There are all kinds of ministers. “Yes,” you answer, “there are good ones, adequate ones, and ones that ought to be in some other profession.” Perhaps. But that’s not what I’m getting at. Instead, what I mean is that whereas all ordained clergy are called to ministry, we are not all called (or equipped) to do the same things in the same ways. I want to think about that with you in this blog.
For starters, there are preachers and pastors, chaplains and administrators, professors and age level specialists, etc. All are ordained, but each does a specific job that requires disparate skill sets.
In much the same way, there are four basic philosophies of ministry that motivate clergy who serve local churches. Neither is right while the others are wrong, and neither is more important while the others are less important. They are simply different, not better or worse. In truth, every ordained minister of every local church is involved in all four of these ministry models. It’s just that one type is our passion in a way that the other three, perhaps, are not.
The first model is PASTORAL. That minister more than anything else cherishes being a shepherd to his/her people. That clergy simply loves to love people (sometimes in a professional counseling role, but often as a pastor within a local church setting). He listens empathically. She prays with those who come to her office. He is there for people facing crises. She is present (by phone or in person) in hospitals and nursing care centers. He conducts a lot of weddings. She officiates at a lot of funerals. They are the ones about whom congregants can always say with confidence, “I know if I need someone, he/she will be there.” That clergyperson identifies with the words of Jesus, “I am the Good Shepherd.” (John 10:11) All of us who grew up in churches had pastors like that, and we remember them with love and gratitude.
The second model is PROFESSORIAL. This is a minister who believes that more than anything else at all, he/she is called by God to teach the Faith to those who long and need to know. My friend, Rabbi Joe Potasnik, said to me not long ago: “If people want news, they go to The Times. If they want to know about God, they come to us.” I think he made a point. People come to churches because they want to know what Faith brings to the table, what the ancient teachings and doctrines say and how what difference that makes in our contemporary world. These ministers are like Sister Carol Perry. They enlighten and inspire us. They help us find the excitement of thinking about Faith. The word “theology” underscores the vital importance of the teaching minister. Theos logos = “thought about God.” We are all thankful for the minsters who taught us biblical truths and stimulated us to begin thinking about God in life-transforming ways.
The third model is PROPHETIC. That has nothing to do with telling the future. Biblically, a prophet was a person who challenged the power systems of the day in the name of and with the truths of God. Think of Jeremiah challenging the people or of Nathan challenging King David. Prophets looked at society as it was and said to the leaders who made it that way: “Here is what God says society ought to be!” It takes a bold and brave commitment to be a prophet because they are always responded to with hostility and threats. Jesus clearly said: “Blessed are you when you are persecuted, for so did the persecute the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-11) Usually, those in power prefer power to God (however much they may use God’s name). Usually those who accumulate extraordinary wealth prefer to retain possessions rather than to use them on behalf of those who have nothing. Prophets are the ones who call us out on our politics and greed, clearly defining the differences between godliness and worldliness. And so, the world often reacts with vitriol. Among the many prophets who were martyred, one name that quickly jumps to mind is Martin Luther King, Jr.
The fourth model is PREACHER. This is the person who is forever haunted by the lyric “I love to tell the Story of Jesus and his love.” The late Dr. Pierce Harris, minister of one of Methodism’s great churches in his day and also a man who was one of the greatest pulpiteers of the 20th century, said: “I am compelled to preach. I do that for free. They pay me for the rest of it.” I understand that. I confess that my first love in ministry is and has always been preaching. That doesn’t mean I claim to be good at it. It means instead that I love it. As strange as it may sound, I do not enjoy Sundays off. I feel restless during weeks when I am not preparing sermons. Instead, I am the most energized on weeks when I preach at WeWo and then on Sunday morning and then have to record something for “Soul Purpose,” as well. From age twelve, I have always wanted to be a preacher. We are the ones who gather the congregation and place The Truth in your hands, hoping God will use it to touch, empower, and inspire people to live into the Faith that has been proclaimed. When the late Dr. John Sutherland Bonnell was Minister at 5th Avenue Presbyterian here in the city, he said in a lecture: “When the last ray of sun shall fall upon the final day, it will rest on the figure of one still standing to proclaim `the unsearchable riches of Christ’.” I have that lecture on tape, and I never listen to his concluding line without being brought to tears. You know clergy who, while attending as faithfully as possible to each of the four models of ministry, clearly are committed to and excel in one of the models. None is better than or more important than the others. They are all, instead, distinct but equally valuable methods of serving God, church, and people. Thankfully no clergy is forced to be a clone of another. It takes all of us with our wide variety of commitments to make The Church whole. As Paul put it, “For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ....” (Romans 12:4-5)