Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A Theology of Ministry and New Models for the Church Working in the World

The Rev. Kirsten Snow SpaldinG
A Theology of Ministry and New Models for the Church Working in the World

May 2012
 

 








Table of Contents
1. Introduction and Problem Statement..................................................................... 3
2.  A Theology of Ministry............................................................................................. 4
A. God working in and with those who minister........................................................... 4
B.  The story of Cornelius, the Gentile minister............................................................. 5
C.  Spiraling into faith--Practice, Prayer, Revelation, Community............................... 7
E.  God drawing us into ministry, giving us the gift of grace...................................... 11
3.  An Ecclesiology for Ministry................................................................................. 14
A.  Practice and revelation situated in community.................................................... 14
B.  God made manifest in storytelling that includes the other.................................. 17
C.  The Church as a community of practice held together by stories......................... 21
D.  The Body of Christ (the Church) changing and changed by a wider community 22
4.  New Models for Supporting Ministry.................................................................. 24
A.  Models of institutional ministry and support for individual ministry................. 24
B.  Models for Ministry As Witness to God's Work in the World................................. 28
C.  Models for Ministry as Opportunities to Grow the Church.................................... 30
5.  Conclusion................................................................................................................ 31
Works Cited................................................................................................................... 33




1. Introduction and Problem Statement

            A theology of ministry suggests that God is present in ministry or that we might know God by engaging in the work of ministry.   But there are many people who are fully engaged in work that we[1] would call "ministry" even if they would not use this word or name God as a player in their daily lives. [2]
            These people who are doing "good work" often struggle to make meaning in their lives--they get discouraged when their work is thwarted or fails; they see that not everyone is working towards the same goals; they get tired when their work does not solve the social problems that they seek to address; or they simply get exhausted when their work is not recognized with remuneration or social status. 
            At the same time as we see people outside the Church trying to make meaning of their work, our Church is experimenting and exploring new ways to engage people inside the Church in ministry.  And as average Sunday attendance numbers decline, the Church is struggling to figure out how to grow in numbers and in relevance in today's post-modern world.
            In the following paper, I will develop a theology of ministry that explores God's role with Church members and non-Church goers who are doing ministry work.  I will suggest that if the Church finds new ways to support ministers who are not in our Church, it might also find opportunities to engage the Body of Christians who are already in our congregations more fully in ministry.  If we structure the Church to serve all of God's people--those people who are engaged in God's ministry work without Church; the faithful who are looking for ministry opportunities; and the least among us who are sorely in need of ministry--the Church will grow and deepen everywhere it works. 
            In the first section of the paper, I will discuss how people experience God's presence in ministry and how they are motivated by God to engage in ministry.  I will build on Jurgen Moltmann and Stanley Hauerwas' theologies.  In this section I will offer a theological approach that might reach across the boundaries between the Christian and non-Christian communities, offering a framework that acknowledges God's role in ministry inside and outside the Church.
            In the second section,  I will propose an ecclesiology structured around the theology of ministry.  In conclusion, I will suggest that the Church's existing models for supporting ministry through the sacraments and communal worship, Christian education, and Church-driven ministries can be opened up and expanded beyond the walls of the institutional Church to better serve God's people and give glory to God.

2.  A Theology of Ministry

A. God working in and with those who minister.


            It is clear in our contemporary US context, that the Church is not the only (or even the most effective) institution focused on caring for the poor and the suffering or focused on changing the policies and powers that create oppression.  While the Church has done significant work to care for the poor, it is not recognized as the primary way that poor people receive housing, food, clothing, education, healthcare or any of the most basic necessities.  There are many powerful movements (the labor movement, the environmental movement, poor people's movements) seeking to change the powers that be and addresses the structures that create and maintain oppression.  There are valiant campaigns by small groups of individuals to protest injustice (e.g. the Free Leonard Pelletier campaign, the "Save the Live Oaks" campaign on the UC Berkeley campus).   And there are domestic and international charities and governmental and non-governmental organizations effectively providing basic support to children, the elderly, the poor and our fellow non-human creatures.  How is God moving in these situations where God's name is never mentioned and the people who are working for change do not identify themselves first as the Church?  And how can the Church most effectively support their work and the people who work in them--some of whom will identify as Christian and some of whom will not?

