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Maturing in the Christian Life: A Pastorís Guide by Neill Q. Hamilton


Neill Q. Hamilton graduated from Duke University, Princeton Theological Seminary and the University of Basel, Switzerland (D. Th.) He was Robert S. Dollar Professor of New Testament, San Francisco Theological Seminary and Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley and later was Professor of New Testament at the School of Theology and Graduate School, Drew University, Madison, New Jersey. This book was published in 1984 by The North Creek Press, copyright Neil Hamilton, used by permission of the author. Prepared for Religion Online by Herbert F. Lowe.


Chapter One: An Integrating Center for the Ministerís Work


Throughout their careers clergy experience the need for some perspective on their work that will help them to order the mind-boggling variety of demands their parishioners lay upon them. Without such ordering of priorities, the minister feels overloaded with details and unsure if the sixty-hour-plus workweek is yielding results to match the time and effort invested. Even more important to continuing morale is the need for some integrating center from which the minister can preserve a satisfying balance between what the church requires to satisfy the conditions of employment and what the minister requires to satisfy his or her sense of calling.

This need for an ordering and integrating center peaks periodically in typical clerical careers. The most frequently discussed time for clergy, as for many other professional groups, is mid-career. One Saturday morning amid the breakfast dishes and the litter of a week of parallel careers, I chanced upon a minister and his spouse. Their guards were down. He had been reading a book on mid-life crisis, geared especially to clergy. In it he found an excruciatingly accurate metaphor for the way he felt his life was going. It was in a section entitled "Just a Machine." The author is sharing his agony with his wife: "I said to Sally at one point, `I feel like a vending machine, dispensing products. Someone pushes a button, and out comes a sermon. Someone pushes another button for a solution to a personal or administrative problem. The family pushes buttons, and out come dollars or time involvement. The community pushes other buttons, and I show up at meetings, sign petitions, and take stands." 2 My friend's lament was that he never got to push any buttons of his own choosing. His life seemed forever at the mercy of the bidding of others. My Saturday morning companion had grown bone weary satisfying the requirements of others, with no compensating chance to meet his own. He was like the member of a first-aid squad, forever at the mercy of those at-home radios, liable to squeal an emergency call at any minute. It was time to put in an emergency call of his own, but a one-way system set up for only incoming calls offered no way to call out.

The soft undertone of most such conversations includes the wish to change location, but at mid-career it is difficult to arrange for a next parish of comparable size and salary. Even then there is no guarantee that the same frustration will not unfold in the next place. My minister friend was highly successful in meeting all the requirements the congregation judges belong to his vocation, but he had no equivalent success in meeting the requirements for his own vocational satisfaction. If he was to maintain energy and élan for the second half of his career, he needed a more effective way to sort out and reconcile these two competing sets of requirements.

Crisis in the Beginning Years

This same minister had probably experienced a similar crisis early in his career, but it came at a time of life that receives much less public attention. Besides, he was much more resilient then. There is this other time in the ministry, however, when there is an acute need for a way to bring order and greater satisfaction to one's calling. It may be buried in memory, not by intervening successes, but by experiences too painful to permit recall. At least that is what mature clergy often report to me at conferences where we try to review some of the best and worst times of the first five years after graduation from seminary. In a study on stress in ministry, ministers reported that 42 percent of the periods of stress they recalled took place during the first five years, and more than 25 percent in the first two years .3

Donald Smith found that the major source of stress in the first years is the conflict between the image of the profession that the minister carries into it and the way the profession actually unfolds. Typically the new minister wishes to be a prophet-pastor, while the congregation looks for an administrator-pastor. Small first congregations want to flourish as institutions. New clergy want to bring the kingdom of God to persons and to society. I suspect that one of the reasons the stress peaks at two years is that by then the realization has dawned on the aspiring prophet that the congregation has more power to get what it wants from the new minister than the new minister has to get what he or she wants from the first congregation. As the novice clergyperson struggles for a more realistic appreciation of the demands of the profession, there is every chance that the institution will also force its agenda on him or her without due regard for the original urge to be a prophet-pastor. In the measure this happens, the unfortunate compromise struck in the early years will haunt the whole career until the frustration of that Saturday-morning conversation breaks out in later years. New clergy are usually strikingly successful at meeting the realities of the profession but disappointingly unsuccessful at meeting the realities of their own calling.

