Musings

Getting Real About Ministry

I’m seeing a new trend at services of ordination and induction for pastors:  reality checks.

Tonight, I attended the ordination of a minister in the Presbytery (regional judicatory body) in which I serve, at Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church (www.guildwoodchurch.com) in Scarborough.  Both the sermon and the charge were exemplary in both their theological soundness and what I called their “embarrassing frankness”.  By that I meant that both the minister preaching and the one giving the charge were not afraid to say to both congregation and ordinand that ministry nowadays is not always pretty.

I’m not sure ministry ever was pretty – not even in Green Gables.  But I can say, from a measure of experience, that it wasn’t always as challenging as it is today.  And clergy appear to be realizing this more and more frequently.

I’m sure there are some pastors for whom ministry remains relatively stress-free.  I’m fairly sure those pastors are superintending dying efforts.  Why?  Because growth does not come without change, and change does not happen without conflict.  And conflict of any sort is, by nature, a stressor.

So I’m strangely excited that pastors are willing to acknowledge the reality that ministry is tough, because that means they’re attempting to bring, and foster, positive (we hope) change.  The future of the church, by God’s grace, relies on its leaders being willing to Lay It All On The Line to draw people into a life of discipleship.  And that’s not always comfortable.

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Musings

Earth Hour and Jesus

Last night, thousands of households across Canada participated in “Earth Hour” – a World Wildlife Fund-sponsored event encouraging businesses, governments, and ordinary citizens to promote conservation by darkening their homes and businesses between 8 and 9 p.m. local time.

There was a fair bit of hubbub about Earth Hour online – most of it, one assumes, before 8 and after 9, since their modems and routers, if not their computers, required electricity they were reluctant to use!

As I was preparing for worship this morning, I considered the enthusiasm that existed for Earth Hour.  Many Christ-followers participated.  Even the large, illuminated cross on Mount Royal – a Montreal landmark – was dimmed.  But it left me wondering:  do we have the same enthusiasm for sharing Jesus?

In the congregation where I spoke this morning, reflecting on Luke 24.33-35, I asked how many people had participated in Earth Hour last night.  Nearly every hand went up.  Then I asked:  how many of you shared Jesus with somebody yesterday?  Only a few hands were raised.

Christ-followers have a responsibility – indeed, I would argue, more of a responsibility than others – to take care of the earth, because the earth is the Lord’s (Psalm 24.1).  However, when Christians put all their effort into that which will fade instead of investing in the eternal destinies of others, we miss the mark.

If only sharing our faith would somehow become trendy!  Yet it is of such a substantive nature that it ought never to be reduced to trendiness:  sharing our faith can and should be a lifestyle choice.  Nobody else is going to do it for us.

Book Reviews

The Crucifixion of Ministry

At the suggestion of a trusted friend and respected colleague (the same person, I might add), I recently picked up The Crucifixion of Ministry(IVP, 2007).  It was a relatively quick and powerful read – and is worthwhile reading for all Christ-followers, not just pastors.

 The author:  Andrew Purves is a Scottish-born and trained professor of pastoral theology at Pittsburgh (Presbyterian) Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  His pastoral experience is somewhat limited, but his experience as a teacher of pastors, both graduate and post-graduate, is extensive.  He spoke at the February 2008 continuing education week at The Presbyterian College, Montreal; I wasn’t there, but a few friends who were spoke of him in exemplary terms.

 The thesis:  Purves’ point to the reader is that it’s not we who do ministry, but Jesus Christ.  Our responsibility is to get out of the way and let him do ministry – through us.

The review:  Purves reveals his traditional approach to ministry throughout the book, and while this is somewhat unsettling to those who are attempting to engage in ministry in more relevant and biblical ways, his theological point is spot-on.  He makes it crystal-clear, as a theologian within the mainline church, that unless we embrace the orthodox, historically-held tenets of the Christian faith – particularly with respect to the doctrine of the Trinity and the role of the Lord Jesus in redemption and sanctification – the mainline church will continue its downward spiral.  If Jesus is not Lord of the church, then the church is not the church and its ministry will not be ministry, but social work.

For Purves, truth is not a ‘what’ question, but a ‘Who’ question.  It was no accident that Jesus said that he is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14.6).  And, to use his words, the Christological dog must wag the ministerial tail.  When God’s people engage in ministry, their responsibility is not to ask, “How can I minister most effectively?”, but “Where is Jesus in this situation and how can his grace be made most manifest?” (my paraphrase).  We come bearing God’s love first and foremost.