B.  The story of Cornelius, the Gentile minister.

            The story of Cornelius, a centurion, a Gentile and "God-fearer" in Acts gives us a biblical perspective.[3]  Cornelius gave alms generously to the Jewish people and prayed to God constantly but he was "unclean" by Jewish standards--not a believer.  Cornelius was called by God in a vision in which the angel told him that his prayers and almsgiving had been recognized as a memorial offering before God and that he must go to Joppa and summon Simon called Peter.[4]  When Cornelius 's men reached Peter, Peter likewise received a visitation by the Spirit.  God showed Peter a sheet with all the profane animals on it and a voice told Peter to kill and eat.  When Peter objected that he had never eaten anything unclean, the Spirit told him,  "What God has made clean, you are not to call profane."  Peter went to Cornelius and his kinsmen and near friends.  Cornelius explained to him how he had been directed by God to listen to "all that you have been commanded by the Lord."[5]  Peter then spoke the Cornelius and those who were assembled and told them of Christ's ministry on earth, his crucifixion and resurrection, concluding with the promise that "everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name."[6]
            While Peter was speaking to Cornelius and those assembled with him, the holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the word.  Peter and his accompanying followers were amazed and said,  "Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people, who have received the holy Spirit even as we have?"[7]  Peter ordered Cornelius baptized in the name of Jesus Christ and they (Cornelius and his people) invited Peter to stay for a few days.[8]
            Cornelius can be understood as the man who is engaged in ministry and seeking God even though he is not one of God's "chosen people."  What we know about Cornelius from this passage is that he is giving alms and that he is praying fervently to God.  We don't know what motivated him to begin his ministry of almsgiving, and we don't know what his prayer to God is.  We know that he is practicing and praying, even though he has not yet had a revelation, he has not yet been baptized and has not yet been recognized as a full member of the faithful community of either Jews or Christians.  We can imagine that Cornelius is simply doing what he believes is right by giving alms and that his prayers are a calling out, or a seeking of God.  Perhaps he is praying in thanksgiving for all that he has, or maybe he is seeking assurance that God approves of his work.  What seems notable is that Cornelius' prayers are answered first with a vision and then by the visit from Peter. 

            C.  Spiraling into faith--Practice, Prayer, Revelation, Community.

            We can see in the story of Cornelius a pattern in fourfold spiral as Cornelius seeks an understanding of God--practice of ministry, prayer to God, God revealed to the minister, recognition of the truth in the minister by the community of God (in Peter's visit). 
            This spiral--Practice, Prayer, Revelation, Community--is a model that is consistent with my own experience of coming to faith.   After a long practice of social justice work as a community organizer and labor lawyer, I was frustrated by the failure of my "campaigns" and came to the Church hungry for a deeper meaning in which to ground this work that I felt called to pursue.  As I began to read the Bible and attend worship, I found comfort in our Christian narratives.  God was "revealed" as I recognized Jesus' work as my work, Jesus' suffering on the cross as my call to do for the least among us.  As I came to understand God's presence in me and with me in my work, I also found in the Church a community of people who recognized Christ in me and supported my discipleship whether or not I won a particular campaign.  
            Now identified as a Christian, I continue in my dialogue with God as I practice social justice work, and I pray for God's guidance.  I experience God's love and my wholeness in human relationships and I am supported and encouraged to continue my ministry work and my dialogue with God as I worship, study, eat and play in a community of other people.  I see my story and the stories of many other ministers engaged in charity and social justice work in the Gospel story of Cornelius. 
            D.  Practice and Prayer--the inward/outward movement toward God.
            This first three parts of the spiral: Practice, Prayer, Revelation is a way of describing the interplay between our human experiences and our knowledge of God.    Jurgen Moltmann describes this inward/outward movement of experience:  "Experience has an outward reference, in the perception of the happening, and an inward reference, in the perception of the change in the self."[9] By this, Moltmann is describing a process by which active (external) experience and the subjective experience of self (internal) combine to complete the human experience of God in all things in the world.[10]   This understanding of immanent transcendence is "predicated on an understanding of God as the power of creation and the wellspring of life."[11]  Cornelius' practice of giving alms must have reinforced his personal value system--a value system that was shaped by his Pagan community and the community of Jews in Caesarea.  He must have felt "good" when he engaged in this practice or else we can assume he would not have done it.  Maybe he felt good because his community praised him,  or maybe he felt good because he could identify himself as a generous person.   
            But for Cornelius to recognize God in his social relationships, for him to really make meaning out of his actions,  he needed to ask, "What do my perceptions (actions) mean for God my creator?"  We can imagine that his prayers to God were this question.  And as soon as Cornelius asked this question, he became aware of the relativity of God and the limitations of his human perception.  It was at this moment (of his questioning) that God was revealed to Cornelius-- "plainly in a vision an angel of God come in to him."[12]  Without Cornelius' questioning, or the prayer step in the spiral, Cornelius could have gone on with his practice without reflection. 
            If Cornelius was giving alms because he thought he'd get some status in this community, or because he was compelled by some human law to give alms, it seems unlikely that he would simultaneously been praying fervently to God.  If he had been motivated solely by his human will, then it seems unlikely that he would have entered into this dialogue with God through prayer.  Maybe there were social norms that compelled Cornelius to pray as well as to give alms, but we can also understand this societal call to prayer as a call from God.  The Holy Spirit was moving in Cornelius, Cornelius aligned his human will to the will of God in his ministry.  Cornelius called out to God when he prayed, and his prayers were answered in the revelation.
            In our contemporary context, the person who is doing ministry work is having what Moltmann calls the external experience.  They come to the soup kitchen as a volunteer and are changed by the experience of being with other volunteers and talking to the guests at the soup kitchen.  They may be part of a march against genocide or a march against hunger and have the experience of being part of a project that is much bigger than themselves--a project of changing society so that genocide or hunger are no longer a possibility anywhere in the world.  The person's perception of what is happening in the social relationships begins to shape the person.   But when this minister asks where or how God is present in these experiences, then the questioning begin a process of changing the framework for understanding.  As a framework for understanding (making meaning, or knowing God) shifts, then there is the possibility that the practices may also shift again.  The person's understandings of who they are and what they are doing are open to change.  The person may not name the question as a longing for God, they may simply begin asking questions about the "truth" in their work, or the meaning of their work.  They may wonder why they bother to keep at their ministry project, or they might question whether they are the right one to pursue the work.  Whatever the specific question is, in the act of asking, the person ceases to be solely the subject of ministry work and becomes additionally the object of God's work.  God is working in the "minister", motivating the minister to act.  God is revealed (or in Moltmann's terms the person begins to perceive an internal change of "self") when the minister sees their work in the context of God's ongoing creation project-- moving us toward the Kingdom. 