In denominations with an appointive system, the weight of this early period tilts too easily in favor of institutional needs and away from calling needs. Methodist clergy agreed that in those first years they felt like Sisyphus condemned perpetually to roll a huge stone up a high hill only to have the stone roll back down again.4 In both the call system and the appointment system, beginning clergy tend to land in congregations that are so troubled or so marginal they cannot attract more skilled and experienced clergy.

Under an appointive system a minister's first congregation has probably been the victim of a rapid succession of inexperienced clergy who never stayed long enough to share the benefits of the experience won at the congregation's expense. No wonder the congregation has little enthusiasm for the next clerical leader's idea of ministry. Sooner or later the novice appointee awakens to the truth that few in the congregation or in the supervising hierarchy expect much accomplishment in terms of ministry. The real assignment is to learn to get along in the institution by going along with its needs as an institution. What the denominational supervisor wants to see is how cheerfully new clergy accept an assignment where the stone regularly rolls back down and over the struggling prophet-pastor. If during the testing period the new minister bounces up again smiling and cheerful after each traverse of the rock, he or she shows promise of deserving a next post where some accomplishment is possible. During the same period the new clergyperson may observe that the larger organization has few means to monitor prophetic-pastoral ministry, but many indices of how well things are going for the institution. This whole set of initial circumstances tends to present the profession as one that requires an adjustment that is both unfair and unsatisfying to the neophyte's sense of calling.

Sometimes institutional needs upstage the calling even in the process of recognizing that call. I know a young woman seminarian whose approval for ordination was postponed for a year with the explanation by the examining committee that they knew she could stand the postponement better than other, less mature candidates.

If theological education does its job well, new clergy come from seminary fired with the mission to be agents of change. No wonder they suffer trauma when they discover they are the chief targets of change. The tragedy is not that new clergy need to change their perception of the ministry, but that currently neither the seminaries nor the churches offer a metaphor for ministry that stands up under the first excruciating tension between the needs of one's calling and the needs of the church as institution.

One of the chief aims of this book is to provide such a metaphor. In my judgment the trauma of the early years arises not from having to come to terms with the realities of the profession but from the sense of having to surrender one's dream of ministry in the process. As the institution presents its claims on the profession, too little allowance is made for the element of prophet-pastor. If it were just that this dream were being given better orientation to reality, that would not be so bad. What feels bad is that the prophet-pastor seems eclipsed. The seeds for mid-career despair are sown when, looking back, we see that so much of the calling seems to have been neglected.

Crisis in the Final Years

The bearable thing about the crises of integrity that often occur in early and mid career is that there is still time to compensate for what seems to be going or has gone amiss in the working out of the minister's calling. But what is to be done when retirement draws near and there is no time to correct for lost dreams? More than one mature clergyperson has said to me, "If I had only known all this forty years sooner."

If my metaphor for ministry is apt, it should not only inform the life of the minister in full swing, but it should encompass the whole span of ministry. It is one of the virtues of a metaphor for ministry tied to organic development that it can provide for every time, no matter how we may sigh to ourselves or the world declare that the chances of renewed meaning lie behind us. The metaphor for ministry we seek should stand up at every time of career, clarifying and encouraging the ministry at hand.

Outworn Metaphors for Ministry

H. Richard Niebuhr's famous metaphor for the minister as "pastoral director,"5 and more recent variations of it, 6 continue to be useful in taking account of the two elements that distinguish the ministry from other professions, namely, the sense of a personal calling to be a prophetic resource to persons and to structures in society plus accountability to an organization that the minister both leads and serves. But this metaphor merely juxtaposes the two elements. What is missing in "pastoral director" is just the integrative element we are seeking. We require some perspective that can order the well as balance personal calling and institutional accountability

Samuel Blizzard described exactly the thing we are seeking. It is what Donald Smith and he call a minister's "integrative role." Speaking from a time when clergy were expected to be male, the integrative role is the minister's "goal orientation, or frame of reference to his work. . . . It is the end toward which he is working in his professional relationship with parishioners, church associations, community groups, and the general public. It is what heís trying to accomplish with people in the professional practice of religion."7

The closest Niebuhr came to offering such a goal orientation was to suggest that the work of the pastoral-director is "the increase among men of the love of God and Neighbor." The value of this formulation is that it makes room for the two major foci for ministry within Protestantism: evangelism and social action or to use the language of the recent report of the Association of Theological Schools, "spiritual emphasis" and "social action emphasis."8

The churches have just completed two decades devoted to each of these emphases in turn, the 1960s for social action and the 1970s for evangelism. A historical and theological analysis of one or the other of these emphases shows each to be wanting as an adequate expression of the ministry.9 In the measure to which these are used to focus ministry in turn or together, the result has proved to be unresolvable conflict within a congregation or a denomination10 In the pluralistic churches of today, both emphases are always present to some extent, so that the ideal ministry attempts some balance between the two.

