Tag Archive: Ministry

As the world continues to muse on the death of Osama bin Laden many questions, concerns, and curiosities remain…

Yesterday I received this e-mail from a fellow pastor and friend:

I stayed up late last night watching the news coverage of the President’s address and the reporting of the “killing” (and that is the way the media reported) of bin Laden. And I am struggling with images of Americans in the street outside the White House dancing joyfully at this man’s death.  I know he needed to be brought to justice.  But as a Christian my heart is breaking at the display of glee and joy among our citizens, so many shown in the news coverage to be of such a young age. You and I serve the church and the Christ.  We preach about justice and forgiveness and reconciliation.  And I, as well as you, know that many of our parishioners may be jubilant at the news of bin Laden’s death.  In this season of Easter, having just celebrated God’s forgiveness and reconciliation in the Resurrection of the Christ, it seems the perfect time to speak to the Christian understanding of justice and forgiveness and the difficulty, at times like these, to be Christian…to live into our baptism … to be Christian first, American second.  Where to begin? And do you think it wise to deal with this from the pulpit?

I wonder along with my friend: “Where do we begin?  What is the proper Christian response?  Is it wise to deal with the situation from the pulpit (or wherever you find your job or ministry)?”

Or do we say nothing?

I find these words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Ethics to be helpful:

“Some who seek to escape from taking a stand publicly find a place of refuge in a private virtuousness.  Such a man [sic] does not steal.  He does not commit murder.  He does not commit adultery.  But in his voluntary renunciation of publicity he knows how to remain punctiliously within the permitted bounds which preserve him from involvement in conflict.  It is only at the price of an act of self-deception that he can safeguard his private blamelessness against contamination through responsible action in the world.  Whatever he may do, that which he omits to do will give him no peace.  Either this disquiet will destroy him or he will become the most hypocritical of Pharisees.”

We must speak.

We must speak to, into, and through the situations of the world.  To not speak is to say that it does not matter to us, our faith, or to God.  We commit not a sin of activity (theft, murder, adultery, gossip, etc.) but a sin of inactivity, of saying nothing.  Complacency in the face of injustice is as fraught with sin as the unjust actions that are committed.  We cannot withdraw into a refuge of private virtuousness.  We cannot retreat into our own hearts and minds, proclaiming to ourselves what the world needs to hear.

However, when we speak we must do so compassionately and modestly.  Not with chants of victory and triumph, but with pacifying tones of humility and peace.  We speak from a position of faith and peace seeking understanding, not from a place of celebration through killing.

When we speak, our words must be wedded to our deeds.  Our words of humility must be matched by time spent on our knees in prayers.  Our call for understanding and mercy must be paired with hugs and embraces of those who are different.  We cannot sing songs lamenting the loss of any life, and at the same time find a dancing partner in pride and jubilation.  We must not do as Jesus accused the religious leaders of his day, of neglecting the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.  It is these, Jesus says, that they (and us) ought to do, practice, live, enact, and embody (Matthew 23:23).

Is it wise to deal with the situation?

Perhaps the death of bin Laden comes then as an opportunity for Christians…an opportunity to speak and embody the words of Christ…an opportunity to say true and compelling things about life and hope here and now through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection years ago.  We, as Christians, enter this moment with a unique platform to shout and gloat less, but pray and reflect more.  Perhaps we seize the opportunity to show the world that we, as Christians, act differently when we hear the news of death and uncertainty.


The Prophet Isaiah by Raphael (1511)

Proclaiming the kingdom of hope

Arias summarizes the present and imminent kingdom of God in one word: Hope.  In his life, teachings, and ministry Jesus celebrated, taught, and proclaimed hope.  He called his disciples and us to be people of hope, creatively and actively waiting for the kingdom. Our waiting, Arais suggests, “demands watchful expectation and trusting intercession” for the kingdom to come (83).  How do we announce the kingdom of hope today?