E.  God drawing us into ministry, giving us the gift of grace.

            Other theologians have written about this spiral in practice, prayer and revelation.  Timothy Sedgewick, in his book Sacramental Ethics[13] uses the gift paradigm as expressing the experience of grace that stands at the heart of creation.  As we experience this grace, we escape the sense that the purpose of God is human fulfillment.[14]  Sedgwick explores how our experience of human suffering (paradigmatically through the crucifixion and as an ongoing element in our daily lives) and longing for reconciliation and new life (once again paradigmatically in Christ’s resurrection and as an ongoing phenomenon in our daily seeking) can lead to a pure sense of gratitude for what is.  As we exercise our human freedom and accept God’s gift of life, we also imagine what might be.  As a consequence of our suffering and imagining, Sedgwick claims that we accept two responsibilities—that of caring for the broken and suffering aspects of creation (love) and that of establishing an order where the gifts of creation may be honored and nurtured.[15]  Sedgwick defines sin as the denial of God’s gift and the lack of this double sense of responsibility.  We are sinful when we focus only on that which gives us self-fulfillment and pleasure.
Sedgwick’s gift paradigm is another way of describing the spiral that begins with the Spirit offering each person grace.  The person responds either with a practice of caring or by denying this gift of grace.  For those who respond to God's gift with a practice of ministry, there is the revelation of God's love for all creation.  As others look at the work and the minister experiences themselves in relationship with the work, meaning is created (God is revealed).
In Sedgwick's terms, Cornelius was given the gift of new life and heard himself called by the Spirit to give alms, he responded to this gift with prayer and ministry to the poor. The Gospel story of Cornelius doesn't suggest that he gave alms because he recognized God's initial act of grace as a gift, but it does suggest that by God's revelation to him, that he knew that God was calling him to deepen his understanding by reaching out to Peter. 
            Wesleyan theology focuses on the drawing power of prevenient grace and our human response to this grace.  Methodist theologian, Professor Joseph Benson cites Jeremiah 31:3, where God says to Israel, 'With loving kindness have I drawn thee;' that is, by the manifold benefits which I have bestowed on thee, and particularly by the revelation of my will committed to thee, and have prevailed with thee to obey and John 12:32 'If I be lifted up from the earth I will draw all men unto me;' that is, being put to death on the cross, and raised from the dead, and exalted into heaven, and preached through the world, I will, by my word and Spirit, persuade many to follow me to heaven. Thus also, in Hosea 11:4 God says, 'he drew Israel with the cords of a man, with bands of love.' [16] Benson explains, that in this "drawing" process God persuades humans to believe in him by the proof of God's mission in the world, by the doctrine of the gospel and by the influence of God's grace which gives humans a "right discernment of the evidence of religion."[17]
            In a similar way, process theologians refer to God's call as "luring the people collectively and individually toward self-actualization."[18] God desires the reconciliation of all people with God's self and with one another.  The "calling out" of God is answered by the people in relationship with one another.  God's love is felt by all and we are drawn to cooperate, to participate in this love.  God's will is not coercing us to act, but is instead making possible our loving response.[19] 
            These theological reflections from a variety of traditions and starting points suggest a continuous, Spirit-filled, process by which God shapes human practices (particularly practices of ministry), opens a minister to seek meaning (truth or God),  shapes the belief of the minister in the revelation of God's purposes and process and remains present in the midst of the two or three gathered in God's name. [20]

         3.  An Ecclesiology for Ministry

            In this section of the paper,  I will suggest that our ecclesiology--or how we understand the Church as an institution could be shaped around a theology of ministry.  I begin by outlining the role of the community in a theology of ministry and then move to how the Church as an institution might be shaped to most effectively support ministry and engage the community in ministry.

