Saturday, April 21, 2007

Theology of Ministry?

As part of our supervised ministry course, we are required to write a 10-12 page, single-spaced paper on our Theology of Ministry that covers these areas:

  1. Pastoral Identity, including self-care.
  2. Leadership
  3. Theological understanding of ministry.
  4. Vision for ministry
  5. Implications (what courses or training do we need to take in light of what we talked about in the paper)
With some of the leading questions that they ask us to discuss in these sections, I feel as though I am hitting my head against a brick wall, particularly when it comes to (1) leadership, and (2) theological understanding of ministry.

I'm coming to understand more that ministry happens where it happens, and that more often than not, the modern church with its social club mentality is more of a hindrance than a help to creating disciples of Jesus Christ. Even a good modern church that is missionally-minded, one where disciples are made, and one that takes seriously the call to transform lives and the world...doesn't jive with what I see myself doing as a pastor. We are really taught to be chaplains in ministry - caring for those in the congregation, trying to bring more people (and more money) into the church, and trying to teach and nurture them so that they can participate more in the life of the church.

I wrestle with this. I don't think pastors and the church should simply create church-goers, and equipping the laity for ministry shouldn't just be about mentoring people so that they can organize church suppers. The church exists for the sake of those who are not a part of it - those on the margins of our communities, those who need help - because that's who Jesus would be hanging out with, hoping to transform their lives.

I have been thinking a lot lately about what it means to have the seed of the gospel planted in a community or culture and have it grow. We are called to incarnate the gospel wherever we are, so the church in one place may look a lot different than the church in another community. We are called to be relational, as Jesus was relational, and our primary relationship is our individual and collective relationship with Jesus. We are called to be missional, as we are to be sent out into the world as opposed to waiting for people to come to us. Jesus called us to go out and make disciples. There is nothing about people coming in and becoming church-goers that give out of their pocketbook and sit and attend a worship "serve-us" for an hour.

So why I have to sit here and attempt to fill 10 pages what I can articulate in the space of a couple pages is beyond me. Though it has gotten me thinking that our modern church is pretty sick, and unless we figure out how to incarnate the gospel in postmodernity (whether that means incorporating more emerging elements into our churches, planting more churches with pastors who don't have a modern mindset, or figuring out something else entirely), our denomination is doomed.

Wesley was really on to something back in the 18th century, with his radical call to discipleship, service to those on the margins, and covenanting together for mutual growth and accountability. I may be a bit harsh in saying this, but if we can't even follow Wesley's example, Jesus' example might be a little too much for us to handle.


John said...

In the United Methodist context, it is very difficult to move toward a missional focus because there is no institutional church discipline. There is a carrot of praise for those engaged in ministry in the world, but no Wesleyan rod of discipline for those who need a little urging.

What Would Wesley Do? He routinely booted out errant members of the Methodist socities. But we have nothing in place to do that now. Pew Potatohood is now acceptable.

Kristen said...

glad you psoted this I might as well start this paper now casue it is going to take me a year to write!

Anonymous said...

I am grateful to be able to go to church weekly. For me worship is not about sitting in the pew and letting it happen around me. Weekly worship can and should energize a person to go out into the world and live out their faith in whatever manner they are called to do. I don’t believe that is always church-related work. I volunteer in our local schools in various ways and feel that I can witness in my lifestyle and my “story”. The church is a place to give my thanks every week as I worship God and prepare for the coming week. In order to give thanks, energize and worship God I believe we are called to both “come in” and be church-goers and also to go out into the world. Maybe it is my age but your statements come across a little harsh for someone called to be a pastor. There are all ages of people in the world and we are all at different stages in our faith journey. Some people that are “pew potatoes” today may go on to be people of great faith tomorrow. The church has been described as a living body and as such it represents God’s love to the world.

Melissa said...

I think that's very true. We are all at different stages of faith. What I'm frustrated with is that the church as a whole (and many local churches) doesn't do a good job of discipling people where they are.

Worship is important, because it nurtures us and empowers us to go out into the world to do ministry. However, not many churches operate this way. I see a strong social club mentality - that the church is there just for social relationships - among many of the churches here in the northeast. Not all of them are like this, but many of them are.

So I am making some gross generalizations about the landscape of mainline religion today. I'm critiquing the church, not the people.

Melissa said...

I feel like I should clarify what I mean by "church" in my last comment...I mean the institutional church!