This balance as the goal for ministry has produced the latest attempts to epitomize the work of the minister in terms of the master roles11 of "facilitator," "enabler," and "conflict manager." In a pluralistic church the first two lead inevitably to the last. If the minister undertakes to encourage and implement the crazy-quilt variety of ideas in the average congregation of what the church should be doing with its members and resources, he or she soon finds that these ideas are competitive rather than complementary. At that point the presiding pastor must become a "conflict manager" or the whole operation dissolves into political chaos.

An apt metaphor for this very popular form of integrative role for ministry today would be the forest ranger on watch high up in a fire tower. The task of the minister is constantly to survey the horizon of the parish and be alert for any sign of impending conflict. Under this metaphor, the good minister is the one who keeps reducing the elapsed time from the detection of the first wisp of the smoke of conflict, through the scramble down the long ladder and the rush out to the trouble spot, to the stamping out of the smoldering source of smoke before it bursts into the flame of serious congregational conflict. As a master role this is, to say the least, wearing. Worst of all, it is hopeless as a means of satisfying calling, since it puts us back into that vending machine experience, completely at the disposal of the initiative and expectation of others, with no space left to satisfy one's own sense of calling.

The effect of facilitator, enabler, and conflict manager as master roles tends to be a bland and temporary peace at the expense of any unifying and energizing vision. The roles of enabler and conflict manager discourage any prophetic input from the minister. An enabler serves others' vision; a conflict manager does not complicate the scene with one more contending point of view. Actually these master roles are more appropriate to the therapeutic community from which they came. They serve to provide a kind of peace and unity in the church but not the purity that distinguishes the church from other groups in society.

There is some theological sense in the notion that the church models reconciliation in a pluralistic society by helping all kinds of people to get along together in church who would not associate, let alone work together in the world outside the church. This is the argument that is offered as a theological justification for the minister in the dominant roles of enabler and conflict manager. But reconciliation in the New Testament means primarily reconciliation to God and transformation of persons who then work for transformation in the world-not carte blanche provision for whatever views and life-styles members bring to congregational life.

Thus, reconciliation among Christians means living, working, and worshiping together on a basis that transcends the common denominator that conflict management finds. Unless this transforming and transcending reconciliation sets the tone, life in the church merely mirrors the tensions of pluralistic society. Reconciliation as transformation calls for ministerial leadership with a vision that transcends the conflict between evangelicals and social activists. The function of providing a transforming vision that transcends conflicting parties is not adequately included under "enabler" or "conflict manager." That is why we are searching beyond them for a metaphor for ministry with such a vision. We need a way of doing ministry that catches up what is most valuable in each of the two dominant parties of American Christianity and reconciles their adherents at a new level beyond the present competition between them. The metaphor for minister as such a visionary will include the functions of enabler and conflict manager, since those skills will always be appropriate to leaders of voluntary organizations. But when reconciliation is defined in terms of transformation, the result we hope for within the churches is more than an uneasy truce in the ongoing cold war between baptized Democrats and Republicans.

As we have reviewed the major integrating perspectives upon ministry of the past few decades, it has become increasingly clear what we seek. We need a metaphor to meet the crises of ministerial identity that occur typically in the early years, at mid-career, and in the years before retirement. This implies that the metaphor will need to have developmental relevance to the whole life span. We need a metaphor that also features a master or integrative role that lets the clergyperson know with greater specificity what he or she is trying to accomplish through the usual professional roles of preacher, liturgist, pastor, educator, evangelist, advocate of justice, and administrator. The generalized aim to spread the love of God and neighbor is too vague.12 The metaphor should also provide a reference by which the minister can strike a satisfying balance between what the congregation wants of the minister and what the minister needs in order to satisfy a sense of calling. It must also provide a vision of the mission of the church and its ministry that transcends the polarity and party spirit of evangelical-conservative versus social activist-liberal, private party versus public party. It will be the thesis of this book that prophetic guide to maturing in the Christian life is a metaphor for the professional ministry that fulfills all these specifications.