            A.  Practice and revelation situated in community.[21]

            We have explored how God can be revealed in the spiral of experience and contemplation, ministry practice and prayer, but this external/internal experience of God is situated in community.  A person can neither practice ministry nor hear God's revelatory word without being in social relations.   We cannot have the external experience of knowing God without social practices.  Secondly, without community there cannot be a narrative, our stories require both storytellers and listeners.  God is both reflected in our narratives and shapes us (works in us) through our narratives.  Without our stories to bring us together, we are a fragmented people.
            In the account of Cornelius, we see both aspects of the community turn in our theological spiral--community as the locus for practice, and as the space in which narrative brings revelation.  Cornelius' ministry is embedded in a community context. He is a Gentile who is giving alms to poor Jews.  He has kinsmen who go to Peter on his behalf, and he has kinsmen who join him to hear Peter's message.  Cornelius' external experience depends on these relationships, without them he is not engaged in ministering to the "other", he cannot be a subject without the object of other people. 
            When Cornelius heard God's voice he responded by seeking Peter.  It is when Peter and Cornelius are together that Cornelius' revelation is confirmed for himself and for his kinsmen.  It is hard to imagine that Cornelius would have been satisfied with the revelation if he had not been able to share it with others, or if when he shared it with others, they had rejected him.  It is clear that God's voice to Cornelius did not whisper a secret to be kept by Cornelius in the recesses of his heart--the angel specifically told Cornelius to go out and find Peter.  Cornelius didn't go alone, he instead sent his men (some part of his community).  Peter came to him with other believers from Joppa.  When he met Peter, Cornelius was with his kinsmen, as Peter was with others from Peter's own community. When Peter went in to talk to him, he discovered that "many had assembled." It was in this nascent congregation, that Peter and Cornelius both recognized that the Spirit was upon them.  "So now all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say."[22]   "While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God."[23]
            Moltmann specifically explores this need for community as the "Trinitarian fellowship of the Spirit."[24]  Community integrates and creates unity in diversity.  God is not only experienced individually, but also in the encounter with others--socially.  This fundamental truth is captured in the commandment that 'You shall love God and your neighbor as yourself.'  An attempt to experience God alone, apart from social relations "quench[es] the life-giving Spirit and damag[es] the wealth of life which the Spirit confers.  . . .  The Trinitarian fellowship of the Holy Spirit is the full community of the Creator, Reconciler and Redeemer with all created being, in the network of all their relationships."[25]
            God experienced in social relationships has a voice.  In the book of Acts, we hear the astonished voiced of the circumcised believers who hear the Gentiles speaking in tongues and extolling God.  It is in these relationships that God is made manifest--God can be heard, seen, felt in the loving relationships of community.  This out-loud experience of God mirrors the silent experience of God felt in private prayer, or the internal satisfaction derived from a practice of ministry.  Critical to Cornelius' growth in faith was that Peter named Cornelius and his people as people of God who should be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.    Cornelius and his community were seen and identified by Peter.  This naming of Cornelius by the community of faith, was Cornelius' physical (external) experience of being called by name by God.
            Likewise when Peter tells the story of Jesus, he explains to Cornelius and his people how Peter and God's chosen people were witnesses to the truth of the risen Christ.   "This man God raised the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.  He commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead.  To him all the prophets bear witness, that everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name."[26]  Peter in explaining his commission as a preacher and witness, is explaining what it means to be a person a faith to Cornelius--it means witnessing, preaching, testifying naming and sharing the new framework of meaning with others.  Peter's message to Cornelius explores the people of Israel's external experience of God in the world with Jesus Christ and it highlights the need for Cornelius to continue to "witness, preach and testify" to God's will in the world by Cornelius' external practice.  But in hearing Peter's message, Cornelius also has an opportunity for an internal experience, he is changed by Peter's affirmation of his ministry and by Peter's affirmation of the Spirit's presence with Cornelius.

B.  God made manifest in storytelling that includes the other.

            One way to understand this fourth turn in the spiral, the turn of community, is that it is in the stories told within a community that truth is discovered.  With the physical experience of telling the story and listening to the story, truth is repeated and repeatable--if it is not spoken out loud or written for others, then the truth remains an individual experience.  Stanley Hauerwas develops a Christian social ethic based on this premise.  He highlights (as Peter did in this passage from Acts) that the prophets bear witness to Jesus as the redeemer, these prophets tell of chosen people--the people of Israel and the people of Christ.[27]  The creation of God's community is intimately interwoven with the narrative that this community uses to account for its existence.[28]
            Considering this fourth turn in the spiral for the ministers who are seeking truth and meaning, but are not yet part of the community of faith, it becomes clear that not only must they hear the Gospel, but that the stories must include the "other" or they will hear that they themselves are excluded from the community.   God's presence in a community is realized when the community has the capacity to articulate a story of God in the community's history, and this community also expresses its willingness to engage with the other and be changed by it.  Truth (God) is known in the dialogue between a historical narrative and a new experience.  As Hauerwas explained, if we are not open to the other in our narrative, we cannot change and move forward towards new outcomes.[29] Hauerwas  says that unless we accept that truthfulness is a gift rather than a possession, our fate will be determined by our history.  When we accept truthfulness as a gift, we are accepting that the voice of the stranger presents both a threat and an opportunity to be changed.[30]
            When Cornelius heard Peter's story of salvation--a story that highlighted the role of those chosen by God--he also heard Peter say,  "In truth I see that God shows no partiality."[31]  Peter's followers were changed in the course of Peter's storytelling, because they witnessed God's presence in Cornelius and his kinsmen.  Peter's followers were "astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit should have been poured out on the Gentiles also, for they could hear them speaking in tongues and glorifying God."[32]  The "others" in this narrative, both the other storytellers (Peter and his followers) and the other listeners (Cornelius and his kinsmen) are all opened up to the possibility of change.  They recognize the movement of the Holy Spirit (not a stagnant, truth that can be possessed) as a gift to all present in the narrative experience.  This recognition changes them giving them a new understanding of their practices (their ministries) and a new understanding of who they are in relation to God and one another. 
            Anglican ethicist, Stephen Holmgren describes our contemporary Anglican ethical process as a “positivist” approach that accepts a moral principle because we have agreed upon it as a community and identified it as the good.[33]  It is an approach which presents principles as subject to change and revision in light of new ideas developed by a community through study, application to new situations and prayerful reflection.  While Holmgren is focused on the process for developing a Christian ethic, he is actually describing a way in which we come to know God or truth--a theological process.  Holmgren’s approach is one which values our spiritual discipline and discernment as a community at the same time as it develops a framework within which individuals can make ethical choices.  As one of his moral axioms, Holmgren holds:
Moral conscience involves the whole person, both thinking and feeling.  It also involves the interrelated acts of reflection upon and deliberation toward, moral action.  Conscience must be followed, but conscience must also be educated.[34]
            In this axiom it becomes clear that developing a framework for ethical behavior and an understanding of God is not an individual act, but a communal act—we cannot educate our conscience alone by ourselves, we must engage with our historical and current community of faith through examination of Scripture, reflection on our tradition of prayer and communal worship and ultimate discernment of our principles given our current circumstances.  Holmgren has recognized the last three aspects of my fourfold spiral--Prayer, Revelation, Community.  Holmgren uses a particularly Anglican formulation of the three-legged stool (Scripture, Tradition and Reason) but out of the Anglican context, his formulation could be understood as a movement between revelation in scripture, the tradition of prayer and thoughtful reasoning in community.  While Holmgren does not use the Hauerwas category of narrative as a frame for his process, both of his steps of Scripture and Tradition are known to us through spoken words (the Word), the narratives of the bible and the narratives of our Book of Common Prayer and contemporary worship.
            What I am adding to Holmgren's formulation is the experience of engagement in the world--ministry as a practice that shapes our prayer and gives context to our reasoned interpretation of scripture in community.
            In the theology of ministry that I have outlined above,  God is present in the practice of engaged ministry in the world--the Holy Spirit is moving in each of us drawing to God's self, granting us grace and inviting us to respond by practices of loving kindness in the world.  God is engaged with us as we work in the world-calling us to act in alignment with God's will, reconciling us to God as we experience reconciliation in our social relationships.  God is in dialogue with us as we pray or seek "truth".  God is revealed in the narratives that we as a community have created over the centuries and the stories that we will continue to tell about God's presence in our lives.