The church exists to bear witness to Jesus Christ, says Purves.  Anything less is not ministry.  Ministry is what Jesus does, and we are responsible to get with Jesus’ program.

Purves wrote this book with tired, embittered, burned out pastors in mind, but all of us can benefit from his work.  For those who are tired, embittered or burned out, however, his words are a soothing balm.

It’s about 150 pages including a few case studies.  I think it’s worth the read.  It may change your approach to ministry, at whatever level you minister.

Musings

Giving In For All The Right Reasons

Yesterday, I finally gave in.  I resisted for a long time, despite the goading of several friends, fearing the amount of time it could consume.  I wasn’t sure I saw the value in it.  But yesterday, I finally gave in.

 I joined Facebook.

It isn’t like I needed to; I am blessed to have a network of friends on whom I can call at any time.  (I live with the best one of all.)  And as an introvert, gobs and gobs of social interaction just take energy from me anyway. 

 So why did I do it?

Simple:  influence

Somebody smarter than me once said that it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease, and in our culture today, squeaky wheels are often characterized by their willingness to ‘make some noise’, either verbally or by some other demonstration of opinion.  That most frequently happens today via the media – radio, television, newspapers, and now, the Internet. 

Many followers of Christ are reluctant to stand up and be heard (to be “witnesses”, to use a biblical term), by whatever means possible.  And, sadly, that has hurt his cause – especially in the past 50-plus years with the advent of television and high-tech communications.  There is an insufficient number of Christian leaders of integrity using media to point to Jesus Christ.  When I began this blog, and my website, www.jeffloach.com, my goal was to enhance communication, but more importantly, to advance the cause of Christ.

But who reads your blog unless you talk it up?  That’s why I joined Facebook.

If you’re not acquainted with Facebook, it is a social networking tool that allows you to make ‘friends’ with people.  In my case, in the less than 24 hours since I subscribed, I have discovered people I knew twenty years ago as well as people I work with every day, whom I didn’t even know were involved in Facebook.  People can learn as much about you as you choose to disclose.  I suppose one could stretch the truth – or avoid it altogether – in the creation of one’s Facebook profile, so you do well to examine critically whatever you read on the site.  But the advantages, for my purposes, far outweigh the risks.

If even one person who sees my Facebook profile and clicks on my blog begins to consider the claims of Jesus, my foray into online social networking will have been worth every moment I invest in it.

My Facebook profile is available by clicking on the link to the right.

Encouragement From The Word

Easter’s Over?

            Easter’s over.  (Can you even look at another chocolate egg?)  In the life of the Christ-follower, we have weeks of build-up that lead to the last days of the life of the Lord Jesus.  It all seemed to happen so quickly this year, because Easter was closer to Christmas than any of us could possibly remember.  We’ve celebrated the Nativity, the Passion, the Resurrection.  Now it’s over.

           

            Or is it?

 

            One of the things I’ve always appreciated about the tradition of Christianity in which I fall is that every Sunday, no matter what time of year, is a celebration of the Resurrection.  Every Sunday is Easter Sunday.  True, we don’t sing “Christ the Lord is risen today” every week, but we could – each Lord’s Day is an opportunity to shout our Hallelujahs to God for the victory he has won for us in raising Jesus from the dead.  It’s our only hope, after all.  We do well to celebrate it as often as we can.  Heck, I celebrate the Resurrection every morning when I’m able, by God’s grace, to get out of bed.  Every morning when I wake up is as much a celebration of the Resurrection as the New Morning when I will wake up in heaven with God.

 

            I guess this is why I can do little more than shake my head when I hear of church leaders who dismiss the Resurrection of Jesus as mythical hogwash.  This is nothing new, of course – every once in a while, someone will write another book that will garner attention from the newspapers and naysayers, but it’s just repackaged “enlightenment” philosophy, filled with cockamamie notions like, “Human potential is all we need.”

             If you have an inkling toward believing that, let me offer you this word from Scripture:  …if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world” (1 Corinthians 15.19, NLT).               I’m not following a Jesus Who Was Just A Guy.  I’m not following a Christ Of Faith.  I’m following the God who is made known to humanity in Jesus the Messiah, who was the final perfect sacrifice for the sins of everyone.  And I follow him in the power of the Holy Spirit.  If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, we’re just going through the motions on Sunday, and we can stay home and watch Coronation Street, or something.  No, my Sunday celebrations are truly celebrations of Jesus the Resurrected Lord.               He’s my only hope.  He’s your only hope.             So Easter Day might not come around for another calendar year, but we can celebrate Easter every Sunday, even every day, in our own lives. 

            God’s best as you celebrate!

Passionately His,

Jeff