Friday, May 09, 2014

A Minister of Jesus Christ

This passage from 1 Timothy forms part of the alternative lectionary for Sunday as chosen by David Ackerman (Beyond the Lectionary).  There is a certainaversion to the Pastoral Epistles among many Mainliners and Progressives.  There are a variety of reasons why, but often we chalk it up to the idea that this is late and post-Pauline.  But for a moment, might we take a look and ask what this passage might say to us about the call to ministry?


1 Timothy 4:6-16 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

If you put these instructions before the brothers and sisters,[a] you will be a good servant[b] of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound teaching that you have followed. Have nothing to do with profane myths and old wives’ tales. Train yourself in godliness, for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance. 10 For to this end we toil and struggle,[c] because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. 
11 These are the things you must insist on and teach. 12 Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13 Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture,[d] to exhorting, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders.[e] 15 Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.
Whether or not Paul wrote this letter, it is addressed to a young church leader.  This leader, probably male, has been gifted and called and set in place -- but like many young pastors he is struggling.  Not everyone is happy with his leadership, in large part because he's too young.

At our recent Academy of Parish Clergy meeting I had the opportunity to spend time with a young pastor -- fresh out of seminary and in his first call.  He's well educated, articulate, committed -- but many in his congregation just don't trust him.  They see him as a child and thus having little to offer them.  They see him as a project -- someone they can mold but not heed.  

The executive pastor in this New Testament letter is writing a word of encouragement.  Keep focused.  Train yourself in godliness to serve God, who is the savior.  

There are things you must teach, so don't let anyone "despise your youth, but instead set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity."   Yes, set the example -- but also don't neglect the gift that lies within you, which was given through the laying on of hands by the Elders.

I am a strong believer in the relationship of spiritual gifts and ministry (See my book: Unfettered Spirit: Spiritual Gifts for the New Great Awakening).  Each of us is gifted and called to ministry.  But in this passage, it appears to me that there is another charism (gift) that is bestowed by God through the laying on of the hands of the elders.  In my mind this is strong evidence for the concept of ordination.  A gift of leadership is bestowed in this manner, and the writer of this letter is encouraging Timothy to not neglect this gift -- this infusion of authority -- so as to lead the congregation.  Since this text is designated for what is called Good Shepherd Sunday, the passage speaks to the call to shepherding ministry -- a ministry of teaching and leadership designed to save the one called and the ones he (and she) is called to serve.  

So, what does it mean to be a shepherd in today's church?  From whence does authority come?  And how is it exercised?  As we consider the future of the church and its ministry/ministries these are important questions.

Note:  The Scripture link leads to Bible Gateway, where you can find alternative translations and more.  I am a member of the Bible Gateway Blogger's grid.  

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