            C.  The Church as a community of practice held together by stories.

            Our ecclesiology --our understanding of who we are as a church can follow from this theology of ministry.   Our catechism teaches us that the Church is the Body of which Jesus Christ is the Head and all baptized persons are members.  The mission of our Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.   We pursue this mission as we pray and worship, proclaim the Gospel and promote justice, peace and love.[35]   The catechism goes on to outline how all people of Church are ministers and that lay people are specially called to represent Christ, to bear witness to Christ, to carry-on Christ's work of reconciliation in the world and to take our places in the life, worship and governance of the Church.[36]
            Using our four-fold spiral, we highlighted the role of community, both as the locus for practice and the locus for revelation in the stories that we tell one another about ourselves and God's work in our lives.   Our ecclesiology must engage both the Church's institutional mission, and the Church's identity as a composite of individual members who are separately moving towards God.
            For our Church to fulfill its function of carrying on Christ's work of reconciliation in the world, the Church as a whole Body must continue its spiraling process of moving closer to God--at the same time as Church institutions support individuals in their practices, prayers, revelations and community.  Our corporate work as a Church must continue both the external and internal experiences that Moltmann described.  If the Church becomes solely focused on promoting self-awareness (or spiritual fulfillment) of its membership then it will miss an opportunity to change and grow as a Body in relation to the broader world in which it is situated.  Moltmann explains that "we see with the eyes of other people.  We experience ourselves in the experience of other people.  We are in ourselves dependent on the knowledge and recognition of other people."[37]
            In practical terms, this means that our work as a Body will be limited if it is confined to serving or reflecting only with our own members.  For us to grow and move closer to God, to have new understandings, we must reach out beyond our corporate self, and into the world of the un-baptized, the world of those whom we call "profane" but whom God knows as Holy. 

            D.  The Body of Christ (the Church) changing and changed by a wider community.


            What the story of Cornelius tells us is that the interactions between the Church (Peter and his followers) and the seekers (the God-fearers who were faithful but not Jews or Christians) is a two-way process.  Cornelius gave alms to the needy Jews.   He was not alone in the practice, but was part of a Pagan community who were known as God-fearers.  Peter responded to Cornelius' call and went from Joppa to Caesarea to be with him.  Cornelius' kinsmen were the ones who went as a group to Peter and listened as a group when Peter returned.  Peter brought his followers with him to the encounter with Cornelius.  In this story we have a model for how to be Church,  hearing God's voice in the call of the "others" who are practicing ministry and responding to this call by going to those others, encountering them in their own places and witnessing to God's work (the Holy Spirit moving) in them and their practices.
            Likewise in the Cornelius story we know that Cornelius was fervent in his prayers and that he had a personal revelation.  But Cornelius' devotion was not an inward solitary experience.  Acts recounts his devotion as being a corporate state:
"He was a devout man who feared God with all his household."  When he called servants to go to find Peter he chose one of his "devout soldiers" to travel for him.  Likewise Peter's prayers and revelations were not hidden away as his internal experiences of God.  The Spirit who speaks to Peter directs him,  "‘Look, three men are searching for you. Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.’"[38]   Throughout the story we see Cornelius and Peter moving back and forth between their external experiences and their internal knowing of God, but we also see that they reflect on the internal experiences with their communities, exploring the revelations publicly, sharing God's word to them quickly with their followers and friends. 
            If Peter is the "rock" on which our Church was built, then Peter can be a good model for our current understanding of how the Church might function in relation to "others" who are not yet "members" of the Body.  Remembering that Peter was staying in Joppa with a tanner (an unclean profession), we can recognize that our Church is embedded in communities of non-believers.  Like Peter's time, we who are the Church are seeking God in the midst of a community of people who do not identify as Christians.  Peter surrounded himself with fellow believers, but he did not speak only to them.  He brought them to hear the stories of Jesus Christ with Cornelius' non-believer community.  Peter recognized and declared publicly that God was present, working in Cornelius, thereby acknowledging to his community that they didn't have an "exclusive" relationship with God. 