Prophetic Guide

When we first hear this metaphor it may seem to be suggesting a retreat into sectarian piety divorced from concern for social justice. The prophetic note in the metaphor should allay that anxiety, for it points to the vision of social justice that maturing in the Christian life entails. In fact the metaphor of prophetic guide draws its substance from the content of the Christian life to which it points. The Christian life I find described in the New Testament culminates in a willingness to engage in mission that includes witness, acts of charity, and acts of justice -- all at risk of losing worldly reward. The note of risk is essential, for it reflects the biblical dimension of self-denial and tragedy symbolized in the cross. This distinguishes Christian maturing from the upward mobility so often associated with evangelism, and from the triumphalism so often associated with social action. While confirming social concern, this metaphor at the same time confirms the concern for true piety so dear to the hearts of evangelicals.

It even makes room for a third concern within Christendom, namely, the emphasis on Spirit in the charismatic movement. A New Testament doctrine of the Christian life provides for the element of spiritual giftedness so necessary to the exercise of mission in a graceful way. At the same time, it provides grounds for a sympathetic critique of the charismatic movement's foibles, as well as of the foibles of evangelicals and social activists. In short, I intend to give to this metaphor for the ministry content out of a doctrine of the Christian life that includes the best of each major contemporary version of the Christian in mission. In no way does prophetic guide simply confirm the status quo in the world or in the church.

The master role to which this metaphor points declares that the main business of clergy is to provide or arrange for the resources necessary for Christians to mature. I will illustrate in a final chapter how this master role as a metaphor for integration can direct the energy of the pastoral leader in each of the professional roles. But at the outset it is important to see the metaphor of prophetic guide as the source of professional identity. The minister is unique compared with all the other helping professionals by virtue of the unique outcomes of his or her labor. The end result of the work of the clergy is maturing Christians. Over time in any place the effectiveness of ministry may be judged by the signs of maturing among parishioners.

This particular function of the pastoral leader is what gives the ministry its special identity. It may share a spectrum of functions with other helping professions engaged in social work, medicine, or psychological counseling, but no other profession is equipped to see to maturing in the Christian life. Once the ministry comes to realize its unique contribution to human life, it can reclaim its place at the head of the professions-not because other professions grant this, but because ministers know that their work is the most crucial service one human being can offer another. The ministry points the way to the pearl of great price.

This is not to say that the prophetic guide deals only with individuals. Christians mature in company with each other, so .that the guide always conducts a group tour. What is more, the church in mission focuses on social systems as well as on individuals. The doctrine of the Christian life that underlies the metaphor of prophetic guide will suggest that effectiveness in ministry may be measured not only by the quality of life of individuals but also by the kinds of groups the minister's efforts generate and by the effect they have on the surrounding community in the world.

This metaphor for ministry applies as much to the life of the minister as to the life of the parishioner. In particular, our doctrine of the Christian life provides guidance at every stage of the minister's career and sets the context for a ministry to ministers in the common crises of early, mid, and late career. We shall see that clerical careers tend to unfold in predictable stages just as research suggests is characteristic of all adult life. This raises the question of the relevance of developmental models to a doctrine of the Christian life. Do developmental models for adult life suggest that a doctrine of the Christian life should follow a similar scheme?

An Alternative to a Developmental Approach to the Christian Life

The most popular theory of faith development is the one being offered by James W. Fowler in Stages of Faith.13 My approach differs significantly from his. Fowler's method is to interview many subjects for their story of faith. My method will be to look for the stories of faith portrayed in the New Testament. Fowler fashions his categories for analyzing and classifying stories of faith from Piaget's theory of cognitive development, Kohlberg's theory of moral development, and Erikson's psychosocial development. These theories reflect evolutionary assumptions about organic life which determine the picture of the life of faith. The result of these assumptions is that faith unfolds as a one-way journey. It proceeds through six successive stages on a gradient from lower to higher forms until the most mature self arrives at a universalizing stage completing the development. In this final state a radical commitment to pluralism relativizes all particular faith stances so that none is excluded.

The ruling assumption seems to be that the human self is programmed in some paragenetic way to seek meaning by ever more appropriate adaptation to an ever-enlarging environment. This evolutionary adaptation comes to a climax when it is universal in its sympathies and tolerant of every particular religious tradition by virtue of the "Unconditioned" that comes to expression in all religions. Although the path of development is predetermined, any particular self may cease developing and stick at conventional levels. The track is predetermined, but the degree of progression on it is not.

