Thinking about ministry today. Thinking about the Great Commandment and the current perception of Christians and their purpose in life.
Disclaimer: I accept the truth of a seemingly widespread perception about Christians and Christianity, and I am doing my best and encouraging others to do their best to not only understand the words and works of Jesus, but to live them out in 21st Century America in order to change the misperception so widely shared among our neighbors.
I grew up in the Roman Catholic Church. As a child I was quickly and firmly introduced to the Baltimore Catechism and its Question and Answer format about faith and practice as a Roman Catholic. Not so pleased at the time to have to memorize questions and their answers the process has served me well by providing a starting point for conversation, for exploration, for meaning-making in my life. So it is that I am predisposed to return again and again as an Episcopalian to An Outline of the Faith contained in the Book of Common Prayer (pages 845-862).
This Outline of the Faith–using the familiar question and answer format–remains an excellent starting point for conversation, exploration, and meaning making.
All members of the church begin their journey in Baptism, becoming a “lay person” in the mission and ministry of the church. Later some of us respond to God’s call and with the assent of the people around us and the laying on of hands by a Bishop become deacons and priests, “clergy” in the scheme of things. Some priests as they grow in experience and knowledge are elected and ordained Bishop and become leaders in the manner of the first Apostles. The work begun by Jesus and continued in his Apostles has depended on the faithful work of generations of men and women and will continue to do so into our future.
This introduction is provided because the Outline of the Faith speaks of a fundamental obligation taken on by all who are baptized. Whether or not the lay person goes on to become a deacon, priest, or bishop, the foundational ministry of our being in the world is set. The question is posed this way: What is the ministry of the laity? Here is the answer:
The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church. Book of Common Prayer, p. 855
Whether a person goes on to become a deacon, or priest, or even a bishop, we all begin with the privilege and obligation “to represent Christ and his Church…to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world.” In order to do this well we need to look often at the example of Christ and listen deeply to his words while exploring what, according to the gifts we have been given, we are to do in this time in which we live and in the place in which we find ourselves–that is, decide what we are to do always and everywhere, then go and do it.
Our fundamental ministry is a privilege and a responsibility that requires God’s amazing grace and our profound “Yes.” Our ministry–in all its dimensions–will grow and mature as we grow and mature. We need each other, in the community we call “church,” to encourage us to continue to respond “Yes” to our God and work toward reconciliation and peace in a world that is fragmented and fearful. The better we can live as one who reconciles, we will certainly be Good News as we bring healing and wholeness to our families, our communities, our nation, and our world.
May God help us all.
For further reading and reflection:
- What Non-Christians Want Christians To Hear – a blog entry by John Shore who “posted a notice on Craigslist sites all over the country asking non-Christians to send me any short, personal statement they would like Christians to read.” He shares some random but representative responses in this entry. Read more
- Back to Basics: Love one another – an essay by Daniel Clendenin. In the essay he cites research reported in 2007 about the perception those “outside” the church have about those “inside” the church. Read more.
- “I hate religion” – a Journal entry dated September. 25, 2010 of Diane Noble, author, responding to a comment made to her CNN blog post entitled “Faith, Polygamy, and Fears” (Note: Diane is in the midst of an historical fiction work about polygamy in the formative years of Mormonism). Be sure to read the comments to her Journal entry and engage the questions that Diane asks at the end of her entry.
- In The Service of Life – an essay by Rachel Naomi Remen, MD distinguishing between helping, fixing, and serving. A follower of Christ would do well to read this in the light of Jesus’ words (and actions) – “I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22:27)