Ministry is a gift

The Relational Pastor, part 10

For other posts in this series, click on a number: 12345678, 9, 1112131415.

This is the tenth post in a series that explores Andrew Root's book, The Relational Pastor. Last time we looked at moving beyond ministry models to sharing in the reality of Jesus' continuing personal ministry. This time we'll note how Root views this sharing as a gift from God:
Ministry is the gift given to us by God to share in God's life, to participate in God's action as we share in the person of others. Ministry is the gift of being a person, to dwell in doubt, fear and need, inviting others to indwell us as we indwell them. Ministry is God's gift to us, the gift of leading others in sharing in the life of God (p125). 
It's easy to lose sight of the reality by getting caught up in the "stuff" of ministry. And so we need the "40,000-foot overview" that Root provides. He reminds us that ministry is not ours--it's a sharing in what the incarnate, risen Lord is doing in our world through the Spirit. And this sharing is a high calling and a precious gift. And when such sharing occurs, it is a gift to us as co-ministers and a gift to those who receive the ministry:
[Our ministry, with Jesus, to others] should be the very place where they are given the gift of their personhood through the proclamation of the Word and the empathy of human encounter. There should never be the feeling that they are being coerced, that we only seek to influence them toward the ends we want for them. Ministry is the gift to others of finding their personhood by sharing the life of God (p126).
The incarnation was (and continues to be) God's gift to us by which he shares his own life with us. Through the incarnation, God has drawn humanity up into the triune relationship of the Father, Son and Spirit. In that way we have been "bound within the very union of Godself" (p126). This divine-human union is the ultimate sharing--the ultimate gift. "Jesus' own personhood is the gift given to humanity," a gift that "gives us our own personhood, freeing us from sin and death so that we might be persons who are our relationships" (p126).

God has given this gift to persons in desperate need--and in giving to us he has been drawn into our need. This is how true, selfless giving works. It's the nature of ministry in its purest sense. It's not about getting something, or merely moving someone to act in a certain way that we want. The incarnation is not about a transaction to get God what he wants, rather, it "is the gift of Jesus' person given in response to our yearning humanity" (p127).

God did not send Jesus to us out of some raging need that he had for justice. Good gifts are never given with that sort of motivation. Rather, the Father gave his Son out of the same passion and compassion that motivated the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son--a father who grieved and longed for reunion with his son, who was lost. At first he gave away his wealth, with the result being separation, not union. However, when the son returned, he gave another gift--his unconditional embrace, expressing great joy, and thus extending to his wayward son a union with himself--one that already existed in the father's heart, but now was deeper, being constructed out of the son's deep need and brokenness.

God the Father is just like that toward us, his prodigal children. And we, his ministers, are called to share in our heavenly Father's love for his lost children:
We share in God's empathy; his compassion by taking on empathy, by feeling our way into each other's lives, sharing each other's place, living in the union of sharing in each other's person (p129).
But what does that sharing look like? If being a pastor is not about a check-list of tasks being accomplished in accordance with a predetermined ministry model, then what is it about? Root answers this way:
It may be that our job as pastor shifts from being the one who builds or protects the church to being the one who creates space that allows for sharing in each other's lives. It can never be the pastor's job to share in everyone's life, rather it is the pastor's job to set the table, to create space through story and activity for people to share their person with each other through their experience.... The pastor becomes the one--and this is not easy--who invites each person to be vulnerable to others, to be loved and known through their vulnerability... The pastor's job is to offer his [or her] people the gift of union by opening the space for people to be vulnerable with one another (p130, emphasis added).
A gift indeed!


Anonymous said…
Just came across your blog. I appreciate the lens of Incarnation and Trinity, very helpful. Keep up the good work.
Ted Johnston said…
Thanks Kory. I comment to Surprising God readers your blog at I was very interested in what you wrote there about John Swinton.
I agree with Kory -- the more we focus on the Who question, the more the answer (with a capital A?) informs the rest of our thinking, moving us from us-centered to where Christ initiates, completes and brings us into his life, which includes his work.
This space-making concept of Root's fits in with a principle in The Missional Leader (Roxburgh/Romanuk) articulated on page 87, "Leaders must create a listening space to allow people to become aware of what is happening within and among them." And that safe place, in our view, would be the presence of Jesus in our midst, drawing us into an open exchange, mutual understanding and healing. Would it not?
Ted Johnston said…
Thanks Mark for adding the reference from Roxburgh/Romanuk--they are definitely traveling in the same direction as Root on this issue. Your definition of "safe place" is good as far as it goes. You may want to unpack it a bit as to what it actually looks like in our time and space. I don't think there is any one answer, what is "safe" to some is not to others. The key is finding times and spaces where people do sense the presence of the Lord and find a welcoming environment in which they can open to the Spirit and to other believers in the sort of sharing that connects us deeply to the life and love of our Savior.
Jerome Ellard said…
This "safe place" is the place of discipleship, is it not? And what that looks like in our time and space depends on who the particular people are that are being discipled, doesn't it? Different "scaffolding?" Which is why we talk about "all kinds of churches in all kinds of places for all kinds of people?"
Ted Johnston said…
Jerome, I think that the answer to your question is yes--discipleship is this "safe place." That does not mean that discipleship is lacking in challenge and growth--but it occurs in an environment that is safe--indeed it is love that motivates this growth and leads people to accept the challenges that produce it.