I want to flag another potential PR problem with the way we sometimes talk (and pray) about Christian ministry. I’ve noticed that I sometimes slide into speaking about it in a preaching- or pulpit-centric way. I catch myself praying for God to do his work as the good news of the Lord Jesus is shared in the power of the Spirit primarily in terms of ‘preaching the gospel’.
Of course, there are all sorts of things right about this. Two big ones spring to mind:
- The good news is a message to be announced — even announced authoritatively — not just served up as a take it or leave it option (not to deny the value and rightness of genuine dialogue and inquiry, etc). We’ve got to use words to communicate Jesus and not just try to rely on actions alone (as important as they are). Preaching as a form reflects this.
- In addition, preaching — at its best — is paradigmatic for all ministry, especially when we teach people how to read the Bible and think theologically for themselves. Luke really nails this when he points out that often in Sydney ‘The sermon meal involves a lesson in the kitchen’. We don’t only explain the point of a passage but how we came to recognise that it’s the point. It thus sets the pace as well as opening a bunch of doors for other ministry (e.g., as an extension of Eph 4.10-16).
But this needs to be weighed against the potential problems. To begin with, it suggests that the real action happens in the pulpit. Or that ministry is only done by the designated ‘up front’ people (the office-bearers, etc). This may well undermine the priesthood of all believers and the expectation that God’s people will engage in mutual ministry.
What’s more, speaking of ministry primarily in terms of preaching may imply that an omnicompetent pastor-teacher does all the minstry by himself. It can thus feed the myth that the church depends on this ministry in a unidirectional manner. This flies in the face of the Spirit-established interdependence of the body — in much the same way as if a soccer team so glorifies their star striker as to give the impression that he’s the only one on the team playing the game.
Consequently, even if we choose to retain this way of speaking it’s probably worth supplementing.