Paper presented at the 2006 National EFAC Conference
At a conference on "Growing Gospel Passions", my topic is Passion for Ministry – and I must say preparing this talk has made me sharpen my thinking about both passion and ministry. People who know me will say that I'm not a particularly passionate person (apart from the occasional shout at the TV when watching football) and as an adult convert I, to begin with, sort of drifted into ministry…
But over 25+ years of being involved in ministry and observing others in ministry, I have reached the conclusion that ministry and passion for ministry are all about our response to the grace and mercy of God – loving God and loving one another. Let me expand on that – first, by having a look at:
1. Definition - the what question
Passion – what is it? My dictionary says passion is: a very strong emotion; an intense enthusiasm for something – which is not all that helpful as it could describe what's going on in anything from a football crowd to a suicide bomber. It seems to me that words like passion and vision are bandied about pretty freely these days and its generally assumed we all know what we are talking about when we use them – but I must confess that I get a bit muddled at times. So, its been good for me to think through what passion is all about, in the context of ministry.
Armed with the dictionary definition, I thought where better to go than the Bible… and who better to listen to than that passionate enthusiast, the apostle Paul.
In Colossians Paul says:
Col 1:28-29 We proclaim him (Christ), admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. 29To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.
Now that looks like passion to me – lots of active verbs: proclaim, admonish, teach, labour, struggle – words of intense enthusiasm – that's what passion is all about in ministry…
But if that's what passion is, we still have to make sure we are being passionate about the right things and for the right reasons… so we ask about:
2. Motivation – the why question
Paul declares his motive so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. That's the end result motive and an excellent one too, but what's the internal motivation for his labours and struggles? What makes Paul so passionate to begin with?
For Paul and for us, we are called to be passionate because…
God is passionate about us – he pours out his grace and mercy upon us
In Ephesians 2 Paul says:
Eph 2:4-5 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved
Our passionate response to him is to be a response of gratitude, fulfilling God's purposes in our lives:
Eph 2:8-10 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
God's gracious passion for us is the primary and foundational movement, which prompts a response of passion for him and his purposes in his world – doing the good works prepared in advance for us to do. So, what are they?
Jesus was asked a question by one of the teachers of the law, the question about which is the most important of all the commandments and Jesus' reply may be summarised as "Love God and love your neighbour, wholeheartedly."
We are called to be passionate disciples of Jesus who love God and love one another – passion for God and passion for people – wholehearted enthusiasm for the things of God. Whatever ministry we may find ourselves engaged in, it must bear these hallmarks of loving God and loving one another.
So the question now is how…
3. Clarification – the how question
How do we become and remain faithful and passionate disciples of Jesus? How does the transformational work of God in our lives happen? It's the work of God's Holy Spirit, but how does it happen?
We are such complex creatures, products of nature and nurture, genetics and environment, family history and present circumstances; and subject to the moment by moment interaction of our thinking, our feelings and our behaviour. Each one constantly influences and affects the other – how we think affects how we feel and how we behave; how we feel affects how we behave and how we think and how we behave affects both thinking and feeling – there is a constant interaction of these three in every aspect and area of our lives.
How do we change? Different schools of psychology present different options for intervention in the behaviour/thinking/feeling cycle: behaviourists say "change behaviour and thinking and feeling will follow"; cognitivists will say "change your thinking and all else will fall into place"; and naturally enough the feelingists (for want of a better word) will say "when you feel better about yourself then everything else will be fine."
For us, as God's people its about transforming all of life – head (thinking), heart (feelings) and hands (behaviour). Not transforming us into happier, nicer people, but transforming us – head, heart and hands - into passionate disciples of Jesus, who are growing in faith, hope and love, people who are passionate about loving God and one another.
Without pushing it too hard, I think we can bring these two sets of three together and marry them with another set of three – the Christian disciplines of bible, prayer and service – so we have:
Head - Faith – Bible
Heart - Hope – prayer
Hands - Love – ministry
How do we become faithful and passionate disciples of Jesus? Beginning with the gracious movement of God towards us, his passion for us, we are changed by the transforming work of God's Holy Spirit in our lives as we practice these disciplines:
letting God's word strengthen our faith, change out thinking, as we read the Bible, being transformed by the renewing of our minds, says Paul (Romans 12:1-2);
letting God's great purposes and the hope we have in Christ transform our hearts, as, in the midst of this messy world, we pray for the kingdom to come;
letting God's love transform and work through our lives, so we are motivated to love and serve those around us, ministering the grace and mercy of God into the lives of others as we serve.
