Thursday, March 12, 2009

Ministry Maxim, whichever

The church is not your enemy.

Sounds too obvious, right? Fact is, I spent about the first four years of my ministry life in a life and death struggle with a congregation. They were my enemy. They were stiff-necked idol worshipers God had given me to save. I knew they were stiff-necked because they didn't seem to see how obviously brilliant my theology was. They met my brilliance with a collective yawn. Had to be their fault.

Now part of this was that I was young and wet behind the ears. I recently had a young minister tell me that he was leaving a church because they didn't give him enough control as the senior minister. He was like 25 years old. I'm glad no one gave me control when I was 25.

But some of this belongs to my early training for ministry. I'm reading Richard Bernstein's book, Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics, and Praxis. Bernstein characterizes the discussion related to practice that predominated in the 20th century as the "application of science to technical tasks." He adds that this "degrades practical reason to technical control." This is how I was taught ministry. The science was the exegesis, the mastery of the text through scientific method. Ministry was simply the skill of strategic control whereby you implemented the facts you had discovered in your office.

I took preaching (my first preaching class) from a professor in the communications department. I took church counseling from a therapist. Ministry was just finding the right set of skills for implementing all theory decided beforehand apart from the congregation. They were at least my target, the place where I dumped my theory. And when they resisted my conclusions, they were my enemy.

The aha moment came for me in a discussion with a member whom I assumed was not involved in congregational life because of apathy. It was a simple formula for me. Low involvement means absence of care. This guy called me out. I will never forget it. "You think I'm not involved because I don't care. I'm not involved because I do care, passionately, and it breaks my heart to see where this thing is going. I'm not the enemy."

That day changed everything for me. I began to see the congregation less as a place to enact strategic solutions to theoretical problems. The congregation instead was a word, a wisdom, an economy of discourse, a life to be discerned (not decided beforehand). And God was in the congregation, not alone with me in my study. And some of my best partners in ministry have been the passionate people at the margins who care too deeply to invest much in trivial pursuits.


Anonymous said...

Doug P.

qb said...

BTW, happy birthday...I noticed your profile changed from 48 to 49 sometime in the last week!

Enjoyed this post very much.


Anonymous said...

Agree with Doug P. Great post, Mark.

Anonymous said...

Churches viewed and led as unique living organisms is profound. When will church leaders grasp that concept and its ultimate ramifications?

Great post!