My way of giving structure to the Christian life shares with faith development the ideas of stages or eras and a particular sequence to them, but that is all. As I read the New Testament, the life of faith is drawn ahead by the Spirit rather than driven from behind by the self Indeed, so long and insofar as the journey is driven by the self, faith is inauthentic. The self's idea of faith is so laced with illusion that its quest must be displaced by the Spirit's drawings in order for authentic faith to emerge and mature. In the Christian life there is no completion of the journey in this life under the conditions of this world. Maturity comes finally in a new body in the setting of a new heaven and a new earth. In this life we are ever in the process of maturing; we never arrive.

While the sequence of eras or stages is given by the promise of the creature in a new creation and by the Spirit's drawings toward fulfillment of that promise, they are not experienced as separate stages. Instead they are phases or dimensions of a wholistic experience that moves back and forth along a spectrum, appropriating and emphasizing now this phase, now that. I prefer the word "phase" to "stage" or "era" because of this more fluid interrelationship among phases. From a sequential point of view no phase is ever left behind but is caught up in the next as its necessary ground. The metaphor of a temple that grows as if it were a body is apt (Eph. 2:20-21). The advantages of this metaphor are the combining of elements of structure (apostles and prophets as the foundation, Christ Jesus as the cornerstone), sequence (from foundation to complete temple), and organic growth (the whole structure is joined together and grows).

But given the importance of sequence, the movement within is neither necessary nor one way. A person may decide not to have faith or, having had faith, to recant (Heb. 6:1-8), or, having had faith and matured some in it, to regress (Gal. 3:3). These options for the Christian life seem to fall outside development in an evolutionary sense.

Fowler calls his frame of understanding for faith "structural-developmental." I would call mine "phased-eschatological," with the phases experienced both as in sequence and simultaneous. Such descriptions are only suggestive and a little pretentious. We shall see what they mean when we come to the matter itself. I only wish at this point to serve notice that faith development theory as developed by Fowler does not describe what I find in the New Testament. In theological terms I see Fowler's system or design as a variation of redemptive history with its chronological sequence of dispensations. It has an existentialist twist as well in its tendency to reduce particular religious traditions to subjectivity. Piaget and Kohlberg give Fowler structure for this subjectivity, just as Heidegger gave Bultmann structure for his reduction of Christian tradition.

In short, faith development strikes me as an existentialist version of redemptive history in which history is reduced to personal response while holding fast to a chronological framework. The final picture is of a religious self telling its beads of meaning on a rosary of time. This psychology of the pious self completely obscures the majesty of God. The New Testament keeps an eye on the religious self, to be sure, but overshadows it with the majesty of God. I seek to follow that distribution of emphasis in my portrayal of the Christian life. The final picture that the New Testament offers loses the religious self in "a great multitude which no one can number,... standing before the throne and before the Lamb.... crying out with a loud voice, `Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb' While a surrounding choir of angels responds `Amen Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen"' (Rev. 7:9-10). That is somewhat different from faith development's culminating reverence for the religious self at stage six

The Christian Life, the Adult Life Cycle, and the Church Year

For me there is pressing need for conversation that distinguishes the Christian life from other faith options and especially from the patterns being offered by contemporary culture. We are just now discovering what this patterning is like. Gail Sheehy gives a journalist's report of this research in her best seller, Passages. 14 Daniel Levinson gives his report of fundamental research on men through mid-life in The Seasons of a Man's Life (a similar report on women is to follow).15 What these and comparable investigations show is that there are predictable stages and transitions in adult life just as we know there are for children. Many parents are able to survive parenting only because of the assurance that the outrageous behavior of their child is merely a stage in its development and that with patience, firmness, and understanding, the child will return to the world of civilized behavior. The same perilous odyssey continues into adulthood.

For adults, these unfolding stages and transitions are as heavily programmed by cultural expectations as by the biological and psychological factors that determine childhood. There is research to show that the rhythm of the lives of adult men and women in our society is determined largely by career patterns at work and expectations of self-fulfillment, especially sexual fulfillment, in their personal lives. Compared with these, any specifically religious value orientation seems to count for little. Unless these clearly powerful and increasingly well defined influences on the lives of church members are met by equally powerful and well-defined influences of grace for living the Christian life, the role of clergy is in danger of being reduced to the role of chaplains, summoned for brief, emergency ministrations to a life cycle unfolding in complete isolation from the life of faith.