Passion then, is all about our response to the grace and mercy of God, which is so freely poured upon us in Jesus Christ. As well, passion is about the transformational work of God's Holy Spirit, working in us as we respond in head, hands and heart, by growing in faith, hope and love.
So, if that's what passion is all about, what about ministry?
Introduction - ministry, service and gifts
If we are allowing the transformational work of God to keep on happening in our lives, in head, heart and hands, it seems to me that there will be no shortage of ministry opportunities i.e. opportunities for us to use the gifts and abilities, training and experience that God has given us to love and serve him and his people and his world.
Ministry, serving and using the gifts and opportunities God gives us, loving God and one another, will take many different forms, close at hand and far away, within the church community and outside it. One wise speaker said we should find out what we are meant to be doing and then strive to do it really well - and I might add to that by suggesting that the finding out and the striving are not one offs, but a continuing process throughout life. What we find out and strive at in one place and time may not necessarily be transportable to another place and time, so we must be attentive and willing to minister how and when and where God directs us.
Our ministries may be formal or informal; vocational or voluntary; full time, part time or occasional; voluble or quiet – the list is endless. But to be a ministry of a passionate disciple of Jesus, it must be identifiably about loving God and one another. Love is the hallmark – love for God and love for others. If this love is not present, all sorts of other things may be happening, but it is not a ministry in the Christian sense.
Let me tease that out a little more, by talking about the ministry of pastoral care.
Pastoral care: something for everyone
My thing is the ministry of pastoral care – and I actually think that is everyone's thing, whatever ministry they may be engaging in. At its heart, pastoral care should be about loving God and loving one another; and pastoral ministry should be at the heart of all ministries undertaken by Jesus' passionate disciples.
Let me explain:
Until perhaps fifty years ago pastoral care was pretty universally considered to be what the pastor did in a parish community setting. Post-WWII, popular psychology, counselling, clinical pastoral education etc made inroads into the traditional areas of pastoral care, until pastoral care came to be seen to be a sort of subset of pastoral counselling and was reduced for many to visitation of the sick and dying etc..
Even though my background was in social work, I wasn't comfortable with this perspective. As I thought about it, it seemed to me that the bible has an entirely different perspective to the one commonly held – rather than the medical model of counselling (i.e. restoration to health from a state of unwellness) the bible speaks of pastoral care in terms of growing and maturing – present(ing) everyone perfect in Christ - a continuous process which best occurs within the community of God's people.
It seems to me that there are two major bible ideas regarding pastoral care:
The first and best known one is the Shepherd – found in both Testaments.
In the Old Testament God is the shepherd of his people, in Genesis, in Psalms and in the Prophets; God appoints shepherds for his people Israel (who are identified as sheep); good shepherds are encouraged and the harmful wrongdoing of bad shepherds is identified, especially by the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel.
In the New Testament Jesus identifies himself as the good shepherd, outlining the characteristics of the relationship between the good shepherd and his sheep. (Jn 10:1-20). In Acts, the apostle Paul urges the Ephesian elders to be shepherds of God's flock (Acts 20:28); Peter (1Pet 5:2-4) and the writer to the Hebrews (Heb 13:20) identify Jesus as the great and chief shepherd, the shepherd and overseer of our souls (1 Pet 2:25). And then, in Revelation 7, John's vision of the great multitude before God's throne culminates with this statement:
17For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd;
he will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
Jesus as the great shepherd and we as under-shepherds is a long-standing, traditional and very significant model for pastoral care in Christian community. Leading, feeding, caring for, protecting – all those shepherd like activities which we identify with eldership, whether that's as the pastor of a parish community, as a small group leader, a ministry team leader or whatever. Pastoral responsibility is both implicit and explicit in the shepherding model.
The other big idea in the bible, especially in the NT, which is essential for our understanding of the ministry of pastoral care is the idea of:
2. "One anothering"
In John 13, Jesus tells the disciples that they should wash one another's feet just as he has washed theirs; and immediately goes on to declare that the clear and unambiguous sign of being his disciple is to love one another, in the same way that he has loved them (Jn 13:34,35). They are to be humble servants of one another, following the example of Jesus.
