A Call to Representative Ministry

Eighth in a series on developing a theology of ministry

            If we are, as baptized Christians, all priests of God, with Jesus being our high priest, then the pastoral ministry might best be defined as representative ministry.  The pastor could be seen as the bearer of a call to ministry that all Christians participate in.  Standing in the pulpit or at the table, the pastor is not only a representative of God (as one who inspired by the Spirit speaks for God) but also as the representative of the people, sharing a message in word and sacrament that emerges from within the community itself.[1]

            By thinking of pastoral ministry as representative ministry, we start with the premise that all ministry is important.  No Christian is by virtue of their office holier than any other.  There may be a difference in roles and even charism, but not in importance to the health of the body.  The calling of the pastoral leadership is not to do ministry for God’s people but to equip and encourage the congregation in its ministries (Eph. 4:11-13).  In this it is helpful to note the difference in meaning that emerges when we compare the King James Version and the New Revised Standard when it comes to this passage.  Note that in the King James verses 11 and 12 read:
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
It appears here that these persons are given to the church to perfect the saints, do the work of the ministry and edify the body.  But compare this with a modern rendering:
The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, . . .
In this latter translation it seems that the purpose of the gifts of leadership to the church is to equip the saints for ministry not do the ministry for them.

As the writer of Ephesians continues we discover that the goal of pastoral ministry is to help God’s people reach maturity in Spirit, and that maturity leads to acts of service – the good works prepared for us by God. 

            When we look at ministry in this broader context our ordination to ministry comes at baptism, or as Kathleen Cahalan suggests, it is at the point at which we affirm our call to discipleship.  Depending on your theology of baptism, these could be one and the same, but the point that Cahalan makes is that discipleship involves our responding to the call to follow Jesus, and that means “learning a way of life that embodies particular dispositions, attitudes, and practices that place the disciple in relationship to, and as a participant in, God’s mission to serve and transform the world.”[2]   This description of ministry fits well with a missional calling – discipleship is an invitation to join with God in the missional work of serving and transforming the world. 

If we understand ordination to be an act of grace by which God uses the church to set persons apart for service to the world in Jesus Christ, whether through baptism or through the response to the call to discipleship, it is something that all Christians share in, then may we also affirm the principle that God might deem it wise for the church to set aside certain persons for specific forms of ministry, especially ministries of teaching and leadership?  If so, then is it appropriate for the church to provide for public recognition of this calling, designating and empowering certain persons to take representative leadership in and through the ministries of preaching, teaching, ministering the sacraments, administration, and pastoral care.  

If God would call certain people to this kind of ministry, then surely there is some way of confirming this call.  We hear people say all the time that God has called them to do this or that, but where is the confirmation?  Does not the church have the responsibility to affirm this call and publicly confer on a person the authority to live into this office.[3]  This seems to be the assumption of the author of 1 Timothy 4:14.    
            In ordaining a candidate for pastoral ministry the church promises to hold the ordinand accountable to their calling.  Although there are no double standards in Christian ministry, the church should expect that the ones upon whom they confer this title of pastor will hold themselves to the highest standards of behavior, that they will commit themselves to understanding this faith so that they may teach and equip others (making it imperative that those called to ordained ministry pursue some form of education/training, if possible a traditional M.Div. program).  Having had hands laid upon them, ordained pastors (my preferred title) stand as representatives of the church they serve.  By extending the hands of ordination on candidates, the church declares to the broader church and the community at large, that this woman or man has been found to have the requisite gifts and calling to serve the church at large as pastors and teachers.

            Although many clergy claim that they’ve felt God's leading, and God's call on their lives, without the discerning affirmation of the church that sense of calling may be little more than a delusion. Is not the church charged with discerning both gifts and calling?  

[1]Donald Messer, Contemporary Images of Christian Ministry, (Abingdon Press, 1989),  p. 64.
[2] Kathleen A. Cahalan,  Introducing the Practice of Ministry, (Collegeville, MN:  Liturgical Press, 2010),  p. 4; Kindle location 205.   
[3]Keith Watkins, The Great Thanksgiving, (Chalice Press, 1995), p. 218.


Brian said…
My personal experience is that the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has been crucial to my discernment and nurture. Even now in the informal world of social media, I find accountability and community.
John said…

I too am grateful for the nurturing I have received within the DOC tradition.  

I was raised in a creedal tradition (Roman Catholic) and I have been in the the DOC church for the last 20 years.  I have found a new freedom in my relationship with God.  In fact my my situation vis-a-vis God went from a focus on obedience to authority (the teachings of the church) and adherence to creed to exploring my relationship with God and with others.

Not that I felt oppressed, but I just didn't know how much more there could be, how much relational creativity, how much room there was in my relationship with God.  

And I learned that I was not a mere passive spectator in human/divine drama. Recently I was thinking about Matthew where we hear that we will find Jesus in "the least of these".  Of course the least of these is really the "other".  But as a DOC I am invited not only to find Jesus in the other, in the marginalized, and in those who are different, but I am encouraged to BE Jesus for the the other, for the least of these.  In most if not all creedal traditions it is the role of the ordained minister to be "Jesus in the room".  But in the DOC we are truly lifted up as a "priesthood of believers."  While we have ordained ministers, their role is directed to faithfully equipping the saints, and not so much to being the saints.

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