Chapter 2: The Nature of the Ministry

Ferment in the Ministry
by Seward Hiltner

Chapter 2: The Nature of the Ministry

This book focuses upon the functions of the ministry as seen through cartoon-like images. It attempts a reasonable degree of comprehensiveness about those functions, but it does not exhaust them. It makes no apology for setting functions in the front row — instead of, for example, the aims of the ministry, the biblical bases of the ministry, the theology of the ministry, the history of the ministry, the structures of the ministry, or many other possible approaches. Good books have been written about the ministry in all these categories, and my discussion is attentive to them. Certainly all these perspectives upon the ministry, and others, are of great importance.

From my experience of leading literally scores of ministers’ conferences, however, I have become convinced that most American ministers — scholars though they may be — are functionalists at heart. I do not call us pragmatists (for I belong to this group) only because that then connotes a certain opportunism that I deny. "Functionalist" seems a milder and more descriptive term. We think and feel and work our way into even the most recondite of theoretical matters only by first exploring them in relation to our functions of ministry.

I believe that a similar functionalism is the great strength of American intellectual life in general. In our own field of concern, as in others, a native functionalist approach does not stop with functional analysis. It does move on to basic theoretical issues. And the increasing breadth and originality of American science and scholarship in general demonstrate that a functional beginning, among imaginative people, is a motivator for many things, including function, and not a quitting point.

In the sense that my own mind happens to work this way anyhow, beginning with a look at functions, I am a typical American minister. My own explorations into various theoretical realms — including psychology, psychiatry, philosophy, and theology itself — have all been pushed on by my functional beginnings.

I can never think something without thinking of doing it. Even the carpentry of the typewriter table upon which these words are being written (the top was made from an old and discarded wooden organ pipe from Miller Chapel of Princeton Seminary) was something I got into in terms of principles only after I had begun some "functions." I believe most American ministers are functionalists, at the start of their inquiries, in the sense I have been describing.

I have, therefore, girded up the loins of my typewriter and decided to breeze ahead — without having a first chapter on the ministry in the Bible, a second on the ministry in the early church, a third on ministry in the Middle Ages — and so on until finally we might get to the present. Of course such studies are of the greatest importance, and I am not ignorant of them. But a functional approach begins at another point and, if it is informed, goes back to the Bible and various stages of history not only for confirmation but also for needed correction. Within the limits of space and knowledge, I believe I have done this in the pages that follow. But if Professor S believes that nothing sensible can be written about the ministry unless the first chapter is called "The Ministry in the Bible," then I shall have to disappoint him. His insights may be even more important than mine. But he got worked up in one way, and I in another. And, if I am not mistaken, most American ministers got worked up through their functions, just as I have.

In every chapter that follows, beginning with the images of preaching, the analysis starts from function; but I trust it never stops there, but leads back to Bible and history and forward to potential creativity. But I do feel an obligation to say first some words from a theological and historical perspective about the minister whose functions are to be examined. That is the excuse of the present chapter. If the reader is already familiar with the current biblical, historical, theological, and new-dimensions discussions of the ministry, let him skip on quickly to the next chapter, where my own creative thinking begins. For those not familiar with many recent studies, however, from perspectives other than my own I present a kind of summary — but it is, of course, from a functional point of view. It asks finally: So what does that say about ministry in the light of what the ordained minister actually does?

I remain respectful of but unintimidated by the notion of the "ministry of the laity." Whatever Christ and the Church need to get done can of course never be done by ordained ministers alone. But neither can any of it be accomplished, especially in our modern world, by some people vaguely known as "laymen" unless the functional leadership activity within the church does something responsible of itself and with the laymen. I suspect that one of the reasons why the Continental churches are now making so much of the "ministry of the laity" is that they have had so little of it. In America we have, happily, had a lot of it. We should, therefore, be able to analyze the ordained ministry and its functions without having to nod every three minutes to Jerusalem or Mecca about the "layman."

The discussion that follows is about the biblical bases and the historical development of the ordained ministry, which means not special privilege but particular responsibility. After that, I shall get on with the central concern of the book—namely, functional analysis, through images, of the functions of the ordained ministry.