The writers of the NT epistles took up this idea, unpacking and developing it in many ways. In all the epistles, in addition to numerous admonitions to love one another (about 20), we find many directions to be devoted, kind, compassionate to one another; to honour, live in harmony, accept, instruct, agree with and serve one another; to bear with, forgive, speak psalms etc. to, submit to, teach and admonish one another; to encourage, spur on, offer hospitality to and be humble towards one another. Those are the positives and as well, in the negative we are not to slander, judge, deprive, bite and devour, provoke, lie to, grumble about or take pride over one another; and we are told four times to greet one another with holy kisses!
A couple of things strike me when I consider that list. Firstly, the writers are writing to communities, so these instructions are for everyone. There are no exemptions, we are all to do these things to and for one another, all the time, as an integral part of whatever else we are doing. Loving one another is not negotiable!
Secondly, it seems to me that these are instructions for proactive pastoral care in all areas of ministry – we are not to wait until someone manifests or declares a need before we respond with pastoral care, but rather we are to be about all this "one anothering" all the time, proactively.
And thirdly, the goal of this "one anothering" is to build up the community of God's people to maturity – remember those good works prepared for us in Eph 2:10 – well here they are in:
Eph 4:12 to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
The whole measure of the fullness of Christ – loving God and loving one another.
At Holy Trinity, Adelaide, we have pulled all this together into a pastoral care model which picks up both the "shepherding" and the "one anothering" ideas and turns them into practical pastoral activities everyone can do, whilst fulfilling their other ministries. We call the model PEACE. Let me tell you how it works:
We encourage everyone to commit themselves to the ministry of PEACE – PEACEing and being PEACEed.
Let me explain. PEACE is an acronym for:
Praying with and for one another
Encouraging one another in Bible reading, prayer and ministry
Being Available for one another
Comforting one another in the tough times
Being an Example for one another
If everyone in the community is in at least a couple of relationships where these things are happening in a regular, committed, intentional way, then proactive pastoral care, aimed at building up the body of Christ to maturity, will be happening. We encourage PEACE to be happening within all our ministries: our gatherings, our small groups, our prayer groups, our ministry groups, mentoring and so on and we keep on saying that PEACE is the heart of ministry and pastoral care and something we all can do.
This is proactive "one anothering"; and the "shepherding" of leaders happens best when the "one anothering" of PEACE is underpinning it. "Shepherd" leaders don't have to do all the PEACE things for everyone, they simply have the responsibility to see that PEACE is happening for all their group members.
That's proactive pastoral care; and responsive pastoral care, addressing the issues and problems and crises which make up life, happens within the embrace of PEACE. As we respond to a situation, part of that response is to make sure that the people are being cared for, are being PEACEed, so that those essential and foundational pastoral care things are happening whilst we work out helpful ways forward with them.
What does it look like? When problems arise, as they so often do, the person or people in the midst of it know that they have others around who can and will continue to support and encourage them, keeping on with PEACE and addressing other matters as they are able. The PEACEers know that they don't have to solve the problem, but they can and do minister PEACE and it works!
As with all things in Christian ministry and life, this is a work in progress, but we have identified some things we consider to be important:
Its essential that we keep growing as a community of God's people in our working out of faith, hope and love in our lives, in head, heart and hands.
We need to be growing as a people with the servant heart of Jesus, washing feet, loving one another intentionally – this is foundational to all ministry.
We need to be good stewards: knowing our own strengths and weaknesses, using our gifts, training, abilities, experience, time and energy for God's kingdom (not our own).
We need to be sensitive and caring of others, whilst at the same time encouraging them to engage with others and care for them.
We need to stay in very close touch with our Lord Jesus Christ, the wellspring of our passion for ministry and source of our compassion. If we move away from him we may keep doing the job, but our compassion cools and we care less; gradually becoming cold functionaries, just doing the job; even moving towards callousness and the dangers of cruelty. That's where burnout can take us – and the way back is not gradually through callousness to coldness and so on… No, we must keep on going back to and remaining (abiding) the heart of the matter and immerse ourselves again in the love and mercy of God – his passion for us is the only bedrock upon which a passion for ministry can be built and maintained.
