When I was just starting out in Christian pastoral ministry (long ago) I was drawn to the writings of Paul for preaching material. It read more like theology to me — it seemed more about ideas and morality — and seemed a better fit for the needs of a three-point sermon outline. I could simply draw from Paul’s writings my point #1, point #2 and so forth. All my points were Biblical (from my point of view at the time) since they each had a verse or a phrase from one of Paul’s letters attached to them.
What I was missing was that all these assertions Paul makes, all the apparently abstract theology and moralizing, was, in truth, reflection on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus — working out its implications for first century believers. The Epistles must take us back to the Gospels — or else, we are just not getting it. The Gospel message we need to communicate is the story of Jesus. (more…)
The good which one single minister, true to the cause in which he has engaged, can do in the course of his life by a faithful ministry of the word, is not easily to be described. How many of the ignorant he may instruct, how many sleepy consciences arouse, how many daring sinners confound; how many mourners he may bring into the liberty of the children of God, how many believers confirm in grace, yea, lead into the enjoyment of perfect love! Blessed be the Lord, we have had our ministers, who were formed according to the model of Jesus Christ, according to his simplicity, his unction, his sacred zeal. We have had our WESLEYS, our FLETCHERS, our GRIMSHAWS, and our WALSHES. Every thing was borne down by their holy eloquence, and by the power of the Spirit of God, who spoke through them. The villages, the towns, the cities, could not resist the impetuosity of their zeal, and the eminent sanctity of their lives; the tears, the sighs, and the deep compunction of those who heard them, were the commendations which accompanied their ministry. The strictness of their manners left nothing for the world to say against the truths which they delivered. The simplicity of their spirit, and the gentleness of their conversation and conduct toward others but severity toward themselves, belied not the gospel of which they were ministers. Their examples instructed, persuaded, and struck the people almost as much as their sermons: and the Spirit of God, who inflamed their hearts, the divine fire with which they themselves were filled, spread itself through the coldest and most insensible souls; and enabled them almost everywhere to raise chapels, temples to God, where the penitents and believers might assemble to hear them, and each return inflamed like themselves, and filled with the abundance of the Spirit of God. O what good is one apostolic man capable of working upon earth! There were no more than twelve employed to begin the conversion of the world.
— Thomas Coke (1747 – 1814), On the Ministry: Four Discourses on the Duties of a Minister of the Gospel, Discourse 1, Part 1.
A Facebook friend posted a shorter version of this quote on his wall today:
Few ministers and priests think theologically. Most of them have been educated in a climate in which the behavioral sciences, such as psychology and sociology, so dominated the educational milieu that little true theology was being learned. Most Christian leaders today raise psychological and sociological questions even though they frame them in scriptural terms. Real theological thinking … is hard to find in the practice of ministry. Without solid theological reflection, future leaders will be little more than pseudo-psychologists, pseudo-sociologists, pseudo-social workers. They will think of themselves as enablers, facilitators, role models, father or mother figures, big brothers or big sisters, and so on, and thus join the countless men and women who make a living by trying to help their fellow human beings to cope with the stresses and strains of everyday living. But that has little to do with Christian leadership because the Christian leader thinks, speaks and acts in the name of Jesus, who came to free humanity from the power of death and open the way to eternal life. To be such a leader it is essential to be able to discern from moment to moment how God acts in human history and how the personal, communal, national and international events that occur during our lives can make us more and more sensitive to the ways in which we are led to the cross and through the cross to the resurrection…
— Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership (1993) pp. 65-66.
Obviously, Nouwen felt that this was true at the time he wrote it, but I wonder: how true is this today? (more…)