History of the Ordained Ministry

Scholars agree that the general structural form of what we now call the "ordained ministry" — according to which a particular person is given general oversight of all the activities of a particular Christian community — did not emerge in the church until early in the second century. This general overseer was at first called a "bishop," which simply means "overseer." The bishop’s principal associates at that period were "elders" and "deacons"; so that these three constituted a kind of multiple-staff ministry, but with the bishop as clearly the general coordinator or chairman. There were of course other Christians performing many functions of ministry or service; but they seem not to have held "Offices" in the same sense as bishops, elders, and deacons.

What is known about the ministry during the period of the first century must largely be inferred from the letters of Paul and the Pastoral Epistles. There was probably a good deal of variation in the organization charts. It is clear that ministry at first referred to all the services rendered by the Christian community, regardless of who rendered them. And since becoming a Christian in the first century meant a commitment affecting radically every aspect of life, it seems probable that the actual ministries were complex.

In terms of structure, however, it seems likely that the people who bore various titles in the first century — such as bishop or elder or healer or teacher — were not "officials" holding formal offices, as the bishops, elders, and deacons came to do in the early second century. It is not a correct inference to take Paul’s list in I Corinthians 12:28 — first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues — and see all of these as "set-aside" persons performing such functions on a specialist basis. The apostles had a special status as long as they lived, because they had known the Lord personally. Apparently the prophets and teachers did have an informal kind of status. But the other groups, such as the healers, were clearly not "officials."

The first-century picture is further obscured through the fact that Paul does not mention "elders" in relation to ministry; yet other parts of the New Testament show that the elders were prominent in Jerusalem and other places.

The best general inferences that can be made about the first century are as follows. First, the complex and often widely scattered Christian communities were so busy and joyful in performing the necessary functions of ministry that they handled the structural aspects informally, without constitution and bylaws — giving some status depending on the extent of the contribution but not regularizing this. Second, the exception in terms of clearly ascribed status was to the apostles, a point that is of special importance because of Paul’s regarding himself as one of the apostles even though he had not known Jesus during his earthly life.

It may certainly be argued from the biblical and first-century data that every Christian, in some appropriate ways, was to exercise ministry, that is, diakonia. But there is no evidence that leadership of a proper kind was scorned, or of sheer equalitarianism that failed to appreciate particular talent, even though leadership was not regularized into formal offices.

Many attempts through the history of the church have been made to use the New Testament and the first century as witnesses and prototypes of this or that particular structure of ministry. In the light of modem scholarship, these are bound to fail not only because of the paucity of data but also because the Christians of the first century were not preoccupied with ministry as office. What can properly be permanently inferred about the ministry from what we know of the first century seems as follows.

1. Ministry in general is always the total service of the total Christian community, whether in relation to its own members or to others.

2. Any kind of ministry must, however, be organized, so that leadership is always needed.

3. Leadership should be according to competence, however this be defined. The competence is ultimately functional, i.e., the combination of abilities that can best get the lob done.

4. While ministry focuses on communities and their outreach, special respect is to be accorded to the ministry that forms lines of communication among local groups. Witness Paul’s own work as chief example.

Beyond points like this, the first century does not tell us what the ordained ministry should be. It has sometimes been argued that the placing of prophecy and teaching in Paul’s list immediately after the apostles, with oversight following as a bad seventh, is a structural pattern that should be emulated. The conclusion seems unjustified. The vitality of the community might well rest primarily upon the prophetic witness that curried no favor, and upon the educative processes that cemented understanding of the gospel and commitment to it. But overseer or bishop or administrator ought properly to be interpreted as seeing that those things come first, no matter who performs them. First-century thinking, however, was simply not like that.

From the early part of the second century onward there have been only rare deviations from the notion that a local Christian community should have a general overseer, by whatever name he might be called. This is the principle that we still use in Protestantism about the ordained minister. He is not to perform himself all the functions that are needed. He is not to be a king giving orders without consultation, nor a hired man performing only such functions as the community votes. But he is local "bishop," overseer, supervisor, or facilitator of the total work of the total community.