It is time for the church to reassert its guidance in the lives of its adult members, for they are as much at the mercy of a captivating culture as were the members of the early church before the invention of the church year. In ancient culture the peak times of the agricultural and solar years, such as spring planting, fall harvest, winter solstice, and spring equinox, threatened to seduce the people of God to the worship of fertility and sun gods and goddesses connected with these peak times. Israel pioneered churchly guidance and protection of its people by displacing the festivals of Canaanite culture with festivals marking the history of Israel's redemption as a people. The church followed suit (for different reasons) by displacing the Jewish festivals with Good Friday, Easter, and Pentecost, and the pagan winter festival of the sun-god with Advent. Until the church of our time finds alternate, graceful ways to mark the Christian life of adults, the sad secular holidays of mid-life crisis-retirement, aging, and finally death and dying-will cast a spell over the lives of Christians. Just as the invention of the church year broke the spell of the gods of sun, moon, and stars, so now the recovery of a clear-cut doctrine of the Christian life must break the spell of the all too predictable pattern of adult life.

The Rise of the Charismatic Movement

Recent theological reflection has not served the churches well in furnishing a theory of the life of a Christian to place over against the culture's cycle of adult life. One might have expected that the redemptive history school of biblical theology would have gone on to apply its linear, periodizing scheme to Christian experience. It did not, because, like neo-orthodoxy to which it was related, it was shy of experience and hostile to the Bultmannian call to construct a hermeneutical bridge from the Bible to the novel situation of our time. Especially in its Barthian form, neo-orthodoxy was wary of "mysticism," pietism, and experience-centered theologies of the nineteenth century. It was so bound not to separate sanctification from justification or to erect an "order of salvation" that no comprehensive frame of understanding was given to sanctification.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer's classic was as close as neoorthodoxy ever got to a doctrine of the Christian life, but The Cost of Discipleship (Nachfolge) was mainly an exposition of the Sermon on the Mount and of Matthew 10. It ignored the description of the Christian life in the balance of the New Testament. And so it was that academic theology's most recent reflection on the Christian life has been so shy of offering guides for experience that it has left the field wide open to the pietism it intended to combat. The chief legacy of Bonhoeffer is the term "discipleship," which has become the designation in mainline Protestant denominations for the whole Christian life.

Neo-orthodoxy practically fostered neo-Pentecostalism by its neglect of Christian experience. Theology, like nature, abhors a vacuum. The piety that has filled the vacuum since the early 1960s came to be called the charismatic movement. Its origins lie in the evangelical revival in England and especially in Wesley's doctrine of perfection. In the famous Aldersgate experience, Wesley found the sudden assurance of salvation that the Moravians promised. But it was the next experience, also sudden, for which his movement became famous, what Albert Outler calls the "fullness of faith" and what Wesley called "perfection."16

Outler is correct in praising Wesley for his concern that the revivalist's work was not done when he had mediated conversion. In what is perhaps the last classic Protestant treatment of sanctification, Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, Christian is converted one sixth of the way through the book and the balance is devoted to his pilgrimage. In the tradition of revivalism and mass evangelism in America, however, so much attention was given to conversion that the other five sixths of the convert's life were simply neglected, with the result that most converts aborted their pilgrimage near its beginning. Although we must congratulate Wesley and his descendants on their concern for sanctification, they tended to focus it, like conversion, on a single experience at a point in time. Perfection soon ` became the next experience to be pursued beyond conversion.

In the late nineteenth century, the pursuit of perfection amounted to an obsession in American churches. But as mainline denominations moved away from dependence on revivals and mass evangelism, they came to apply the optimism of perfection more to the arena of social transformation than to the sphere of personal sanctification.17 The result was that Methodist devotion to entire sanctification had to find expression outside the denomination in so-called Holiness groups. These eventually spawned Pentecostalism.'18

The Pentecostal idea of a "second blessing," marked by speaking in tongues, has now returned to influence American churches of every stripe in the form of the charismatic movement.'19 The idea of speaking in tongues is highly disturbing to the vast majority of pastoral leaders because it puts them in an impossible bind. The practice claims support from Paul, who explicitly bans its prohibition (I Cor. 14:39), and from Acts, but its advocates offer no doctrine of the Christian life by which this experience can be integrated into so-called normal parish life. The result is that the average pastoral leader feels bound to grant the biblical precedent but compelled to resist its practice. Without a doctrine of the Christian life to make sense of speaking in tongues, there is no way to integrate it into the normal life of a noncharismatic congregation.