As proclaimers of hope we look to the future in both hope and fear.  We are fearful of the unknown, but hopeful for the “final date with God,” in which “God has pledged himself to humanity in Jesus Christ” (86).  The promise, hope, and expectation of the coming kingdom serves as the mobilizing power for the whole life and mission of the church in the world.  We announce the hope of the kingdom by living, working, and sharing hope.  To be an evangelist is to be a sign of hope, a servant of hope, a minister of hope (89).

The ministry of hope includes both annunciation and denunciation.  The ministry of annunciation “gives people the bread of hope instead of the stones of fatalism and resignation to hellish fascination with death and annihilation” (90).  The ministry of denunication denounces anything, any power, and any program or trend that opposes God’s purpose for humanity (92).

Arias also highlights martyria and consolation as ministries of the kingdom of hope.  Christians, he suggests, must be prepared for martyrdom.  A martyr – a witness who puts his or her life on the line – must be ready to do so in the name of the hope Christ proclaimed.  Tertullian’s words ring particularly true: “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.”  The ministry of consolation Arias describes is the ministry of defending the defenseless, giving voice to the voiceless.  Specifically, consolation involves defending human rights and caring for the brokenhearted in the most painful and repressive situations (98).

The hope of the kingdom through annunciation, denunciation, martyria, and consolation makes sense to me.  If we are able to witness to all of the areas surely we, as Christians, churches, and faith communities, can be witnesses and tools of the kingdom.  Announcing the reign of God is the duty of the Body of Christ.  Empowered by the Spirit, Christians and churches are called to be God’s instruments of kingdom-building.

However, Arias argues rather ambiguously on this point.  Throughout the chapter he repeatedly lifts up the “prophetic” nature of governments, politicians, and policies.  He hints that the way to fulfilling the prophetic hope of the kingdom is through the government.  Salvation seems to lie in the on-going work of the government, and Christians would do well to participate in that work.  Is it true that prophetic voices (even from Christians) are loudest and most effective through the government?

Surely the church will not abdicate her responsibility to elected officials.  Surely we have the creativity, imagination, and resources to proclaim hope in the world.  Perhaps the Church needs to hear the words of Augustine again: “Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.”  Let this, and not a campaign slogan, serve as the church’s credo and motivation for hopeful evangelism.

This is the seventh review in a nine-part series looking at Mortimer Arias’s Announcing the Reign of God.

Now that the spring semester is complete I have a little more time to keep things going on the blog!

However, I have a summer project and I’d love to hear your feedback.  I’m working on a directed study course in mission and evangelism.  Basically, I’m reading several books on the subject and writing chapter/book reviews.  My plan is to post my chapter reviews as I write them.

My aims for the blog posts are two-fold:

1) Hopefully the books and reviews will be helpful in your personal/the Church’s on-going discussion of how we “do” mission and evangelism.

2) I’d love to hear feedback on the books and my thoughts.  Have you read these books?  Liked them?  Loathed them?  Found some of it helpful?  Worst piece of evangelistic theory/literature you ever read?

Here are the books I’ll be reviewing (in order):

Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism: Living in a Three-Storied Universe by Walter Brueggemann

Announcing the Reign of God by Mortimer Arias

Theology in the Context of World Christianity by Timothy C. Tennent

The Evangelistic Love of God and Neighbor: A Theology of Witness and Discipleship by Scott Jones

Live to Tell: Evangelism in a Postmodern Age by Brad Kallenberg

Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America edited by Lois Barrett

Worship Evangelism by Sally Morgenthaler

Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry: From a Strategy of Influence to a Theology of Incarnation by Andrew Root

My Call to the Vocation of Ministry

Whether or not we as Christians comprehend and embrace its importance and significance, we are all called by God for a unique purpose. As a result, His purposes are as diverse and interesting as the people who accept them.  According to our gifts, our specialties, and our interests God has in store for each of us a calling to something that is greater than ourselves.  Yet, God does not randomly assign such purposes. Such callings do not simply create themselves.  Rather, there is a source, or an initiator.  For many, including Barbara Brown Taylor and William Willimon, the source is clear.  The source is one’s baptism.  We Christians, they argue, are called through our baptism to “join ranks with God.”