It is instructive to contrast this almost uniform sociological conception of the ordained ministry in Christianity, Catholicism and Protestantism alike, with the history of the rabbinate in Judaism. Today in Western Europe and America the rabbi is a general leader and overseer just as priest and minister are in Christianity. This has been, however, a recent development. In the long centuries of Jewish life since biblical times the rabbi was the teaching leader but not the general leader; i.e., he was not responsible for overall supervision of affairs. And although there is not time here to deal with the data, I believe a case can be made that Christianity is alone among the religions of the world in this conception of ordained ministry as primarily general oversight over a local religious group, with the consequent obligations about training and competence that call the minister (whether he makes it or not) to some knowledge and skill about all the kinds of functions that will subsequently be discussed in this book. Perhaps it may turn out that the unique structural contribution of Christianity to group life is its implicit conception of "supervision."

During the second and third centuries of the Christian era the office of bishop was taken out of the local community and made into an area or district job. Succeeding the bishop in general oversight of the local group was the priest, the term itself actually deriving from "presbyter," meaning elder. The deacon remained as the principal associate of the priest.

From the third century onward the picture of the ministry was complicated by the rise of monasticism. After the early experiments by individual persons, the group life of special dedication that we know as monasticism began to grow; so that nearly every geographical area had both local churches for people in general and special Christian communities for monks. The abbots became the general overseers of the monastic communities in the same sense that priests were, by this time, general supervisors of general Christian communities. As monasticism grew, it had to have higher supervisory officials over larger areas; and so, under various names, the equivalent of monastic bishops developed. Both power and dignity tended to be ascribed in proportion to territory covered; the larger the area, the greater the status.

As the Middle Ages moved on, the church, including monastic life, became "big business." A group of monks who had entered the order to work (in the field for instance) and pray found that the serfs (tenant farmers) would take care of the fields. Monastic wealth built up, and the monks became entrepreneurs — an early version of secularization of the church. It was against this kind of situation that orders like the Franciscan and Dominican developed at the height of the Middle Ages. They were recalling the church from its newfound privilege of the ministry to diakonia and service; and they generally included friars or brothers, since monk or priest had come to connote privilege rather than service.

When the Protestant Reformation appeared, it criticized many things about the priesthood and monasticism as these had developed, but it did not question the monoepiscopal principle; that is, that any Christian community should have a general overseer or supervisor. Attentive to the New Testament conviction that ministry was service, to be exercised by all Christians appropriately, it developed both the doctrine of universal priesthood and that of Christian vocation of all Christians. At the same time it acknowledged "the ministry" as an office, as set apart, requiring preparation and special competence. The office was to be, however, conferred only by the selection of the community — set-apartness, but not imposition. The community to be served had a share in who their general overseer was to be. While the Reformation declared continually that all Christians hold the "keys" in common (not a prerogative of priest or bishop), nevertheless these keys were to be exercised only when authorized by the community. This was a check and balance system. Without an overseer, there would be anarchy. But if the overseer forgot that his exercising of the keys was by the explicit approval of those he served, he would or should be in trouble.

In its conception of ministry, therefore, Protestantism was trying to be realistic about power, yet to recall that all ministry is service. With its strong emphasis on preaching and teaching it paid tribute to functional competence as essential to significant service. And it worked to educate ordained ministers as the church had never worked before. It saw ministry as the exercise of supervisory responsibility but with the emphasis on service rather than privilege — and it saw the content of this mainly in terms of preaching. To separate itself from what it felt was the Roman "privilege" notion, it advised its ordained ministers to wear the Schaube, the gown of the secular scholar in the university. But it did, even in dress, acknowledge the speciality of the minister.

When North America was settled, the various churches at first simply carried with them the forms of ministry developed in Europe. But adaptation came very quickly — first to the wilderness, then to the cut-offness from the old countries, and finally to the movement westward of the frontier. Forms of church government differed; but nobody except the Quakers challenged the notion that a religious local community needed a general overseer, no matter whether he lived in (like the Baptist preachers who farmed during the week) or out (like the circuit riders of Methodism).