C. Passion for Ministry
What I find in myself…
This time last year I was recovering from major surgery, after discovering that my chronic indigestion had turned into stomach cancer. Until then I had always been healthy – apart from the usual bouts of hypochondria! Oscar Wilde once said that the prospect of being hanged in the morning concentrates the mind wonderfully and I must say that my mind was somewhat concentrated by what happened to me.
During my recovery I spent some time thinking about what I wanted to do, if my time on this earth was to be short. I discovered that travel didn't interest me, I had no burning desire to go somewhere or do something – climb Mt Everest or whatever. The more I thought about it the more I realised that what I really wanted to do, my passion, was get back to the work I had been doing before I got sick – I wanted to continue in ministry, pastorally caring for God's people at Trinity and encouraging them in the ministry of pastorally caring for one another. As I reflected on God's amazing goodness to me, I wanted to keep on sharing that with others, so they might be encouraged to share it with others and so on.
2. What I see in others…
I work with a great team of people, passionate enthusiasts for the gospel all of them. Their energy and enthusiasm is a great encouragement to me, as is their commitment to grow in their relationship with God, in their maturity, in their desire to see the kingdom grow. They are a very diverse group – ranging from some who quietly go about their ministry with little fuss, getting the job done, to others who generate lots of sound and light in fulfilling their ministries. But it is true for all of them that their passion for ministry is grounded in their relationship with God and their hearts are for people, both within and outside of the community. We have excellent and godly leadership and exciting plans for the future – all focused on the building the kingdom of God – loving God and one another.
As well, I work amongst and share my life with a great community of God's people, just about as diverse as you can imagine (for Adelaide). Often, when we talk about the shepherd and sheep imagery in the bible, we say that the reality in Palestine was very different form our Australian experience of sheep farming – but the Aussie picture of the flock, moving over the landscape in the right general direction, encouraged along and occasionally harried by the sheep dogs; some breaking away and wandering or rushing off in other directions, pursued by a hassled sheepdog - maybe I shouldn't push it too far, but it the analogy isn't too bad!
Because within the flock, some in the middle, some up the front and some down the back, are many wise and sensible members who keep on pressing on, working through the challenges life puts before them – dealing with personal and family tragedy and all kinds of difficulties with great fortitude and courage, strengthened by their faith and their trust in God's essential goodness. Their ministries of encouragement and example are grounded in their relationship with God and their love for one another.
We have two women in our community who are suffering from Multiple Sclerosis. Both are wheelchair bound and increasingly debilitated by this cruel disease. One can no longer read, so, each day, the other one phones and reads the Bible and the SU Daily Notes to her and they pray together.
These women are a profound example to me of what ministry means; and they remind me of a quote from an autobiography of a Christian woman who survived rape and torture in Nicaragua – she says: "Take what you have in an attitude of thankfulness and give what you have in an attitude of faith and it will be enough. It will be more than enough." D. Ortiz, The Blindfold's Eye. Orbis Books, 2002:475
I have good friends who do the PEACE things with and for me and whose passion for and commitment to their ministries is a great challenge and model for me. They too, are firmly grounded in the reality of God's love and their response is to seek to love and serve God and his people. I think of friends who labour for the kingdom in settings where the task is hard and resources are very limited - but they press on because they know God's love for them and they want to share that love however they can.
All of these are people who work hard at those vital Christian disciplines and at keeping head, heart and hands in balance, growing in faith, hope and love.
But the foundation stone, the bedrock of all this is:
3. What I see in Jesus
What we see in Jesus is a passion for ministry, for loving and serving God and his people, which took him to the Cross. Paul tells us that:
Phil 2:b5-8 Christ Jesus
6Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Why did he do this? His passion was to minister life to me, to us, so we, once dead but now alive, can minister this same life in Jesus Christ to others. Our passion for ministry to others stems from Jesus' passion for ministry to us. Our passion for ministry is our response to the love and mercy of God: loving God and loving one another.
We can be passionate about all sorts of things and we can be very gifted and extremely capable and we can have a real heart for and compassion for people, but the touchstone, the test of the reality and genuineness of our passion for ministry is the quality of the relationship we have with Jesus; and the expression of that relationship is to be in our day to day loving and serving – fulfilling our ministry of loving God and one another.