 4.  New Models for Supporting Ministry


            A.  Models of institutional ministry and support for individual ministry.

            As the theology of ministry and ecclesiology for ministry above describe,  we (the Christian Church) are a Body of Christ, practicing in the world, supported and defined by the stories we tell about our community.
            As we grow in faith, we hear, see, feel and change in the relationships that we have with other people within the Church.  The Church, as a Body is united in its mission of carrying on Christ's ministry in the world.  Because of this shared mission and shared ministry, our experiences of social relationships within the Church can be powerful catalysts for revelation and spiritual growth. 
            But as the story of Cornelius points out, the Church is not an island or a self contained community--it is a Body situated within the world, a larger community within which God is working.  Our understanding of who we are as a Church must include the permeable boundary through which others are engaged.  For the purposes of looking at models of ministry, I will simplistically divide the world into two categories--the Body of Christ (the Christian Church) and the non-Christian community. 
            Returning to our opening problem statement, I seek to suggest new ways of thinking about church support for ministry that will engage with the non-Christian world in the places where we minister, and as a community of people who will be both our partners in ministry and the oppressed or impoverished who are in need of our ministry.  We need models for ministry that reflect our theology--ministry models that recognize God working in us and through us both as a Body of Christ and as members of the Body working in the world.  To explore new models for ministry with the non-Christian community, we must explore both the role of the Church as an institution that is pursuing Christ's work in the world, and the role of the Church as a composite of individuals who are all pursuing Christ's work in the world.         
            These two understandings of Church as an institution with capacity for ministry and as a collection of individuals with capacities for ministry can be diagrammed as a line.  This line represents the models for ministry along a continuum, on one "institutional" end are ministry projects created by, funded and managed by the Church as an institution. On the other "individual" end, ministry projects are completely outside the institutional Church but are supported by and engaging of individual members of the Church.  Examples on the institutional end would be Church projects such as Episcopal Relief and Development or Episcopal Charities.  Examples on the individual end might include the American Red Cross or Move-On.Org.   In my model, I am not suggesting that the Church as an institution is not important for models of ministry that I situate on the "individual" ministries end of the spectrum.  But the role of the Church is different--on the "institutional" end, the Church creates the ministry structure, on the "individual" end, the Church supports in the individuals and encourages and nourishes them as they pursue their ministries outside the Church structure.
            These different models of ministry reflect a range of responses to God's call to ministry.  Neither end of the spectrum is a "right" or "wrong" response, the different models suggest different needs for the members and for the Church as an institution.  Importantly, the different models should also reflect a discernment about the needs of the non-Christian community as a people and place where we work.  On the "institutional" end, we may as a congregation decide that God is calling us to work as a Body to address a particular problem that requires an institutional solution.  As an example, the Church might decide to start a health clinic on the Church property because there is a need for a clinic and there is a critical mass of people in the congregation who feel called to start or serve as volunteers (or paid healthcare providers) in that ministry.        
            On the "individual" end of the models for ministry spectrum,  the community might discern that there is a need for better health care, but that a non-profit clinic in the neighborhood could be an excellent provider for the care but they lack resources--either money or volunteers.  The congregation might discern that it would detract from the existing clinic if they started a new one, and that the congregation's best role might be to raise money for the non-profit clinic, or to encourage individuals to work there as volunteers or healing ministers. 
            As we think about the models for ministry, I think it is important not to suggest that there are two separate categories of ministry--those that are institutional and those that are individual because of the potential for hybrid models that run all along the spectrum.  On the far institutional end, we could imagine a charity ministry that is fully funded, and completely operated by the Church.  It could be contained within a denomination and be deeply embedded in the fabric of a congregation or larger church body.  But there could also be a ministry that emerges from within a denomination but is funded by philanthropic foundations and individual donors who might not be from that particular Church (or even Christians).  There are many successful interfaith or ecumenical ministry projects that are based in a shared ethical framework but different faith traditions. 
            On the individual side of the spectrum, there are membership organizations (like the Sierra Club) that accept any person as a volunteer or financial contributor, but the Church's role in supporting this ministry could range from encouragement of the congregation's members to participate in environmental ministry in a "care of creation sermon", to real community partnership in which a delegation from the congregation marches in a Sierra Club organized environmental rally or the congregation or Church body partners with the Sierra Club on a policy initiative.  On a particular policy issue, the Church might decide to lead a letter writing campaign of its own, to sign-on to another non-Christian organization's policy letter as a congregation, or to reprint information about the non-Christian organization's campaign and offer sample letters to the congregation at coffee hour.  Some of these ministry models look more like "institutional" ministries and others look more like support for individual ministry.

