Theology of Ministry, cont.
It’s 3am and I can’t sleep. I’ve been up for hours reading and thinking and writing. Lately there has been a flurry of activity surrounding interviews with three churches that will hopefully lead to a job soon. Barnes & Noble is fun and all, but…
I think I am beginning to truly appreciate our inherent need for community. I’ve never experienced the lack of “family” that the last six months have provided – in many ways it has been excruciating. At the same time I am savoring relationships in a way I have never before been capable. My relationship with my own family is encouraging: the renewed closeness and healing of wounds with my mother, the connection that I always knew was waiting to be cultivated with my brother, new opportunities to serve my wife and soak up the joy of being valued. These are all treasured.
I’ve also had opportunity to nurture friendships and reap the fruit of sharing life with a few individuals – some very much like me and some so incredibly different that it is amazing that God brought us together.
And yet I feel a void. This void is not entirely new, I’ve felt it to varying degrees throughout my time in ministry. Yet the near complete absence of a church family over the last half of a year has been a first for both Rachel and I. Thankfully, as I mentioned, God has provided me with some vital spiritual friends who have each ministered to my spirit and through shared life have offered me important opportunities to minister in return.
What follows is a result of my experience and I hope it is something that will have a lasting effect for good on my life and ministry.
When I am asked to describe my theology of ministry I almost always talk about my perception of a three-fold calling and purpose: to introduce people to the Gospel message which in turn calls them to introduce it to others, to equip people with the tools necessary to sustain life and growth in this world and to provide a connection to the church – both the present local and historic.
However, I am realizing that as with all human constructs, this very inadequately describes my theology. While these are essentially the things that I want to be involved and engaged in, there is something else that is at once both much more theological and seemingly non-ministerial in nature.
I want to truly become a part of a faith community. I want my life and the life of my family to have an effect on a group of people – not because of bold prophetic statements or some idealized example of holiness – but rather because we are so invested in the community that our victories are communal and trials are co-labored. I want to create shared memories with a congregation that can be reflected on years from now in a living room with friends instead of only late at night in solitude. I want to be invested in and in return to invest wholeheartedly in loving a body best described as fragile, eclectic and even a little dysfunctional. In short, I want to truly belong.
I can no longer function as a hired-gun; brought in to “fix” the next generation of Christian battle-bots. I can’t function as a Lone Ranger expected to wield my rugged individualism as a sign of expertise and confidence. I can’t function as an expendable cog in a business machine.
My calling is about discipleship, about equipping the saints for works of service. But that is only one aspect. I am called first as a child of God who was intended by his Father to exist within a Family. This may be the most important realization of my ministry so far – my existence as a child of God and participation as a member in God’s family is an essential component of my theology of ministry. Issues of doctrine, while important, pale in comparison to the issue of existence; the issue of being.
I do not seek to avoid the hard work of continually assessing the efficacy of my approach to ministry. I intend to continue considering the practical nature of this calling. I still consider the equipping work of discipleship, the healing work of pastoral care, and the energizing work of prophetic encouragement to be fundamental and necessary for my continuation in a paid-ministry position. However, I believe that these aspects are beginning to take their appropriate place at the margins of my focus compared to the all surpassing purpose of knowing Christ (meaning a perpetually maturing interactive relationship.)
Because of this, I want accountability in my ministry. I will continue to set specific, quantifiable goals for myself. I will focus on challenging my thinking in ways that will make me a better teacher – I will continue to actively pursue opportunities to learn. I will surround myself with people who are passionate about ministry and who will continue to sharpen the programmatic aspects of ministry. I will engage in personal spiritual disciplines and aid others in developing their own set of “tools” to aid them on their journey. But all of this will come as a result of my continued desire to be conformed to the image of Christ, my dedication to his Church and a substantial, long-term relationship with a local Body.