One of the things Episcopal priests get to do is to pray for and discern folks who God might be calling to ordained ministry in the church from our local congregations. We need more priests and deacons! With that prayer in mind, and in expectation that the Holy Spirit is raising up and equipping new leader for the Church, I offer these thoughts on pastoral ministry.
Christian ministry should be incarnational. What is the incarnation? It is God moving into our neighborhood. It is God, in the person of Jesus Christ, becoming one of us. It is God beginning to look like one of us. Where is Jesus now? Yes, he is seated, according to the Creed, at the right hand of the Father. But he is also here with us, present to the world and in the world in the form of his Body, the Church. Incarnational ministry means continuing the mission of Jesus in all of its downward mobility (Phil 2). A particular leader in this area is John Perkins.
Christian ministry should be rooted in the heart. Proverbs 4:23 tells us that “out of the heart flow the issues of life.” In a world racked by addictions and bondage of all kinds, the Church must resist the temptation to preach a counterfeit gospel of quick-fixes and of self-help, a merely external and moralistic perversion of the truth. Instead, we must preach the reality that when the heart changes, everything changes: where your feet take you, what your eyes look at, what your imagination is captured by. The reality and the hope of real change, from the inside out. A strong pioneers in this area: Larry Crabb.
Christian ministry should be subversive, resisting and challenging the world’s confusion of status quo religiosity with the visible, communal life of the Church. What is assumed here is that religiosity is the basic commitment of the human heart: the urge to compare oneself with others, the tendency to garner self-esteem through one’s own status or accomplishments, the drive to worship oneself as hero. The church must challenge these assumed and habitual patterns in both the individual and in the larger society, deeply mired in what one thoughtful psychologist describes as “the standardized heroics of mass culture.”* Leaders in this area: Tim Keller, Rowan Williams, Eugene Peterson.
Along these same lines, Christian ministry should be patterned after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Suffering is not optional for the Christian (Acts 14:22). At the same time, it is not an end in itself, embraced merely for its own sake. Suffering is the darkness before the light, the pruning before the beautiful rose blossoms. It is God’s way of turning us sinners into something great. As in the very life of Christ, it is the prerequisite for new life. According to Walter Brueggeman, the Psalter shows us the Gospel pattern of “orientation – disorientation – new orientation.” Only this kind of thinking, embracing the darkness of Good Friday, the death of the grave, can we give the world a compelling and liberating way to cope with, indeed to triumph over, the evil, brokenness, and nihilism which plague us. Some pioneers in this area: Soren Kierkegaard, Martin Luther, and St. Francis of Assisi.
Christian ministry should be cosmic in scope. The good news of Jesus is not intended simply to make us feel better about ourselves. Its primary purpose is not to show us how to “go to heaven when we die.” Our articulation of it must not imply that the “real action” of the Christian life is having a private relationship with one’s own, personal Jesus. Not less than this, the Christian faith is much more: it is an eschatological hope for the human race and the entire world. In the cross of Jesus Christ God has proven himself faithful to his own promises, promises to “fix the Adam problem,” to heal humanity and the entire cosmos of the ravages of sin and death. These promises take the form of a covenant, and the “real action” of the Christian life must be portrayed as a lived response to the question “How can we find our place, how can I find my role, in God’s grand drama of bringing salvation to this hurting world?” remembering all the while that “out of the heart flow the issues of life.” A pioneer in this area: Bishop NT Wright.
Christian ministry should be contemplative. Not only does this way of being help to identify distractions for ministry (my own attitudes, assumptions, agendas, etc.) but it also brings God’s healing presence to my tendency to rely on my self-constructed identity, what some theologians would call “my false self.” Pioneers in this area areThomas Keating; James Finley.
* Sam Keen, in his foreword to Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death.