B.  Models for Ministry As Witness to God's Work in the World

            When the Church is effectively supporting a non-Christian led ministry efforts either by encouraging and supporting individuals to participate or by engaging in the ministry as a community partner, the Church offers witness to God's work in that ministry.   This witness offers an opportunity for the "out-loud" experience of God that Moltmann named the "Trinitarian fellowship" of the Spirit.[39]   In our hypothetical non-Christian led health clinic that received support from the Church,  the congregation members engaged in the work of the clinic,  the non-Christians who are leading the clinic and all of those (Christians and non-Christians) who are patients of the clinic can participate in the theological spiral of practice, prayer and revelation that would bring them closer to God.  The Church has the opportunity to create an "institutional" locus for practice or to support individuals by administering God's sacraments, preaching, and formation activities that encourage and nourish their practice.
            Likewise an "institutional" ministry based in the Church could draw both Christians and non-Christians into ministry work.  The institutional ministry would reach into the world as it served suffering Christians and non-Christians and as it offered everyone opportunities to participate in God's work.  An "institutional ministry" could also be a witness that would afford people an opportunity to encounter the other, be changed in their framework for creating meaning out of their lives and also changed by the practice (of doing ministry work).
            Using the Hauerwas's narrative framework, these different models of ministry that bring together Christians and non-Christians in God's ministry projects offer opportunities to create a social ethic by telling shared stories.  As Christians use the Gospel to tell what is right and wrong in the world and what we believe is necessary to change it, the world may hear a "truth" that reaches beyond our Christian faith.  Our truth does not depend on others (non-Christians) being wrong,  "Rather the truthfulness of Christian convictions resides in their power to form a people sufficient to acknowledge the divided character of the world and thus necessarily ready to offer hospitality to the stranger."[40]  As we practice ministry together, Christians have an opportunity to be a witness to our God whom we know to embrace all truth.[41]
            Likewise as Christians witness the ministry work of non-Christians, and engage in projects side-by-side, we have an opportunity to see and feel God working in others.  As we co-create a story that explores both the problems in the world and the potential for our shared ministry to make a difference, we engage the Gospel in new ways and write a new narrative for our shared community (of Christians and non-Christians).  Our new narrative will reflect and hold our past stories and our changed reality arising from our active ministry work.

C.  Models for Ministry as Opportunities to Grow the Church

             In the non-Christian community, there are "ministers" who like Cornelius may want to come into the Church.  As we Christians and non-Christians come together in shared ministry, we have an opportunity for "radical welcome" as a Church.  As we work together, and share our Christian story, some may express curiosity or longing to learn more and seek to join our Bible study.  Some may see and feel that God is working in us and may recognize that they want to be baptized.  Some may seek the nourishment and comfort of our worship or our communal life in the Church and join us in worship before they seek baptism.
            But there may also be ministers who will draw us to them so that we may see and understand God's work outside of our boundaries.  Not all who seek God seek baptism.  Some within whom the Holy Spirit is working need our support and love, but do not need or want to be incorporated into the Body of Christ.  We may come to appreciate the rich traditions of other faiths, we may find opportunities to deepen our understanding of God in relation to other faiths' practices or to appreciate God's love of those who are not "believers" or do not articulate any need or desire for a named or nameable God.
            Likewise there will be some Christian and non-Christian sufferers who want or need our ministry, who will have a new experience of God in our loving relatedness to them.  By our Christian witness, they may seek to become members of the Body of Christ.  But there will be others whom we serve, within whom we recognize Jesus Christ, who will not seek membership in our Church as their pathway to God.

5.  Conclusion


            In the opening of this paper,  I introduced two seemingly unrelated questions.  First,  how do we understand God or make meaning in the process of engaging in ministry, particularly when the "ministers" are not Christian or using God language to articulate either their motivation or their methods?  Second,  I noted that the Church is facing a membership decline and wondered whether more active engagement by the Church in ministry outside the Church boundaries might offer opportunities for growth.
            Over the course of this short paper, I have articulated a theology of ministry that might provide a framework for both Christians and non-Christians who are acting both to alleviate the suffering and change the social and economic frameworks that cause pain.  Using the story of Cornelius, we can see: the holy Spirit moving in the minister, calling them to action; the Spirit causing the person to reflect on this action through prayer; God's purpose revealed in response to this action and reflection and this entire spiral engaging a community that includes ministers and sufferers, Christians and non-Christians in a process of coming closer to God. 
            Based on this theology,  I have posited an ecclesiology that focuses on the ministry activity of the community of faith. Our Church can be built to act as Christ's Body for the purpose of engaging with the broader world by partnering in the work of ministry and addressing the suffering of world.  As a Body we have opportunities to create a narrative about God's work in the world with all of us, and we have opportunities to change and be changed as we encounter others in ministry.
            Finally, I have suggested that we look for models of ministry that bring us into real encounters outside of our Church boundaries.  We can explore opportunities to engage as institutional partners in ministry and to encourage, support and nourish our members as they engage in ministry work with non-Christian institutions.
            This paper does not offer absolute answers to big theological questions, it does not suggest one form of Church structure that will improve our ability to engage in ministry or to attract new members.  But it does suggest a roadmap for practice that will both engage us in ministry and enrich our understandings of God.  It suggests a way of including the other in our narrative that brings the Gospel alive in the world.  Finally, it suggests that as we minister to God's people in God's love, we will find opportunities to enliven our eschatological hopes and participate in real experiences of God's reconciliation and salvation here and now.



