What is your only comfort?

Urban God-talk for the church-o-phobic.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Views of the Ministry

I'd like to thank those of you who participated in last week's survey. I found it really helpful.

For those of you who stop by here to look for some heresy, I thought I might help you out by posting one of my essays on my views of the ministry. Now don't go get all excited; I don't think you're going to find anything heritical in it. No dedicatin' babies or whispers of Arminian free will.

In fact, you may once again have your fears confirmed: I'm an orthodox Calvinist who's
really Reformed. Yes, I'm a married gay orthodox Calvinist who's really Reformed. But I do not see "married gay" and "orthodox Calvinist" conflicting. Some people do, but others do not. I'm among the later.

So here goes:

The Relationship Between the Office of the Minister of the Word and the Ministry and Witness of the Whole Church:
Pastor, Teacher and Enabler Building up the Church and Equipping the Whole Church to Serve the World

Section 4 of Part I Article 1 of the Book of Church Order of the Reformed Church in America defines the function and responsibilities of a Minister of the Word. In an age in which we focus on organizational leadership and business development, we can say that this section of the BCO provides us with the spiritual "job description" for local parish ministers. If seen in the employment pages of the paper, this description is as follows:

"The office of the minister in the local parish is to serve as pastor, teacher, and enabler of the congregation, to build up and equip the whole church for its ministry in the world. As pastor and teacher, the minister preaches and teaches the Word of God, administers the sacraments, shares responsibility with the officers and members of the congregation for their mutual Christian growth, exercises Christian love and discipline in conjunction with the elders, and is careful that everything in the church is done in a proper and orderly way. As enabler the minister so serves and lives among the congregation that together they become wholly devoted to the Lord Jesus Christ in the service of the church for the world (BCO, Part I, Article 1, Section 4)."

From this description, we are to see the goal of the minister as "building up and equipping the whole church for its ministry in the world." This means that while local parish ministers may be seen as only serving their individual church or congregation, they, in fact, have a far wider responsibility -- to serve the entire church. While we may be installed as a pastor of an individual congregation, we are servants of Christ and as such we live out our calling to all of God's creation. This forces ministers to see outside the boundary of the fence around a particular church and to realize that our job is to serve all of the people living in our neighborhoods, cities and across our world. Thus, the worshipping congregation of a church is only one grouping of people to whom we are called to serve. While they can be seen as our primary responsibility, we are also responsible to minister to God's creation as can be manifested in other forms – from the AA group that might meet on Saturday morning to the daycare that uses the building during the week, from attending the wake of a member of the local Catholic church to praying for people in Iraq.

The goal of our calling is something that calls us to more than mere maintenance of the faith. Rather, we are instructed to improve God's community, always building up and equipping the church for greater service to our Lord. Maintaining the status quo does not suffice in this case. As ministers, we are to be more than just "buying our time" or "keeping the ship afloat." Building up and equipping the whole church means innovating while at the same time always being mindful to the Word of God and the life and culture of the people we serve. Consequently, ministers must be acutely aware both of Word found the Holy Scriptures and of the word on the street. It is our job to connect the two in ways that make sense and help to fulfill the work of the entire church. This means that we must learn languages and cultures that are different from ours – we must step out of our safe church world and into the lives of those who do not speak the lingua ecclesia. It is our responsibility to translate the Word of God so that others might know and understand it. Doing this is not an easy task, and by its very nature leads ministers into places of newness and creativity. But if it is done with effort and through the will of the Spirit it results in such the equipping and building up that God requires of us.

Ministers will know that they are meeting this goal when they look around and see ministry being done in meaningful ways. This ministry may be local, regional or global, but it will have an eye toward making sense of individual lives and God's steadfast assurance that all people are included in the community of God. Such meaningful ministry will look different depending upon the people involved and the customs and interpretations that are shared about the gospel. But ministry that builds up and equips is known for its inclusion of all people and for it's empowering of those people to enter into the world living lives of faith, love and hope.

If building up the church and quipping the whole church to serve the world are the two purposes or goals of ministry, than the tasks that go in to meeting this goal can be broken down into three main categories: pastor, teacher and enabler.

As pastor, Ministers engage in the day-to-day running of the life of the church. We are vessels of God's teaching by way of our sound preaching of the Word and administration of the sacraments. We aid in this educational process through the faithful living of our lives, mindful that we must be faithful examples of God's love and forgiveness for others. Ours is a life that does not allow for the building up of lingering resentments or the holding on to moments that lack love or charity. Rather, we are doers and teachers of the Word in all that we do and in all the many ways we teach. Christian education is more than a weekly sermon or Bible study. It occurs most often as we chat over coffee, visit in the hospital, pick up our laundry and go to the supermarket. Every interaction we have, from opening a checking account at the local bank to calling in to complain about our cell phone bill has the potential to be a pastoral moment or an interaction of Christian teaching. We must see our entire lives as fulfilling the tasks of pastor and teacher.

Although the General Synod of 2004 adopted recommendation R-4 "To adopt the following revision to the Book of Church Order, Chapter 1, Part 1, Article 1, Sections 4 and 5" which seeks to strike out the term "enabler" from the description of the tasks of a minister, this recommendation has yet to be voted into our Book of Church Order. While the concern that the term "enabler" has negative connotations as an encourager of destructive behavior on other people, I believe that the term "enable" as defined by Webster's offers a significant understanding of one of the primary tasks of a minister.

