21st Century Ministry and 2 Corinthians (Part 1)

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Ministry in the body of Christ may look very different from church to church, depending upon your context and setting. It may look differently in a 21st century setting than it did fifty years ago.

Nevertheless, anyone involved in any kind ministry in the body of Christ would do well to read 2 Corinthians–again and again. In particular, those of us who function in a leadership role of some kind should read this book.

Here is a sample of what you might find in 2 Corinthians regarding ministry:

  • Ministry takes place in times of weakness not just in times of strength.
  • Ministry comes through living authentically in the body of Christ not simply as a professional who keeps a safe distance from the congregation.
  • Ministry is about relying on God who raised Jesus from the dead, not on one’s self.
  • Ministry is sometimes painful, pressure-filled, and difficult. At times, very little may be happening that is encouraging or which meets the minister’s “career goals.”
  • Ministry takes place as God ministers to us and then we are able to minister to another.

Yes, more could be said, but I would like to stop for now.

For the last few months, I have spent much time with 2 Corinthians. This is a deeply personal book that is autobiographical in nature. At times, Paul seems to struggle and his life and ministry are difficult. (He describes his life as one of “… great pressure” (1:8). He even “… felt the sentence of death” (1:9). I suspect that he would be very uncomfortable with the pedestal on which some of us have placed him.

Reflecting on Paul’s words in this book has helped me as I reflect on my own ministry. Maybe this will be helpful to you as well.

Some of you will read these reflections and relate them to your ministry as a Christ-follower in the body of Christ. Each one of us has been called to ministry in the body, both gifted and energized by the Spirit.

Yet, I am also thinking right now about that person who may be designated as a leader within a church. Far too often the church approaches this role much like an organization in the marketplace. In fact, a church might even think that its future hinges on how much money it is willing to offer a potential minister. To complicate this even more, a minister may even look at ministry through the same lens, ultimately selling out to the highest bidder.

Do I think most churches and ministers think this way? No, I do not. Yet I do know there are elements of marketplace thinking that may not be that helpful as we seek to live out the kingdom of God through the church.

Churches sometimes use the language of the marketplace (hiring, firing, employment, bosses, etc.) when referring to the ministers.

Far too often these ministers use this language themselves. “Is this in your contract?” or “Are you going to apply for that preaching job?”

I wonder what kind of baggage we bring into the church when marketplace language begins to replace biblical language as we speak of ministry?

(to be continued)


Questions

I would love to hear your thoughts regarding this. What concerns do you have regarding ministry as it is sometimes approached in the 21st century?


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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Connie Lard

    Perhaps I am playing devil’s advocate, but how can “marketplace language” be avoided when ministers today work within settings that are organized like most secular organizations? That is, the church has a budget and there is a staff and they are paid a salary and the staff must answer to someone who functions as their “boss”, usually the elders. These days ministers usually do have a contract and health insurance and a certain number of vacation days, etc. So, how would you avoid using marketplace language when it simply describes the reality that exists within most churches today? (I’m not a minister, so maybe I just don’t get what you mean. I know the church is more than just a business, but there are definitely “business” aspects to it in the world in which we live today.)

  • Jim Martin

    Connie,
    Probably can’t be avoided completely primarily due to matters like budgets, salaries, insurance etc. as you noted.

    However, my primary concern is that these terms, especially as used to refer to the the role and work of a minister can serve to shape that persons self-identity,

    For example, when a minister begins to see himself as primarily an employee of the church, that self-identity has some serious implications. I sense in Paul’s writings, for example, more of an emphasis on relationship and covenant with the church than the simply being a place of employment.

    Thanks for this question. Gave me the opportunity to clarify.