Works Cited

Benson, Joseph. Benson's Commentary. NY: George Lane and Levi Scott, 1850. 

The Book of Common Prayer. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Harman, Pastor D.L. “Prevenient Grace.” IMARC. http://www.imarc.cc/pregrace/hartpg.html#N_4_ (accessed April 23, 2012).

Hauerwas, Stanley. Community of Character, A: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame, 1986.

Holmgren, Stephen. Ethics After Easter. Cambridge, Mass.: Cowley Publications, 2000.

Keller, Catherine.  On the Mystery: Discerning Divinity in Process.  Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 2008.

Lave, Jean. Apprenticeship in Critical Ethnographic Practice. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2011.

Marx, Karl, and with Friedrich Engels. The German Ideology: Including Theses On Feuerbach and Introduction to The Critique of Political Economy. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1998.

Moltmann, Jurgen. The Spirit of Life. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992.

Osmer, Richard R. Practical Theology: an Introduction. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2008.

Sedgwick, Timothy F.  Sacramental Ethics.  Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987.







[1] For the purposes of this paper,  I will use "we" to refer to my readers whom I will assume to be people who identify as Christians and are active members of churches.
[2] For the purposes of this paper,  I will define "ministry" as work to address the concerns of the least among us--the poor, the sick, the elderly, those suffering any type of oppression.  I would include in this definition work on behalf of the environment.  I would include both direct service ministries (or traditional charity work) that seeks to alleviate suffering and advocacy ministries that seek to change the systems or policies that create oppression or injustice in society. 
[3] Acts 10.1-49 NRSV (New Revised Standard Version).  Note that unless otherwise noted, all scriptural references will be to the New Revised Standard Version.
[4] Acts 10.5.
[5] Acts 10.33.
[6] Acts 10.43.
[7] Acts 10.47.
[8] Acts 10.48-49.
[9] Jurgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 23. Moltmann's description of how it is we come closer to knowing or understanding God is very much like the "practical theological approach" of Richard Osmer and other practical theologians who reflect theologically on everyday life of the church, society, and the individual. Richard R. Osmer, Practical Theology: an Introduction (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2008). Moltmann and the practical theologians' approaches both critically recover the theology of the past and constructively develop theology for the future.
[10] Moltmann, 34.
[11] Ibid., 35.
[12] Acts 10.3.
[13] Timothy F. Sedgwick, Sacramental Ethics  (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987).
[14] Sedgwick, 65.
[15] Ibid., 66.  This "right ordering" for creation is what I would call justice--a system in which socially and economically all beings may thrive.
[16]Pastor D.L. Harman, “Prevenient Grace,” IMARC, http://www.imarc.cc/pregrace/hartpg.html#N_4_ (accessed April 23, 2012) citing, Joseph Benson, Benson's Commentary (NY: George Lane and Levi Scott, 1850), 564-565. 
[17] Ibid.
[18] Catherine Keller, On the Mystery: Discerning Divinity in Process, (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 2008), 89.
[19] Ibid., 90.
[20] This process of knowing God resonates with secular theories about how we come to learn new ways of being, and how we create meaning in communities.  In Karl Marx's Theses on Feuerbach, Marx is critical of Feuerbach's materialism, insisting that meaning cannot be obtained by contemplation of the human condition because this would lead to generalizations about what it is to be a single human.  He counters, that meaning can only be derived by the practical engagement in social relationships combined with contemplation, "All mysteries which lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice." Karl Marx and with Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology: Including Theses On Feuerbach and Introduction to The Critique of Political Economy (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1998).  Education theorists, like Dr. Jean Lave, follow this line, suggesting that true learning only happens in the context of revolutionary practice and reflection.
Jean Lave, Apprenticeship in Critical Ethnographic Practice (Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2011).


[21] Throughout this section, I will use the term "community" broadly to suggest the Christian and non-Christian groups that self identify as a cohesive social structure or affinity group.  As I begin to talk about an ecclesiology of ministry, I will suggest that that Church has a role in shaping the non-Christian community and in being the Christian community that is the fourth turn in the theology of ministry spiral into God.
[22] Acts 10.34.
[23] Acts 10. 44-46.
[24] Moltmann, 220.
[25] Ibid., 221.
[26] Acts 10. 41-43.
[27] Stanley Hauerwas, Community of Character, A: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame, 1986), 10.
[28] " We depend on narratives to guide us.  We must challenge ourselves to be the kind of community where such a story can be told and manifested by a people formed in accordance with it--for if you believe that Jesus is the messiah of Israel, then 'everything else follows, doesn't it?'" Ibid., 35.
[29] Hauerwas, 10.
[30] Ibid., 10.
[31] Acts 10.34.
[32] Acts 10. 45-46.
[33] Stephen Holmgren, Ethics After Easter (Cambridge, Mass.: Cowley Publications, 2000), 29.
[34] Ibid., 126.
[35] The Book of Common Prayer (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), 854-855.
[36] Ibid., 855.
[37] Moltmann, 24.
[38] Acts 10.19-20.
[39] Moltmann, 220.
[40] Hauerwas, 93.
[41] Ibid., 94.

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