Sixth essay in Theology of Ministry series
In an age that seems to devalue education and expertise, it should not surprise us that many in the church would question the value of an educated pastoral leadership. The issue isn’t so much a question of one’s degree, but whether those called to lead and teach the church will be sufficiently prepared educationally for this calling. Are there certain core areas of preparation needed for effective ministry?
In Ephesians 4, we hear the word that God has gifted the church with pastors and teachers who are to equip the saints for ministry and guide them to spiritual maturity. This calling requires having sufficient education to properly teach and equip persons for the spiritual journey. In ages past the journey to church membership involved catechesis, which could devolve into rote memorization of creedal statements or biblical texts, but even if the methodology is suspect the point is that persons of faith needed a modicum of knowledge to be faithful in their service. Today we’re witnessing increasing amounts of biblical illiteracy. This makes it difficult for persons to be discerning as to what is important and unimportant, what is true to the faith and what isn’t. Thus, it would seem that in an age of increasing complexity and diversity, the people of God need even more preparation today than before if they are going to participate in God’s work of transforming the world into a just and peaceful world. If so, then there will be a need for well-informed, discerning, and thoughtful people to teach – pass on the traditions of the faith.
The task of preparing people for service and helping them gain a competent understanding of the Christian faith faces significant hurdles. In an age when the medium has become the message and glitz is more important than substance, pastors and teachers attempts to engage persons in learning experiences are going to be increasingly difficult. But, we are called as the people of God to make responsible choices, especially ethical and moral choices, and do so in an increasingly complex and pluralistic world. Though pastors cannot make the right choices for people, if they find a way to engage people in meaningful learning experiences, they can give them tools that will help them make good choices. As we grow in maturity we can tackle harder and more difficult situations; we can move from milk to meat.
Our theologies of ministry are rooted largely in our common practices. These practices in turn inform the ways in which we do ministry. If you believe that ministry is something shared by the body of Christ then you will place less emphasis on who does the work and more on what needs to be done. If you adopt a more priestly or liturgical model of ministry you will probably focus on who is entitled to perform certain rites and do certain kinds of work.
As ordained ministers go forth into the world, they must remember the hands laid on them, while also remembering that they are not "the" minister. As one among many ministers, pastors can have significant ministries, bringing the body of Christ to maturity through their teaching, nurture, leadership, and pastoral care of fellow ministers. Remembering that it is God who has given us the gifts of ministry, we can receive our recognition and affirmation by the body – in the case of pastors that generally has been done through the laying on of hands. Then, in the course of time, we rekindle the gifts given us, whether as clergy or not, through prayer, worship, and study.
Ministry is not about titles, though titles may accompany one's place of service. It is wise not to get caught up in our titles, lest we become deceived by them. Frederick Buechner writes the following about the title "Reverend." Many people like to address pastors as "reverend," but this title is often misunderstood and misused.
Reverend means to be revered. Ministers are not to be revered for who they are in themselves, but for who it is they represent."
We, who are ordained, need to remember this. Those who serve alongside those of us who are ordained might remember it as well.