Theological Foundations of Ministry

Seventh in a series of essays on creating a theology of ministry.  

             When we think about developing a theology of ministry, we must first affirm what theology is.   What is it that we’re doing when we say we’re creating a theology of ministry?  In simple terms, theology is thoughts about God.  Therefore, to create a theology of ministry is to think about ministry in relationship to God.  And as we do so, we must not think of ministry in isolation from other aspects of the theological conversation.

Thus, we start the question:  Who is God?  Is God a distant overlord or one who remains close at hand?  Is God wrathful or loving or perhaps we can try to receive a more complex view of God and then consider ministry in that light.  Of course theology as a discipline is much broader than simply reflecting on the nature of God.  There are such categories as Christology, pneumatology, ecclesiology, and more.  These categories have bearing on our theological reflections on ministry as well.

Kathleen Cahalan, a Roman Catholic writer, identifies six practices that define the ministry of those called to lead disciples:  teaching, preaching, worship leadership/prayer, pastoral care, Social/justice ministry, and administration.  These six practices define the realm in which those called to vocational ministry exist.  They may share these roles/practices with others, but these are the areas that those we often call clergy work in.  She then speaks of these practices being defined theologically in relationship toChristology, pneumatology, and ecclesiology. 

As to why it is Christological, it is because our ministry flows from that of Jesus, who is teacher, preacher, leader of prayer, healer and reconciler, prophet, and organizer of community.  (Introducing the Practice of Ministry, p. 59).   It is pneumatological because according to Paul, ministry is organized according to charisms.  “This means that the Spirit constitutes the church through gifts of discipleship and vocation, including ministry . . . When we discern gifts for ministry, we are looking for these people and gifts related to these practices. “  It is ecclesial, “not because ministers are ‘head of the church; but because their gifts of leadership are recognized, called forth and ‘ordained by the community. “  (p. 59).  I should note that for practical reasons Cahalan distinguishes between discipleship and ministry.   Ministry emerges out of discipleship, and among disciples some are ordained for leadership. 

Cahalan’s orientation is Roman Catholic, so that colors her perspective to a degree, but the point is important – there are theological foundations that enable us to see ministry as more than function.  The way in which ministry exists will evolve over time as Christians engage culture and era, but there is still a touchstone upon which we discern a pathway in the present moment.  What we are learning, or I hope we are learning, is that a call to leadership (ordination) does not make someone a special kind of Christian, but simply designates a form of ministry that reflects the nature and purpose of God (and I hesitate to use the word purpose lest I be seen as reflecting a more deterministic view of faith).   


John said…
Today we accept that ministry is ecclesial because ministers are recognized, called and acknowledged by the worshiping community. And we accept that Jesus personally called the first disciples, and presumably called the Twelve and either infused them with charisms or called them due to their inherent charisms. But we do not have all that much information to affirm that in truth each of the Twelve manifested the charism of ministry. Are we not making an assumption when we credit each of them with a call to ministry? Perhaps for some of the Twelve their calling to be among the Twelve had nothing directly to do with a call to ministry per se but instead with an entirely non-ministerial role which Jesus had in mind for them? (Someone had to play the part of the betrayer, or, maybe Peter would not have joined if his brother had not been called, etc.)

My point is to suggest that we should be careful not create too much of a theological/ecclesial superstructure based upon uncritical assumptions about the the calling of the Twelve.
Anonymous said…
...and how is ministry to be recognized and supported and respected when a person is not ordained and has not attended seminary?
Anonymous said…
...and how do we recognize and support and respect gifts that work and gifted people who are effective and have no ecclesiatical certification?
John said…

I suspect that a vocation that is genuine will be recognized and supported, regardless of certification. I think however that such cannot be claimed by the putative holder, and that when claimed by someone who is not truly called, doors will not open. And then, if certification isrequired to go further, the one who is called will find a way to acquire the needed certification.

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