Trinitarian-shaped pastoral ministry

This post continues a series examining key points of Andrew Purves' book Reconstructing Pastoral Theology: A Christological Foundation. For other posts in the series, click a number: 1, 2, 3. 567891011.

Icon of the Trinity by Rublev (public domain)
Purves views the doctrine of the Trinity as "the basic framework of meaning within which we live our lives as Christians" (p. 30). Many readers of this blog devote their lives to pastoral ministry, a calling Purves addresses in noting that "the doctrine of the Trinity is the grammar of all talk of God [including] every theological understanding of Christian ministry" (p. 31).

Rather than mere theory with little practical relevance, Purves views the doctrine of the Trinity as the principle means of understanding all of life (ministry included) in the context of the reality of 1) who God is (in his being and doing), 2) who we are as beings created in God's image, and 3) how we may live (including pastoral ministry) in ways aligned with who God is and who he has made us to be. This realist theological understanding is beautifully expressed by the apostle Paul in the Trinitarian benediction with which he ends one of his epistles:
 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen. (2 Corinthians 13:14 NKJV)
Utilizing the Son-Father-Spirit sequence of this benediction as his template, Purves goes on to discuss pastoral ministry with a "Trinitarian shape." Let's follow along.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ

Jesus Christ, who in his own person is the grace of God, is the heart and core of a pastoral ministry that is truly Trinitarian-shaped. Purves reminds us that Jesus, as the "actuality" of God (Colossians 2:9), is "the reality of grace" (p. 32). Jesus is grace incarnate---a grace that is fundamentally Trinitarian in that it "implies both the whole of God [who is Father, Son and Spirit] and the full message of the gospel. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is the mission of God to save" (p. 33). As the mission of God, Jesus comes to us "full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). Grace is who and what Jesus is in his very being, and thus in all his acts. Through his grace-filled ministry, Jesus comes to us "not just as one who forgives, but also as one who restores us to a new relationship with the Father" (p. 34). That is who Jesus is and therefore what Jesus does (and is doing).

As pastors, we are called and empowered by the Spirit, to live as bearers (messengers) of the grace of God that Jesus is in the lives of those God has sent us to serve. In the name of Jesus, we proclaim that people, in Christ, are forgiven. In so doing, we proclaim the "indicatives" of who, in Christ and by Christ, these people actually are. And then, also in Christ's name (meaning by his authority and bearing his power), we give them instruction (catechesis), coaching and opportunity to live out that grace as followers of Jesus. Thus the indicatives of grace lead on to the imperatives of grace (p. 35). In that way, our proclamation of the gospel of grace leads to people being discipled in the way of grace, which is the way of Jesus. Purves comments:
Pastoral work should be concerned to assist people to identify grace in their lives in its specificity as forgiveness of sins and to equip them to be faithful in thankful response of Christian discipleship... lives of fruitful and joyful discipleship in the power of the good news.... Pastoral work [thus] has its marching orders from the great evangelical truths of justification and sanctification... (p. 35)

The love of God

The ministry of God---and here the focus is on the Father---arises out of the very being of God, which is love (1 John 4:16). That love is the eternal communion between the Father, Son and Spirit, a being (and love) expressed in God's acts---above all, his acts within history through Jesus. We know who the Father is (and thus the very nature of God) because we see Jesus. In Jesus we know God as the one who is love in his very being, and who acts in love toward us. Purves comments:
God loves his creation out of the eternal plenitude of [his triune] self-love and... can no more cease to love than he can cease to be God or act toward us in a way other than God has acted toward us in and through Jesus Christ. (pp. 36-7)
We see the love of the Father expressed in the compassion of his incarnate Son, Jesus. That compassion gave expression to Jesus' redemptive/healing ministry--a ministry of personal, compassionate presence.

As pastors, we are called to join Jesus in that ministry---to be his personal, compassionate presence in the lives of hurting people, so they may know the love of the Father, and in knowing, by the power of the Spirit, experience healing.

The communion of the Holy Spirit

How can we humans, who fall so short of the glory of God, experience the grace of Jesus and the love of the Father? The answer is the empowerment that comes through the Holy Spirit. Purves puts it this way:, "The Holy Spirit is the personal presence of God by whom God [the Father] brings us into communion with himself through relationship with Jesus" (p. 39). The communion of the Holy Spirit is an "event"---one that is "Christ-related, God-glorifying, person-empowering, and church/mission-creating" (p. 39). Purves notes that "the Spirit calls the church into existence to be a community of worship and ministry through our union with Christ" (p. 39).

What does this mean for pastoral ministry? Perhaps the most important thing is that we are called not to help people merely mimic Christ (as though he were absent), but to participate, by the Spirit, in the ongoing ministry of Jesus who is actively at work in our world. In short, we have been called to help people share in Christ's ministry (or we might say, "share in Jesus's life and love").

That sharing, that participation in Christ's ministry, occurs through the communion of the Spirit found in and through the church. Sharing in Jesus' ministry is never an individualistic endeavor ("Just me and Jesus!" is how some state it). Purves comments:
To assume one can be Christian without attending church and participating in the life and mission of the fellowship is to misunderstand the meaning of being joined to Jesus Christ. Communion with Christ involves communion with one another and sharing together in Christ's mission to and for the world. (p. 41).
A Trinitarian-shaped pastoral ministry thus focuses on helping people to be involved in the worship and service (ministry) of the church---a ministry that cares for those within the church and reaches out to those outside the church. Why outside? Because the church, is fundamentally a "sent" church---sent into the world on mission in and through the Son, on behalf of the Father, by the Spirit. As pastors, may we hear and obey his command to go, and as we go make disciples of all people as we do. Amen.

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