However, baptism is not simply an act that one should feel obligated to perform.  Nor is it an event to take lightly.  In fact, as Taylor and Willimon point out, baptism should serve as a turning point in an individual’s life.  Through baptism we turn over our identity to God in favor a new identity as a child of God.  Also, we connect with a community in order to share in God’s eternal mission.  Only through this process are we able to better discern God’s call in our lives.  For me, this baptismal foundation for calling rings particularly true.

First, through baptism, and in my case infant baptism, I was re-created as a child of God.  Consequently, my identity is rooted solely in God’s vision and plan for my life.  My identity is no longer formed by physical fitness, wealth, or knowledge.  Rather, my baptismal identity as kin of God is the new foundation.  With a new identity free from the world’s standards I am liberated to listen more closely for God’s call on my life.
Likewise, my baptism allows my membership in God’s holy and eternal community.  Through baptism God incorporated me into a new family.  As Taylor writes, after baptism I was “received into the household of God.”   Such reception with believers should serve as the foundation for strengthening my faith as well as helping me better hear and interpret my call.  For when I do hear God’s call I will be able to discern and discuss with fellow believers.  Again, the privilege of joining God’s community through baptism has been, and continues to be, extremely beneficial as I seek God’s purpose for my life.

Finally, in addition to gaining a new identity and a new family, baptism charges me to share in God’s mission for the world.  That is, to confess the faith of the crucified Jesus Christ and proclaim his resurrection.   Essentially, I must share the good news of Christ.  Again, my baptismal vows require that I share in the mission and equip others to participate.  Through this I am able to help myself better discern God’s call for me to minister in His name.

As I think about my baptismal vows and reflect on their true significance, my call takes on new meanings.  I am renewed as a child of God and embraced and incorporated into His eternal family.  Also, I am called to share in the mission of confessing the faith of Jesus Christ.  Now, as I examine my call I am overwhelmed by multiple renewals and affirmations of my baptismal vows throughout my experiences.  A new identity, a new community, and a new role with God have been, and are, truly present in my life.

I first felt God’s distinct call on my life during winter break of my sophomore year in college. While home I read a book about John Wesley.  In the book the author talked about Wesley’s “gentle warming of the heart.”  I suddenly felt that same warming.  I had always been involved in church and had often left Sunday services with a similar feeling, but this sensation was more powerful.  I sensed something distinct and almost overwhelming.  A few days later, the sensation remained.  I knew God was speaking to me.  After weeks of praying and talking with my pastor I began to understand that God was calling out my life for a distinct purpose.  It was at this moment that I believe my baptismal vows took on a new meaning and my identity in Christ was renewed and solidified.  As Taylor wrote, “I remembered who I was.”  God was calling me out of my old life and “warming” me to serve Him.

After realizing my new identity and recognizing God’s call on my life I began to explore how God might use me.  Growing up in the church, I immediately thought that a call to ministry meant a call to become a pastor.  I wondered, however, does my calling automatically destine me for the pulpit?  At the time I was deeply involved in religious studies classes and the academic aspects of Christianity.  Essentially, I was seeking faith with reason and thought that I might fulfill my call in the classroom.  Despite my interest in fulfilling my call outside of the church office, several prayer-filled conversations with mentors and professors led me to pursue my call within the parish ministry framework.  Eventually, through the Candidacy Process and other church-related experiences I began to feel that God was calling me to ordained ministry, particularly the ministry of an Elder.