In America all churches had to begin as new congregations. Hence the function of oversight, of genera] administration, became crucial in a way it had not been in the state-related churches of the Continent and the British Isles. Changes and alterations were many. But everybody insisted, even while making the most radical changes, that nothing new was being introduced. The functionalism was good. But much of the theory about it was not.

As Christian churches developed in America — and many more kinds of them with the establishment first of religious toleration and then of religious freedom — the ordained minister tended to become more dependent on his relations with his local congregation than was true in Britain or on the Continent. He had to win not only their souls but also their money. If he were not to get fired or become neurotic, he had to develop a political and diplomatic expertise that was unnecessary to his opposite numbers in Europe or Britain. Thus, he had to become more sure of what he was about and of his competence to carry it out; or face more potentialities of disaster. The ministry, too, had its days of "rugged individualism," not in the sense of riding roughshod over other people but in terms of standing up to lonely leadership in a degree that no other group of ministers in Christian history had had to do.

The history of the ministry in America has rightly been called a movement of constancy in the direction of "evangelicalism," at least until the present century. This meant that the church and the ministers serving it were to save souls above all else. It is easy to criticize or even ridicule some of the soul-saving notions and tactics of those days. But the provincialisms should not blind us to the fact that this American evangelicalism was functional in its estimate of the ministry. Not: What is your status? But: How many souls have you saved? Don’t tell me your position. Tell me what you have done.

With the emergence of new concern in our own century for the people caught in problems of urbanization, racial discrimination, industrialization, and the like, the churches moved first — through the so-called social gospel movement — to correct the previous emphasis on soul-saving as dealing only with individual persons. In a more articulate way the tasks of ministry came to include work for justice, reconciling beyond the individual’s inner self and his family relationships. Perhaps all this at first was a bit too collective, and maybe it believed that progress could be made if you put your mind to it. But it was an essential development.

The social gospel did not talk much about the ministry. But it either exhorted ministers to get to work on social injustice, or encouraged laymen to prod their ministers — so that it accepted fully the fact that the ordained minister was the general overseer of a particular community of Christians.

By the time we reach our own generation, the first major bombshell about the ministry was detonated by Reinhold Niebuhr. We cannot simply go on with our evangelical concern for the person, he implied, and let other people and other institutions take care of social justice. All efforts for social justice are less than pure or sure, he continued. But the church and the minister must be in on them, even if only 51 percent convinced. The Sermon on the Mount must never be forgotten, but it is an "impossible possibility." Just make sure that our devotion to its ideals does not deter us from getting on with what needs to be done in this contingent world.

After Niebuhr’s shattering critique we began to get the impact of the big B’s: Barth, Bultmann, and Brunner, and eventually of Tillich. In a loose sense, this movement was called neo-orthodoxy. Its principal instrument was the Bible as understood by modern technical means of scholarship, attempting to be faithful to the biblical message beyond the biblical provincialisms. It tended to emphasize the ministry as proclamation of the Word of God, and sometimes became irrelevantly verbose in the process. Its virtue was the recapture of the biblical message with time-bound elements shorn away; and thus it had a spirit equally compounded of scholarly honesty and theological commitment.

Neo-orthodoxy challenged the pallid commitments to "ideals" and moralistic interpretations of them. It caught the minister up short when he said we should "love one another" and failed to show that love in this sense is an impossible possibility," or at least very difficult. It told the ministry to stop being so smug about what it had done and to listen to the Word of God about what it might do. It even made a few passes at taking modern science and other knowledge into account.

But neo-orthodoxy, despite its great virtues as corrector, has not been able to achieve a viable reinterpretation of the ministry. It has been shockingly unconcerned about what a minister does — except the ambiguous "proclamation" of the gospel. Eduard Thurneysen has tried to redefine pastoral care as appropriate proclamation of the Word to individual persons and families. All this breaks down. It is an excellent critique that has not found a way of constructing.

