Facebook is a treasure trove of graphics, many of them pretty crappy. However, this little gem stands out! It’s masterful–I can think of at least one person I currently know who approximates each of these, except perhaps the angry whiskers.
I’m on something of an intellectual journey to understand the essence of ordained ministry (the presbyterate and deaconate). I’m doing this for a couple of reasons. The first is that, by nature, I’m an inquisitive person and the challenge of exploring this sort of topic is really exciting to me. Second, there seem to be as many models or understandings of ordained ministry out there as there are ministries and individuals in ministry. Was there ever consensus about the pastoral office? Third, I have a suspicion that we evangelicals are missing something in the way we understand and communicate about ordained ministry. I wonder, frankly, whether we’re losing something of the soul of our leadership. In short, are we putting the cart before the horse by talking about leadership in isolation from discipleship. Leaders who aren’t disciples are, at least in spiritual leadership terms, not effective leaders.
Let me state my concerns about the evangelical theology of ministry that marks so many churches today in four theses. I hope I’m wrong about this or that, at least, I’m going too far:
Thesis 1: In our desire to affirm the gifts of non-ordained Christians, we have unnecessarily degraded our understanding of the ordained offices of the church.
Thesis 2: We evangelicals–as a people inclined to value experience in the first instance–have unwittingly accepted the claim that religious knowledge is not a legitimate form of knowledge that has bearing beyond first person experience. As a result we are increasingly incredulous of any claim by clergy or the church to interpret religious experiences.
Thesis 3: Since the interpretation and understanding of religious knowledge/experience has become privatized, clergy are increasingly understood as professionals who facilitate religious experiences.
Thesis 4: We typically understand religious experience being precipitated by events. As a result, clergy are increasingly understood to be people who facilitate, arrange, and provide religious events that serve as conduits for religious experiences to take place.
Thesis 5: Since clergy have a greater degree of control and can plausibly reach a greater proficiency in event planning, clergy are drawn to this elements of ministry. Events are concrete, demonstrable evidence of religious accomplishment. They validate the leadership of a minister.
This week I’m in Madison, WI for InterVarsity’s annual leadership meetings. This year we’ve been hearing from Dr. Dan Meyer, Senior Pastor of Christ Church, Oak Brook (IL). Dan is the co-author of the IVP book, Leadership Essentials. In this morning’s session, Meyer quoted Augustine, the fifth century Bishop of Hippo on the role of the minister. It’s one of my favorite quotes on ministry.
“Disturbers are to be rebuked, the low-spirited to be encouraged, the infirm to be supported, objectors confuted, the treacherous guarded against, the unskilled taught, the lazy aroused, the contentious restrained, the haughty repressed, litigants pacified, the poor relieved, the oppressed liberated, the good approved, the evil borne with and all are to be loved.” -Augustine, Bishop of Hippo
This is a tall order, isn’t it? As I reflected on Augustine’s words I was reminded that in order to come anywhere close to doing this list requires that a pastor be–before all things–a saint, someone who is holy. Consider your pastors, are you giving them time, opportunity, and encouragement to become holier? I sometimes wonder whether the relative weakness of the American church has been caused by the relative functional godlessness of many of our leaders.
What needs to change in order to better facilitate godly leadership?
George G. Hunter, III. The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West…Again. 10th rev. ed. (Nashville: Abingdon, 2010). 130pp.
A single question is central to the mission of the local congregation: how can we translate the gospel message for our context? The answer to this question will have implications for every part of our life together. It will influence our discipleship, and it will shape our engagement with our city.
The last sixty years have witnessed significant change in American society. In 1953 few would have anticipated an African American President, the legalization of same sex marriage in several state, or the church being moved to the margins of society. Yet, these are the days we have been given and our commission is to faithfully and effectively communicate the gospel in this new milieu.
George Hunter’s book, The Celtic Way of Evangelism offers insight into how the Christian community can engage these new realities. To do so he draws on the Irish mission work of Saint Patrick, a British Christian who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Ireland. He escaped and years later returned to engage in a highly effective apostolic mission to the land of his captivity.
Hunter provides a significant amount of historical background that helps the reader come to know Patrick as well as the key distinctions between the Celtic and the Roman expressions of the Christian faith.
This book does not contain a strategy so much as express a vision of what the Christian community can be, and must be, in order to do effective mission in our post-Christendom culture. Hunter identifies ten characteristics of Celtic Christianity the translate to characteristics of effective missional communities today. I will highlight four: contact, community, contextualization, and conversation.
Conversion almost always happens in the context of a relationship (i.e., contact) with both an individual Christian and a community of Christians. Authentic, trusting friendship with a Christian is often a key avenue through which the Holy Spirit draws a not-yet Christian into the kingdom. Relationships–with all that is entailed with sustaining them–were central to the Celtic way of evangelism. Are you intentionally nurturing an authentic friendship with a not-yet Christian?
A unique understanding of community marked the Celtic approach to mission–belonging preceded believing. Celtic communities were hospitable to people, encouraging them to become a part of the community without the expectation that they change in order to be welcome. This is an echo of the gospel–God doesn’t require us to change before he welcomes us. Instead, he welcomes us in order to change us. As a church, are we welcoming strangers and people who aren’t like us? Or, do we inwardly expect people to change (learn “Christian etiquette) before they become part of our community?
Christian missiologist David Bosch informs us, “the Christian faith never exists except as ‘translated’ into a culture.” The job of the church is to work to effectively and faithfully ‘translate’ the message so that it can be heard by the members of our culture, one in which the Christian worldview is no longer ascendent. At the very least the work of contextualization requires taking seriously the changes in assumptions that are now evident in culture. For one, there is no longer an assumption that everyone ought to at least publicly give lip service to the Judeo-Christian ethics. If we start by assuming traditional ethics, our witness to the gospel will go nowhere fast.
Celtic Christianity placed a high value on conversation as opposed to presentation. Conversation is bilateral; presentation is unilateral. The ministry of conversation is central to becoming a new creation in Christ since we encounter the gospel most fully through relationships. Conversation is also significant for discipleship. Celtic Christianity emphasized the role of “spiritual friends” as companions as we follow the way of Christ–people who help us to live out the message in the midst of the realities of life in a broken world.
The Celtic Way of Evangelism is a helpful book that offers much to prayerfully consider as we collectively try to discern what it means both to love God ourselves and to lead our city to God as well.
John Milbank offers a biting critique of Fresh Expressions, a missional church movement in the Church of England. As ever, Milbank’s words are insightful and a helpful challenge to some problematic elements of missional praxis. I’ve embedded the article below and recommend that you take a read.
By way of a brief response to Milbank let me offer the following observations:
Missional does mean participating in the mission of God in the world.
Part of that mission is the establishment of particularized churches.
These churches ought to be the base camp from which missional Christians go forth.
These churches ought to preach the Word rightly, administer the sacraments, and equip the saints.
The homogenous unit principle, though understandable, is not rooted in Scripture but in capitalism.
Sacramental worship and missional ministry are complimentary rather than contradictory.