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.
Am I going too far? Do you worry about this too?