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.