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).