In keeping with my baptismal identity and role within Christ’s body I continually turned to my fellow believers for guidance.  Their unconditional love, support, and willingness to assist greatly aided my discernment process.  I was constantly encouraged by their prayers and through their conversations. Whether they or I understood it at the time, my home congregation epitomized the role of a community of baptized believers.  The more I shared and explored my ministry options with those in my baptismal community the more my call to parish ministry was confirmed.

Specifically, my call was affirmed while I served as the Assistant to the Pastor in my home church, Virginia Avenue UMC.  At Virginia Avenue I helped serve Communion, delivered children’s sermons, ushered, and also preached every fifth Sunday.  Each time I assisted with Communion or delivered the message I was overcome with the feeling of a “warmed heart.”  I remember how nervous I was the first Sunday I served Communion.  However, once I took the bread in my hands my nervousness abandoned me. Again, maintaining and discerning my call while worshipping with a Christian body made my experiences joyful and fruitful.

A similar experience occurred during the Kentucky Annual Conference 2006.  At Conference I attended several worship services, the ordination service, and parts of the legislative assembly.  While there I witnessed the love, grace, and peace that each Elder embodied.  In the same way as before, God warmed my heart and I sensed Him telling me that ‘this is where I want you.’  As the baptismal vows allowed and encouraged I felt genuinely at home with other baptized Christians.  Now, not only was my home church involved, but the larger church body was also active in my discernment.

Most recently, Unity United Methodist Church in Kannapolis, North Carolina helped me discern my call.  At Unity I helped with a “Meals on Wheels” ministry, taught during Vacation Bible School, taught Sunday School, visited nursing homes and hospitals, led worship, and preached.  Unity not only embraced me as a baptized member in the larger Christian community, but they also enabled me to share, with them, in God’s mission.  The congregation truly embraced their baptismal vow to spread the Good News and I was able to do the same.  My time at Unity UMC further opened my eyes to parish ministry and also reaffirmed my desire and call to work as a pastor with local congregations.

In addition to my experiences in church settings, God continued to strengthen my call through the classroom.  Throughout college religious classes helped formed both my spiritual and theological understanding, while at the same time strengthening my faith.  With more knowledge about the historical aspects and context of Scriptures I felt better equipped to educate others about the Gospel.  Also, after studying Greek the New Testament text became more alive.   Many courses not only inspired me intellectually and theologically, but these courses also deepened my spiritual understanding.  Now, as God has called me, I want to equip others with the knowledge and insight I gained in the classroom.

My experiences in both the parish and classrooms have been vital to my understanding of God’s purpose in my life.  As I continue at Duke so continues my discernment process.  While here I want to form my own “pattern for ministry.”  Fortunately, as Willimon points out in the differences between Gregory and Basil, there is no shortage of historical patterns.  In fact, there is no single style of ministry, ordained or otherwise.  There is a “rich legacy of patterns of leadership.”   As the saints and others did previously, through prayer, reflection, and practice I want to develop a pattern suited for my future ministry.

As I begin to delve deeper into what it means to establish a pattern, or image, for ministry I am constantly reminded of those currently in ministry who have influenced me.  I look at those pastors, professors, and mentors and hope to learn from them the “promises and pitfalls of ministry.”   Additionally, I want to mix and incorporate ancient ideas of ministry into my contemporary environment.  As Gregory states, a pastor should “lead a spiritual life” and “sympathize and rejoice with neighbors.”   Furthermore, I intend for my pattern to involve giving bounteously of all my gifts.   I pray that my pattern for ministry requires and enables me to give my time, energy, mind, and being for God’s glorious mission as defined in my baptism.

Through my experiences in parishes and classrooms I have developed a better understanding of my call and am more secure in my commitment to pursue ordained ministry.  In the future I envision myself fulfilling my call through parish ministry.  I aspire to share my passion for God’s grace through preaching and pastoral care.  I want to help others experience the grace, hope, and guidance God has given me.  Thus far I have enjoyed serving in assistant roles in various congregations; but I imagine future congregations, congregations I can call my own.

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