In the very recent past, many of the discussions of ministry have been efforts to remind us that ministry is diakonia, or service, and relates to all members of the Christian community. This is true and necessary, but such discussion has tended to evade the question: So what, then, is the task of the ordained minister?

As in the long history of the church, we are not today without special interest groups — many of them of merit in what they do — in interpreting the nature of the ministry. Some of them still carry old denominational convictions; for instance, about continuity in the Anglican Church, the rejection of a set-aside ministry in parts of the Society of Friends, the parity of the ministry in the Reformed tradition, and no ordination without a call from a local church as in much of Lutheranism.

The ecumenical movement has stimulated many discussions of ministry that face forthrightly the differences among Christian groups, almost always held by each group to be consequent upon its theory of the church. These differences must still be taken with great seriousness. And yet they are astonishingly little connected with function and service, and are very obviously related to status and privilege. I do not yet know of a serious ecumenical discussion of the ministry that has consistently put function and service in the foreground. Important as they are, discussions of the ministry of the laity, the total people of God, are not substitutes for asking, if the minister is a servant, just what his unique service (and not privilege or status) is to be, and what competence does he have to carry it out. In this book I hope I may be nudging an ecumenical discussion or two to take function seriously, instead of making exhortations about diakonia and then discussing ministry in terms of status rather than function.

Some of the special emphases on the ministry today differ, however, from those of the past. Some of these positions flow from concern to minister to people in special situations or settings: the inner city, the hospital, military service, college campus, mission field, and others. It is argued (rightly I believe) that ministry in all such settings requires special knowledge and skills that may not be parts of the traditional preparation for the ministry, and that such education should at least be added to the traditional materials. Up to this point I agree. Some advocates, however, seem to believe that the new kinds of knowledge and skill make the old ones unnecessary. I strongly disagree. In the field I know best, hospital chaplaincy, the best chaplaincy work increasingly performs a wider, and not a narrower, range of the total functions of ministry. I see no reason why this is not relevant to ministry in the other special settings.

Another kind of position about the ministry, which now seems likely to be adopted to a certain extent by the Roman Catholic Church, is to create a group of subministers, who are permitted to perform nearly (but not quite) all the functions of the priest, but who will be trained much more quickly. This might turn out as successfully as has the relation of practical nurses to registered nurses. But the problem is far more difficult, and the parallel far from exact because all nurses work under the general direction of physicians. It is difficult for me to see what functions of professional ministry can be mastered without professional education. Very many functions of the church, under professional supervision, can be done by those not professionally trained. But again, the issue is: ordained ministry, or the office or offices of set-aside ministry.

A third kind of modern position about the ministry (and here there is a variety of views) relates to specialism. The number of persons exercising their ministry through concentration on special functions has greatly increased. In my own church it is now estimated that 20 percent of our ministers are specialists in this sense. Functional specialism may make for much more effective service. But is a functionally specializing minister protected from keeping his mind on anything except the area of his specialty? If he is a Christian educator, does he simply forget that, even for him, preaching and pastoral care are aspects of ministry from which he cannot disidentify himself even if his time spent on hem is less than if he were not a functional specialist? Although I am all for functional specialization in the interest of more adequate total ministry, I am entirely against any conception of specialized ministry that tries, thereby, to "protect" people from identification with ministry as a whole. I am even more against those who regard this or that functional specialty as having a special status of its own, whether they be seminary teachers or pastoral counselors.

Also involved in the arguments about specialized ministries today is how specialized workers in the employ of churches and church organizations, when they are not ordained ministers, shall be related to the churches. In the field of Protestant overseas missions, there are far more nonordained than ordained people. Business managers, social workers, and many others also work for the churches at home. In theory I would hold that, while it is excellent to have such workers, the general oversight should be by an ordained minister — who presumably takes into account all the kinds of needed functions that the Christian community should be performing. In actual fact this may not be good policy in specific instances. Some of the best pioneering contributions of the churches shade some functions and emphasize others. And one expert in the emphasized functions may there be the best general overseer. One of the challenges today is to retain intact the function of general supervision or oversight, in the name and for the sake of the totality of functions of the church, and yet to have some nonhierarchical way of using persons with the needed special knowledge in the work of the church — all over and above the voluntary service of every Christian. The more we can take and understand general oversight as function and not as status, the easier will be the solution to this problem.

