Struggles, the Cross & Brokenness: A Different Look at MinistryAuthor: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bobby's World, Church, Hebrews, Jesus, Ministry, Preaching
I have been in full time preaching ministry since 1992. In that time I have worked with churches in radically different social settings. Some ministers when they move they go fifty miles down the road. When I have moved it has been from New Orleans, to Grenada, MS, to Milwaukee, WI to Tucson, AZ. Not only are these locations geographically separate but they are radically diverse culturally. Each time I have been confronted with what does it mean to minister. This year I am faced again with the question of what are the qualifications of being a minister?
I have reflected on these questions many times. On the twentieth year of preaching I wrote my blog So You’re a Minister … Leaves from a Journal Spanning 20 Years. I asked Is Preaching Folly?
There are many things that help equip us for ministry. A sense of calling. A deep life of prayer. Being equipped through training. But I have come to believe there are other “intangibles” that qualify the person for ministry with God’s people.
The Qualification of Struggles
Maybe we can learn something about being a minister from the one who is the Son of Man himself. He was a man “familiar with suffering.” Struggling … wrestling … is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign that one may very well be in tune with God. God named his people Jacob, the one that wrestles/struggles with God. Flowing out of this wrestling comes ministry itself. That is the minister’s own life becomes a training ground for ministry.
Jesus’s ministry was molded and shaped by events in his personal life and in the lives of the people he met. Thus the timing and place of Jesus’ first miracle was determined by the relationship he had with his mother. Jesus’s interaction is different with Nicodemus than with the Samaritan woman. Jesus’s words to the Pharisees are radically different than those to the woman “caught in the act” (where was the man??) of John 8. And Jesus’s own experience of prayer is quite different in the “Lord’s Prayer,” the Garden, and his prayer on the Cross.
My philosophy of ministry, therefore, holds that ministry flows directly out of our own pain, hurt, triumphs and failures seen in light of God’s purpose. Though the Hebrews’ Preacher is talking about an ancient Jewish high priest it is, nonetheless, true that the Christian minister can best serve precisely when he has struggled with the same life situations as are common to humanity. This kind of ministry majors in mercy.
Light from Hebrews on Being a Minister
I recently read through Hebrews, again. It is a text that I think is frequently misunderstood. But as I was reading it dawned on my to ask, what does the ministry of Jesus as described in Hebrews have to say about OUR ministry today?
I am really coming to believe that “life” is a major requirement for ministry. Listen to what the Hebrews Preacher says about the “qualifications” that God used to see if a person was fit for ministry.
“We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are …” (Heb 4.15)
“He is able to sympathize with people who don’t know very much, or who wander off in different directions, since he too has his own share of weaknesses” (5.2)
“Although he was a son, he learned the nature of obedience through what he suffered” (5.8)
That word there in v.2, ‘since‘ perhaps we should translate as “because.” The meaning is the same. Thus some “qualifications” for ministry might be:
1) Must know what temptation is like to the point that it is a “struggle”
2) Must have gone through some valleys in life to know what “suffering” is.
3) Must have come to a knowledge of obedience by wrestling with God.
It would seem, according to the Preacher, that such qualifications actually make one “fit” to actually minister with God’s own people. The “priest” is never above or apart from the people because he is himself one who sins and has to seek forgiveness for his own weaknesses. It would seem such “qualifications” are an antidote to self-righteousness.
The result of such training seems to be “gentleness” or “mercy.” Some of the harshest people I have met over the years are people who see their own life history above the fallenness of this world. Some of the best elders, deacons, preachers, teachers and disciples I have ever met are ones who know what it is like when the hurricane strikes. The struggles of the “priest” make him a minister of compassion and love and mercy.
Just another perspective on being a minister for, and of, the people.