult for me. I think of those thousands of people in other countries who are illiterate and I wonder how they are to be reached and to grow. Having worked many years in Christian bookstores I can tell you that I can recall dusting the church history section as dust really built up on the back shelves!! I love to study and to learn but I am able to because I can read and because I have an interest in history period. But I think the Lord is leading me in this as just the other day a woman who used to be a member of my former church shared how the study of church history led her out of the Evangelical Free Church into the Coptic Orthodox church. We had quite an interesting talk and she invited me to attend sometime with her. So the fact that you mention this as a “tool” at this time is very interesting.

    • It’s funny you mention studying history, and how that can be a barrier to those who are illiterate. The Catholic and Orthodox churches, overall, place more emphasis on history and tradition–yet ironically, most of their histories are dominated by mass illiteracy, much more so than Protestantism.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      “I think of those thousands of people in other countries who are illiterate and I wonder how they are to be reached and to grow.”

      For starters, teach them (or their children) to read. This is one of the fundamental points to come out of the Reformation. Late Medieval Christianity had devolved into a system where it was the job of the laity to support and obey the church, in return for which the churchman would do the praying for salvation. The laity were not expected to concern themselves with doctrine, and indeed were actively discouraged from doing so, as this could lead to trouble. One of the most revolutionary ideas to come out of the Reformation was that the laity are responsible for doctrine as well. This implies literacy, so a movement toward universal (at least in theory) education resulted.

  3. “The work of the church is what people do to love God and their neighbors in all the various vocations to which they are called in their daily lives. ” Amen!

    “I believe in the Communion of Saints.” Today’s church has an organic, living relationship with the church of all ages, in all places. In fact, this point is an extension of my previous point — our brothers and sisters throughout church history are part of the “one another” that God has given us to fulfill the ministry. We are connected intimately to our family history and the people who have gone before us.”

    Your statement above, chaplain Mike, can be a series of posts on it’s own. It is not given the focus and importance it deserves. The depth of its meaning is often lost or unknown.

  4. David Cornwell says:

    These are two of my favorite tools. When I was appointed to my last church they had in place on my arrival two very excellent ministries. Both of these came up spontaneously from the laity are were encouraged by the previous pastor. But they weren’t considered official church programs and they operated outside the budget.

    One was a ministry to provide hot food, a meal, once a week to those who had problems doing this for themselves. Two men in the church did all of this, sometimes with others assisting, the prep, cooking, and delivery to those in need. They would always spend time with the same persons.

    The other was a ministry of providing equipment to those recovering, or dying, to use at home. They had an inventory that was being constantly added to, such as beds, phones, or anything else a person might need. These were stored in empty space provided in a warehouse owned by one of the church members. This was another ministry in response to felt needs and not an official program of the church.

    These things came into being out of love and caring, not just duty.

    I could say more about this from present experiences, but will not at the present time.

    I could also continue here about tradition and history, and just how much we may be missing today and what we are in danger of losing in the future.

  5. Fantastic series. I especially agree with your comments on church history. I’m currently reading Diarmaid Macculloch’s “Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years”, and it is revelatory. I recited the Nicene Creed for the first 18 years of my life but never really understood where the language came from. I didn’t really know what I was saying. “God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God”, “Proceeding from the Father and the Son and with the Father and the Son He is worshipped and glorified”, etc. Light from Light? Proceeding from the Father and the Son? I never knew what this meant. Macculloch places all of this in the proper historical and religious contexts, highlighting the debates and controversies that led to the Nicene Creed.

    Also, there is the old adage that you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been. Those who denigrate church history are missing out on a faith-enriching journey. Thanks again for this post.

  6. Highwayman says:

    I’ve heard tradition described as being like a drag anchor which keeps the church facing into the wind, so better able to weather the storms.

  7. Scott Fisher says:

    As a pastor, I appreciate your emphasis on the point that both direct ministry to individuals and equipping the body are involved in our calling. I, too, have been unsatisfied with those who emphasize one to the seeming exclusion of the other. Only the power of the Holy Spirit can enable us to maintain the proper balance. Thanks for this series. I found it very helpful and encouraging to my own ministry.