Biblical Grounds for the Metaphor of Prophetic Guide

The New Testament does not display an office of minister comparable to the pastoral leader of our institutionalized church.20 It does offer a variety of figures whose prophetic function provides a model for the office of ministry today. Prophecy, in the sense of declaration of the mighty act of God in Christ for salvation, anchored the life of the people of God then as it does now. This fact is symbolized by the career of John the Baptist, the prophetic forerunner of Jesus' ministry. Jesus himself appeared to be a prophet before messianic appreciation of him took over (Mark 8:28; Luke 24:19). Paul reflected the primacy of prophecy by rating it above all the other gifts of the Spirit which provide for ministry in his congregations (I Cor. 14:1, 5, 24, 31, 39). This prominence of prophecy continued in the Pauline school in the ranking of prophecy second among the gifts after apostleship (Eph. 4:11). It is assumed that prophets guide the life of the church in Acts, although they are thrown in the background by the Twelve (Acts 11:27ff;15:32; 21:10). For Luke, Paul was not an apostle in the sense of the Twelve, but was numbered among others as a prophet and teacher (Acts 13:1).

Our interest in prophecy is to discover the master role or major effect intended. It is striking that in Zechariah's meditation upon his newborn son's role as prophet, the culminating function was "to guide our feet into the way of peace" (Luke 1:79), making John the original prophetic guide. Luke wrote late enough that the immediate expectation of the end had been displaced by reckoning with the long haul of history and, most significantly for our purposes, with the long haul of the Christian life. Zechariah's "way of peace" introduced Luke's conception of Christianity as "the Way" (Acts 9:2; 19:9; 24:22). Luke's special interest in journeys invites us to see his description of the Christian life as a metaphor for a phased journey which it is the ministry of the prophets to "strengthen" (Acts 15:32).

Paul also modeled this guiding function of prophecy. As an apostle he distinguished his ministry from that of others by virtue of having been the originating parent of faith for congregations (I Cor. 3:10-17; Rom. 15:20) and individuals (I Cor. 4:15). This means that he was not content merely to initiate faith and then leave its nurture to others. When he wrote to the Corinthians claiming to be their father in the faith in contrast to "countless guides in Christ," he was functioning through the letters precisely as a guide to improve on the work of other guides. Indeed he saw himself as a parent whose ultimate function was to bring his charges to maturity by building up (I Thess. 5:11; I Cor. 10:23; 14:12; II Cor. 10:8; 13:10), edifying (I Cor. 14:4, 26; Rom. 15:2), and upbuilding (Rom.14:19; I Cor.14:3; II Cor.12:19), all words with the same Greek root.21

The Pauline school caught the same master role for miristry and continued it in terms of parenting (Eph. 4:14), - growth (Eph. 4:15), building up (Eph. 4:12,16; Col. 2:6-7), edification (Eph. 4:29), and maturing (Eph. 4:13; Col. 1: 28-29; 4:12). Churches and individuals are temples of the Holy Spirit in process of construction (Eph. 2:20-22). The main task of apostolic and prophetic ministry is to serve that process of construction. The climactic expression of maturing in the Christian life as the ultimate aim of all ministry in the church comes in Ephesians:

And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.... We are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love. (Eph. 4:11-16)

This is a prose ode to the master role of ministry as prophetic guide to maturing in the Christian life. Other New Testament authors reinforce this perspective on ministry.

The author of the Fourth Gospel featured this same function under the metaphor of shepherd. Jesus modeled that metaphor in John 10 and then passed it on to Peter as his dominant role after resurrection John 21:15-17). The shepherd is responsible for protecting the sheep against error, but the ultimate function is to nourish their growth. The shepherd metaphor also occurs: in Matthew, for Jesus' ministry (Matt. 9:36; 15:24) and for that of the Twelve (10:6); in I Peter for the ministry of the elders and of Christ (I Peter 5:2ff.); and in Acts (20:28-29). Our word "pastor" is the English form of shepherd. I Peter 2:25 and Acts 20:28 connect bishop with the functioning of a shepherd to emphasize protection against error.

Finally, the church chose Paul as a model for institutional ministry. The Pastorals present the mature Paul parenting his charges and fellow workers Timothy (I Tim. 1:1-2; II Tim. 1:1-2) and Titus (1:1, 4). Titus epitomized the apostolic function in nurturing and developmental terms that confirm the central role of prophetic guide to maturing in the Christian life: "Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to further the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness" (1:1).