In reminding myself as much as my readers of what seem to me principal highlights in the history of the ordained ministry, I have not hesitated to let my position in favor of monoepiscopacy — a general overseer and supervisor in each operative Christian community — be clear. But I have also tried to show that, in Christianity as in no other universal religion (with very minor exceptions), there has rarely been a question about this. There have been thousands of problems. In any local Christian community the minister, no matter what he was called, might interpret oversight as domination, as exuding charm and doing nothing, or in many other irritating or obstructive ways. But only under direst distress have such communities decided to have no overseer at all.

The great historic quarrels about ministry have been, so to speak, geographic. Is the local community its own final authority? Does the overseer of the area have the right to order thus and so of the local community? Or does some kind of representative assembly of a wider area take precedence over any one supervisor or any one community? Today each of these systems of polity (which means political systems) has been qualified, although there are still divisions among them. But there is increasing recognition that whatever their merit — and there may be a bit in each — they are not so much theories of the ministry as theories of ministerial geography. This book is devoted to ministry, not to ministerial geography.

The Ordained Ministry and Functional Competence

Even I, although I have argued throughout this chapter for understanding the ministry basically from a monoepiscopal point of view, have sometimes been nostalgic about the first century, where everybody seemed so keen and enthusiastic (literally filled with God) that things got done and "offices" were not established. But then I get second thoughts about Paul, who, with both his genius and his humility, was nevertheless going to fight all corners who said he was not a true apostle — even though he did not meet the formal apostolic criterion of having known Jesus in his earthly ministry. Had I been in one of those Christian communities back there, I am sure I would have appreciated Paul’s visits and his letters to my local group. But I think I would have wondered how he put himself so completely above the political battle. When we reach the postapostolic age, we find, happily, the emergence of the monoepiscopal conception of the ministry, according to which somebody around the place has to keep his eye on whatever is cooking.

There is only one alternative to having a general overseer or supervisor to any kind of local group, church or otherwise, provided there is to be some continuity and performance of functions. That is to have so many codes, rules, regulations, and rituals that everybody involved knows exactly what he is to do — and is of course, therefore, likely to do no more. The Christian church of the early second century lived in this world, and knew that an "organic" body of Christ demanded some kind of organizing. As all subsequent history, including the Protestant Reformation, shows, however, general overseers are likely to stress their status and power and diminish their functions as service. Even though we are more democratic about it all than previous ages, we are far from immune to the same tendency. Thus, if a minister today is not in process of being ousted, is regarded by at least many of his people as a wonderful Christian, a helpful preacher, a diligent pastor, and so on, he may rest content in this kind of status even though privately he is disturbed at all the kids who drop out of church school, at the inattentiveness of the church to its neighborhood, at the virtual neglect of older people, and at the bourgeois aroma that infects everything. I have met a very few ministers who are relatively unprincipled politicians, but very few indeed. The overwhelming majority fall back into a status not because it has power but rather because they want to be "settled." Today, I think, too many ministers settle for too little power. Some kind of power is needed if service is to be performed. This ought not to be "power over," in the sense of overriding anybody without consulting him seriously. But the retreat to "just doing my job" violates the whole conception of ministry, from the first and the second centuries alike.

With some exceptions, although they are decreasing, the ordained minister today of any Catholic or Protestant church except the fringe groups has had a college or university education, and then an education in a theological school or seminary. Beyond his arts course he has studied an incredible variety of subjects. There is usually both the Greek and Hebrew languages, so he can read the Bible in its original tongues. There is biblical history, theology, archaeology, "criticism," and hermeneutics (what happens to the Bible at the modern end of the sausage grinder). He has studied the history of the Church and churches, and hopefully also a bit about the history of religions other than Judaism and Christianity. He has done systematic theology, historical theology, the philosophy of religion, and maybe even the sociology and the psychology of religion. He has studied preaching, corrected his speech, delved into religious education, and had a go at pastoral care. He has worked on ethics and ecumenic and the "secular society." Maybe — but it is doubtful — he has had some study of how to be an overseer, which is to be the focus of his job from here on no matter what its setting. He has been exhorted to keep on reading, not only "theology" (and what a mixture he has already got) but also novels, history, biography, and every contemporary journal that can get him into the mind of society and the problems of the world.

