The following forms the opening paragraphs of the Orientation chapter of my book Out of the Office: A Theology of Ministry (Conversations in Ministry, #3). The book is the third volume in a book series I edit for the Academy of Parish Clergy in partnership with Energion Publications. I share this with you to give you a sense of the book, which I believe will provide clergy and those preparing for vocational ministry an opportunity to do theological reflection on engaging in ministry in the 21st century. Before you dive deeper into my own introductory words, I invite you to consider this word from theologian Grace Ji-Sun Kim concerning the book's value:
Once again, Dr. Robert Cornwall provides the church with a valuable book. In his new book, Out of the Office, he tackles the important questions of what is ministry; how do we effectively engage in ministry; and what does ministry look like in our globalizing world? This prophetic work is eloquently written and beautifully reflects Dr. Cornwall’s deep spirituality and faith.
– Grace Ji-Sun Kim
Associate Professor of Theology at Earlham School of Religion
and author of Embracing The Other and Mother Daughter Speak
Ministry is something clergy do—most often within the confines of a church building or at least among the members of a congregation. It can involve preaching, teaching, celebrating the sacraments, and providing pastoral care. But is this all that the word conveys? Since the series of books in which this appears is designed to create a conversation among clergy on matters related to parish ministry, a discussion of a theology of ministry would invite a theological reflection on what clergy do in a parish context. Such is the case here, except that I would like to broaden the concept of the parish to include the local congregation as well as the broader world in which a congregation exists. This isn’t an either/or proposition. It’s a both/and. Nonetheless, I take as a starting point the premise of John Wesley that the world is our parish. Therefore, I’m assuming that the context in which the readers of this book do ministry will include the congregation and will extend to the neighborhood and beyond.
I write this book with the Academy of Parish Clergy in mind. As I do so I am conscious of the fact that while the Academy has been a predominantly Christian organization, it has a broader vision of being a gathering of clergy from across the religious spectrum. Keeping in mind this more inclusive vision, theologies of ministry are rooted in specific faith communities. I have long been active in interfaith work, but my own theology of ministry and my calling to ministry is distinctly Christian. Therefore, this book reflects my context as a Christian pastor, writing to other Christian clergy, inviting them to reflect on their own theologies of ministry. At the same time, I hope that my reflections might provide encouragement to persons who do not my theological context might find encouragement to look to the witness of their own traditions to develop a theology of ministry appropriate to that context.
If our theological reflection on ministry is rooted in the Christian tradition, and therefore, is rooted in the witness of scripture, then we need to ask ourselves whether ministry is something to which the whole people of God are called, or whether the call is limited to those who are ordained. While I expect that most readers of this book will be clergy or those preparing for such ministry, this is an important question to keep in mind. As I read scripture, it seems that ministry is both a shared vocation that includes the whole people of God, and a calling to which some are called for purposes of leadership and equipping of the saints. So, we could say that among the whole people of God who are called to ministry, some are called to a vocation that is called the clergy.
While the gifts of the Spirit are poured out upon all, among those gifts are gifts of leadership and teaching. While I believe that ministry is something shared within the community of faith, the focus of this book series is conversation among those called to vocational or professional ministry. The idea that ministry is a profession among professions (like medicine, law, business), can obscure the sense of divine call. It is rather easy for those of us who are engaged in this work to become pragmatic and mechanical in our ministrations. We can become dependent solely on our training and certification to sustain our work. Since many of us derive our livelihood from doing these things well—or at least good enough to please those who have the authority to hire, fire, or reassign us—the focus can be on doing the job well as measured by more secular metrics. Those metrics focus on satisfying the customer.
While professional standards of behavior and training are important (upon being ordained many of us will be required to sign off on some form of ministry ethics—the Academy of Parish Clergy has its own ethical statement members are to affirm), professional standards are not enough. There is need for us to understand ministry from a theological point of view. While many of us took a theology of ministry class in seminary, how often do we look at our work through a theological lens? Could it be that engaging in theological reflection on one’s ministry throughout the course of one’s ministry might help sustain a sense of call for the long term? [Out of the Office, pp. 1-3]