The first definition of enabler is "To supply with the means, knowledge, or opportunity; to make able" and the second is similar, "To make feasible or possible." Both of these understandings fit well in describing one of the primary tasks of the Minister. Ministers do not operate alone in the world. If a minister had to do every task around the church, he or she would be worn out within the course of the first week. Rather, the minister is the one who, by way of his or her pastoral leadership and teaching, encourages those around him or her to view their lives as ministry. This unleashes individuals to do the work of the church. In effect, it is through enabling ministry that Ministers of the Word most easily and effectively build up and equip the whole church. Ministers are the catalysts, the enzymes, which encourage ministry to grow.

Like an effective manager, our job is not to do all the work ourselves, but rather to do everything in our power to equip those around us to do the jobs of the church. We are the ones who educate, coordinate and who then get out of the way so that ministry can flourish and the church can grow both in its depth and breadth.

Lastly, the relationship between the Minister of the Word and the ministry and witness of the whole church is one of faithful service and steadfast stewardship of the mysteries of God (BCO, Part I, Article 1, Sec. 3)." Ministers, through their work as pastors, teachers and enablers aim to build up and equip the church. We do this in conjunction with the priesthood of all believers, knowing that "Jesus Christ is the only Head of his church (BCO, Preamble)." Together, we are blessed and honored to participate in the work of God through the life of God's church. "Gathered by the Spirit around Word and sacrament, the church fulfills its call within the expectations of the reign of God as it participates in mission, in calling all persons to life in Christ, and in proclaiming God’s promise and commands to all the world."

A Minister of the Word, through his or her faithful service as pastor, teacher and enabler, has the tremendous opportunity and privilege of being a part of the equipping and building up of the whole church to serve the world. We do this through the faithful living of our daily lives, always remembering that we serve God above all others. Like the words of a song that learned in kindergarten (well before I knew about such important disciplines as exegesis, theology or ecclesiology), "they will know that we are Christians by our love." Indeed, they will know ministers by our love – it is through this love of God and of others that we are able to be pastors, teachers and enablers. It is through this love that we are able to transcend our own feelings, prejudices and opinions in order to participate in the mission of calling all persons to life in Christ and to proclaim God's promise and commands to the entire world. And in so doing, we are able to succeed in equipping and building up the witness of the whole church.


At 8:13 AM, Blogger Bad Alice said...

I don't know much about ministry, but I'm just floored that you're a Reformed Orthodox Calvinist who's also gay. I work for one of the most orthodox Calvinist denominations, and women can't pastor, or be deacons, ruling elders or teaching elders. And here the Reformed faith is wedded to extremely conservative political and social views (though I suspect some quiet dissent from a few churches). Bravo to you. Me, I'm a bit Arminian. Must be the Baptist upbringing.

At 9:25 AM, Blogger Ann said...

Bad Alice,
Well, as one theologian in our denomination once said "my conservative theology assures that I will be a social liberal." Of course, he got tossed out of the RCA for marrying his daughter to another woman...but he defended himself on the grounds of RCA polity - and 1/3 of the delegates agreed with him.

Being an orthodox Calvinist isn't as much about politics as it is about attempting to live out a grace-filled life of graditude to a merciful, but nonetheless sovereign God. It means that God's in control and I'm not. And, it means that the covenant starts with our baptism, which is a good reminder as we travel on through life.

At 10:00 AM, Blogger Bad Alice said...

I think it says something about the denomination I work for that mercy ministries are a recent addition. But I've seen some powerful ministries that have developed by people who are trying to live a grace-filled life. Ihave learned a lot by working here.

I'm not very comfortable with the Sovereign God, at least as sovereignty is usually presented, and predesitantion. I do believe in total depravity, though.

At 10:02 AM, Blogger Bad Alice said...

Oh, and thanks for visiting my blog, and for your prayers. Were you in the poetry program at Columbia, then? I think you're rather younger than me--when were you there? I had some really odd teachers.

At 10:50 AM, Blogger Ann said...

Yes, I was an undergraduate from 1994-98. My primary work was in the history department, but I had some friends who were lit grad students. If I remember correctly, they were quite the combo you described. Actually, your description fits a lot of the Columbia crew.

Looking back, I can laugh at my undergraduate years. But, when the surface gets cracked, they were pretty tough and painful years.

At 7:46 PM, Blogger RogueMonk said...

Ann, this is a well thought out piece. Is it intended for something beyond your blog? I mean are submitting it somewhere?

Blessings, RogueMonk

At 10:06 PM, Blogger Ann said...

Hi Roguemonk,
This was written as a part of my classis exams over a year and a half ago...I haven't thought about submitting it anywhere, but if you have any thoughts about it, I'd gladly submit it. I'm also open to editing suggestions...or questions it might raise.

All the best,

At 12:18 PM, Blogger RogueMonk said...

Send it to Perspectives and see what they say. Better yet, send it to the General Secretary's office ;).

Blessings, RogueMonk

At 5:12 AM, Blogger Left Right Out said...

Hi Ann,

As a fellow lesbian Christian (who goes back and forth on the Calvinist/Arminian debate) I was wondering about your scriptural exegesis of the passages in Romans and Leviticus. Are there any books or articles on which you particularly rely?

Also I love your blog. I want to be an amateur Biblical scholar rather than a pastor but I identify with a lot of what you say.

Left Right Out


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