All this is great; but if his head is spinning — well, why shouldn’t it? And nobody knows better than the intelligent minister of today that, whatever he has been able to devour of all this, he has not "mastered" anything. to say nothing of the whole of it.

I admire the modern minister’s realism and humility. But mostly I don’t like what he does with them. He tends to use them as barricades. In a strange way, and one unjustified by the actual knowledge he has and the skills he rapidly acquires, he tends to become defensive in a professional sense. By running down his own abilities, he unintentionally runs down the ministry. Then along comes some article about "Why I Left the Ministry," or "More Christianity and Fewer Churches," or "The Creative Ministry Without Local Churches," or "Ministers Don’t Know Why They Are" — and the poor fellow buckles. Nonsense! No professional man today, even the doctor, has "mastered" his field. Knowledge is expanding too rapidly for that. A great number of ministers are catching on to whatever is valid new knowledge. Some others are throwing in the sponge. But the fact is that nobody can master it all. Perfectionism will not do. The attitude is more important than the achievement.

Happily, continuing education opportunities for ministers are increasing by leaps and bounds, even though far too many of them still are more hortatory and "hand-holding" than they should be. And most of them are too short. In my judgment, a good continuing education course for the minister should begin where the minister has his problems; that is, with an issue of function, of service, of how you do this or that, and then go back to basic principles, wherever you can find them, to shed light on whatever it is. Far too many courses of continuing education insult the minister, even if he does not realize it, by refusing to organize the material in this way. They insist that he take a look at, let us say, Old Testament theology, or pastoral counseling, in their own categories — instead of asking first the functional questions of both Old Testament theology and pastoral counseling.

Perhaps the sessions themselves are good. But if the minister leaves with nothing but a sense of what he does not know, then something is wrong. He is not, after all, trying to become a research expert in special theological disciplines. Can he be helped within his knowledge, but utilizing every swotch of it, to use it more effectively in his ministry? That is the question that should be posed to all programs of continuing education. Most of them, in reply, I believe, are not so good. They may do an excellent job on content of this area or that. But when anybody asks "How?" they tend to fade into the distance. Why should not such a program be able, with illustrations, to speak to "How"? Please, brother minister, do not let the august leader off the hook at this point. If he doesn’t know how then he does not know his subject. No formulas. But "hows" are more than formulas. Stand up for your rights.


I have written this chapter under the internal duress of respect for the communicative process. My discussion of the ministry which follows is about the functions of ministry. So far as I can see, in any proper kind of logical sense, functions are what follow from diakonia. In my judgment, every minister is at all times sufficiently sensitive to all these functions as appropriate to ministry that, according to the situation, he responds with a dominant emphasis on this function or that. If he has been smart enough to enlist other people to perform many functions of the total diakonia within the church and to the world, that is commendable. But he is still, regardless of the setting of his ministry, responsible for appraising what is going on, stimulating more where needed, and encouraging the changing of forms and patterns when the old have outlived their usefulness.

Not only do I believe in the monoepiscopal ministry. I see this conception as also unique, structurally, to Christianity. It has many temptations, all of which have been fallen for in the history of the church. It can become power over, or detachment, or authoritarianism, or busy-work, or much else, in its pathologies. But you cannot have a competent and moving local Christian community without a supervisor, an overseer, who, while dependent upon his community, is nevertheless free at critical points to transcend it. He must be with his organization, but he cannot be merely an organization man.

In the chapters that follow, my implicit argument all the way through is that a lot of the modem arguments about the ministry can be solved if they are approached through the analysis of functions of ministry. No automatic harmony guaranteed. But try it on for size.