Summary

The New Testament justifies our metaphor for ministry insofar as may be reasonably expected. Given the near expectation of the end and the temporary character of life in the early church, it is surprising how much account is taken of the necessity to nurture the church and its members to maturity in a process that takes time. With this much encouragement, we move to the embryo doctrine of the Christian life that emerges in the New Testament. Even in embryo form it gives enough content to "prophetic guide" to confirm the value of the metaphor. When we see how maturing in the Christian life works out in contemporary institutional terms, we shall see the prophetic note come to full clarity. At this point it is enough to be encouraged that the metaphor has a New Testament basis, speaks to the predictable crises of clergy careers, and brings integrity to the impossibly broad spectrum of role expectation laid on the profession by congregation and ministry alike. Finally, the doctrine of the Christian life contained in the metaphor will offer a gracious alternative to the fateful adult life cycle we see our culture fastening' onto us all.

Notes

1. James W. Fowler, Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning (Harper & Row, 1981).

2. Jim Conway, Men in Mid-Life Crisis (David C. Cook Publishing Co., 1978), p. 57.

3. Edgar W. Mills and John P. Koval, Stress in the Ministry (New York: Ministry Studies Board and IDOC, 1971; 70 pp.), cited in Donald P. Smith, Clergy in the Cross Fire: Coping with Role Conflicts in Ministry (Westminster Press, 1973), p. 54.

4. David A. Giles and Neill Q. Hamilton, "Seasons of a Pastor's Life," The Circuit Rider, September 1980, p. 4.

5. H. Richard Niebuhr, The Purpose of the Church and Its Ministry: Reflections on the Aims of Theological Education (Harper & Brothers, 1956).

6. Donald P. Smith suggests "minister-director," "minister-executive," or "minister-manager," in Clergy in the Cross Fire, p. 153.

7. Samuel W. Blizzard, "The Protestant Parish Minister's Integrating Roles," Religious Education, Vol. 53, No. 4 July-Aug. 1958), quoted in Smith, Clergy in the Cross Fire, p. 99.

8. David S. Schuller, Merton P. Strommen, and Milo L. Brekke, eds., Ministry in America: A Complete Report and Analysis, Based on an In-Depth Survey of 47 Denominations in the United States and Canada with Interpretation by 18 Experts (Harper & Row, 1980), pp. 60-68.

9. Neill Q. Hamilton, Recovery of the Protestant Adventure (Seabury Press, 1981).

10. Presbyterians are the most striking example of this conflict among denominations that attempt to practice "combined emphases." See Dean Hoge, Division in the Protestant House: The Basic Reasons Behind Intra-Church Conflicts '(Westminster Press, 1976).

11. This term is Blizzard's, "The Parish Minister's Self-Image of His Master Role," Pastoral Psychology, Vol. 9, No. 89 (Dec. 1958), pp. 25-32.

12. Niebuhr, The Purpose of the Church and Its Ministry, p. 31.

13. Fowler, Stages of Faith.

14. Gail Sheehy, Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life (Bantam Books, 1976).

15. Daniel J. Levinson et al., The Seasons of a Man's Life (Alfred A. Knopf, 1978).

16. Albert C. Outler, ed., John Wesley, A Library of Protestant Thought (Oxford University Press, 1964), p. 251.

17. See Robert T. Handy, A Christian America: Protestant Hopes and Historical Realities (Oxford University Press, 1971), for the story of social perfectionism.

18. For this story, see Vinson Synan, The Holiness-Pentecostal Movement in the United States (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971).

19. See Richard Quebedeaux, The New Charismatics: The Origins, Development, and Significance of Neo-Pentecostalism (Doubleday & Co., 1976), for the story in America; Walter J. Hollenweger, The Pentecostals: The Charismatic Movement in the Churches (Augsburg Publishing House, 1972); and Arnold Bittlinger, ed., The Church Is Charismatic: The World Council of Churches and the Charismatic Renewal (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1981), for the story worldwide.

20. The Greek words for an office simply do not occur in the New Testament. See Eduard Schweizer, Church Order in the New Testament, Studies in Biblical Theology, No. 32 (London: SCM Press, 1961), p. 171.

21. Otto Michel, "oikodomeo," in Theologisches Worterbuch zum Neuen Testament, Vol. 5, ed. Gerhard Kittel (Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer Verlag), pp. 142ff.

 

 

 

 

 

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