Sports presenter; Ted speaker; Apple Executive; Bono; Russell Brand; Therapist; Teacher; Actor; Nonprofit Leader; Entrepreneur; Academic.
These are the culture shapers of today (April, 2015). People receive their content and comment and though they don’t have political power they exercise an enormous amount of influence through their organisations and their public appearances. This is no bad thing and has always been so. Some people have enough charisma or dumb luck to find themselves in the public eye and often people rally around them and thus change is made and new initiatives are begun.
Now the Church in her effort to renew the proclamation of the faith to each generation in many ways leans on these contemporary patterns of leadership to define her clergy. Ministers today often look and sound like executive leaders and inspirational speakers, or therapists and academics. They start initiatives and make speeches, run training programmes and group discussions and this has become the expectation placed on clergy by society broadly and then more importantly, the congregations they serve.
Congregations who have grown up in a culture where a secular model of leadership has eroded much of the holiness from Holy Orders. The smaller, grass-roots quasi-independent churches which are springing up are most at risk of losing this sense of the Sacred in their leadership because they depend so heavily on the shaping from the context into which they are reaching. They may not have a Diocese, Conference, Presbytery or sending Church who can help a pastor stay accountable to the specifics of his or her calling and the community who they and a small team have called into the household of faith may not be theologically aware enough to understand what a Minister is and what they exist to do.
So by accident of the church’s context the calling to ministry might morph into a calling to executive leadership or distant lecturing or therapy.
This is the challenge pastoral ministry to the post-Christendom generation.
Leaning on the Old Ways
For Lent this year I decided to take up the practice of giving confession to a minister of a local Anglican church. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer has a fantastic section headed ‘The Reconciliation of the Penitent’ and each week we would sit down and work through the liturgy. I enjoyed it because of its form, the fact that I knew what the response was going to be: no matter what I confessed the minister was going to announce the forgiveness of my sins. That’s what he was there to do.
He wasn’t there to be my therapist.
He wasn’t there to give me advice.
He wasn’t there to fix me.
He was there to make present the truth of the Word of God.
To be a living proclamation of the Gospel.
I think it takes an extraordinary amount of courage and singleness of mind to be that kind of person and so I can forgive when ministers find themselves pressured into becoming the mirror image of Bono. It is hard to stand up to the post-Christendom world holding nothing but a Bible and bread and say ‘repent for the Kingdom of God is near’.
It’s so irrelevant.
We’ve entered the world Bonhoeffer saw from afar. The religious edifice surrounding Christianity is being pulled down, with its traditions of power and position and publicity. Now it rests on the shoulders of ministers to maintain the discipline of their calling when the world would begin to demand much more from them and their congregations don’t understand the old ways of faith, don’t trust in the utterance of absolution, the breaking of bread and the proclaiming of the Word.
What a task. What a trial.
Jesus said: These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:25-27)