Christian ministry is personal and spiritual

The Relational Pastor, part 12

For other posts in this series, click on a number: 12345678, 9, 10, 11, 131415.

Last time in this series exploring Andrew Root's book, The Relational Pastor, we looked at the stunning truth that Jesus, by virtue of the hypostatic union, is God and man united inseparably in one person. Now Root considers the implications, noting that because ministry is about participation with Jesus in his ministry, truly Christian ministry is both personal and spiritual.

Ministry is personal

Root asserts that "personhood" is the "location" where "God most fully reveals Godself" (p139). The point of this assertion is not to suggest that God is limited to a location (he is omnipresent), but that, because of the Incarnation (John 1:14), God is encountered most fully in Jesus--the Son of God who became (and remains) human person so that we might know and relate to God as the human persons we are created to be:
Too often in ministry we seek to make our people..."holy" by pushing them to transcend their humanity.... But personhood is the very form in which we encounter God. We are called to be human, the new humanity that seeks to encounter God as the person we were created to be.... As persons (remember, we are our relationships) we participate in the holy by sharing the personhood of our neighbor whom God is for (pp130-140).
Through the God-man Jesus, the triune God actively ministers in our world, not "from a distance," but "up-close-and-personal." Through this personal ministry, Jesus is helping people discover and then live into the new humanity that is theirs in union with him. How is Jesus ministering within our world? Largely by sharing in the lives of broken persons. In Matthew 25:34-45, Jesus explained this truth by telling his disciples that he would be cared for personally as his followers would go about caring for, "The least of these brothers and sisters of mine" (v40). It is in sharing deeply in the personhood of others that we are swept up into the hypostatic union, which constitutes Jesus Christ himself. By personally participating in Jesus' acts (his continuing ministry to broken people in this world) we deeply encounter his very person.
[The] hypostatic union makes all encounters of divine and human happen at the location of personhood. In this relationship of sharing in each other's person, our human nature is united to God's. Empathy...which breaks the competition of individualism, takes on the form of this union. Empathy is sharing in the life of God by sharing in the life of each other. Pastoral ministry is helping such sharing to happen. Ministry is relational, but relational in a personal sense--not in an individualistic sense! (p140).

Ministry is spiritual 

As Christians, we are not to be separate from non-Christians as though we are better. But how then are we distinct from non-Christians? Root contends that our distinctiveness is in the fact that we "fully embrace" our "own broken humanity by being persons who share in the life of others through our own broken persons." We have been set free to do this, because "we are empowered, we are animated by the Holy Spirit" (p142). Root reminds us that the Holy Spirit is the...
...indwelling love, the very manifestation of the relationship of Father and Son. The Spirit then acts in the person of Jesus, allowing one person to be indwelled by two natures. The very glue that holds Jesus' own divine and human natures together in his one person is the Holy Spirit (p142).
Jesus' own person, and thus his ministry, is deeply spiritual
The relationship itself becomes the point of ministry, because in the relationship, in the mystical wonder of sharing in each other's lives, the Spirit moves... Union is the sure sign of the Holy Spirit's presence... Our relationships in ministry then cannot be means to other ends; rather, our relationships in ministry are for shared union. And the experience of this shared union through person-to-person relationships is to be "in" Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit. Relationships in ministry are not for objectives. Relationships are for experiencing the Holy Spirit (p143 emphasis added).
Before ascending, Jesus promised to send the Spirit to his followers so they might experience this spiritual, union-in-relationship. Indeed, the Spirit works to create such union: man-to-God and man-to-man.
Where the Holy Spirit is at work, there is fullness of human life, sharing of love, patience and kindness (these are the Spirit's fruit [Galatians 5:22-23], personal acts that give us the gift of relationships in union) (p145).
Thus we understand that what makes Christians distinct is not that they are "super-human" (as though the goal of Christian maturity is being something other than human). Rather our distinctiveness is that, empowered by the Spirit, we go into the world and there, through the Spirit, join with Jesus in sharing in the lives of others for the sake of union (reconciliation). This personal (relational) sharing, which is fundamentally spiritual (of and by the Spirit) is the very essence of Christian ministry (p146).

"But," some might object, "isn't our calling as Christians to 'get people saved'"? Well, we'll see how Root replies to that objection next time.