A week ago, I wrote about my desire to me a misfit in a world of impermanence, and today I would like to pick up where I left off, transitioning from the issue of impermanence to that of marketability (both which are daughters of the professionalization of the ministry). David Wells continues his analysis of the “new disablers” by exposing the career-centered mentality. He writes,
“The combination of professionalization and this impermanence has encouraged pastors to suppose that it is proper for them to seek careers. When they cannot form lasting friendships in a particular community, they are tempted to look inward for the measure of fruitfulness rather than outward. They will be tempted to seek first a career rather than to make an enduring contribution to the people in a particular place” (249).
Again, consonant with his critique of impermanence, Wells explains that there has been a shift which has taken place about the same time of increasing impermanence (specifically 19th century). Here’s how he explains it:
“The notion that one’s occupation might serve as the means to provide a career was quite foreign at the beginning of the nineteenth century but quite common by its end. Having a career came to mean making progress, moving from preparatory stages of accomplishment up the ladder to larger honor and responsibilities. The occupation in which one was engaged was no longer an end itself but the means to an end–specifically, the elevation or enrichment of the worker. This represented a great change in the way that work was conceived. . . . The older order viewed a profession not as the means of a career in the modern sense, as a platform from which to ascend to larger visibility or gain, but rather as a means by which one might do public good” (231).
If the ministry is seen as a marketplace, then minister must do what he can to promote himself, that is, to make progress by means of ascending the latter of all things bigger and better. The resume becomes the dividing line between competition and competence; it cannot and was not intended to reveal whether he is man of God or reveal the character and virtues within. Just yesterday I was meditating on the phrase “the Lord’s servant” (2 Tim. 2:24). Those words reveal who a minister is and what he is called to do. He is the Lord’s. He has been purchased with the blood of Jesus, called, and set apart for the ministry. The Lord is his sole audience, the one to whom he will give an account. It reveals that the very person who has taken ownership of our lives should be the One who also is our magnificent obsession. Moreover, those words reveal what a minister does. He is a servant. Literally, he is a slave. He does not have rights to himself. He has given them up voluntarily and has made it his singular ambition to be like his master and please him in every way. He is to serve others in the same way that his Master “did not come to be served but to serve.” Now, notice with me that this phrase which is throughout Scripture gives no place for career-centered mentality. Instead of working his way up a ladder, he works his way down to absolute dependence and posture of humble submission to the Master’s will. Wells summarizes:
“For if it is the case that careers can be had in the Church, then it is inevitable that ministers will be judged by the height to which they ascend on the ladder of achievement, and they in turn will judge the Church on the extent to which it facilitates this ascent. It is a little difficult to see how such calculations can be reconciled with the biblical notion of service, the call to serve the Church without thought of what one might receive in return” (ibid.).
So what should we do, and how should we understand the role a man of God in ministry? Wells asserts:
“[M]inisterial function should be defined by ministerial being, that what a minister does should grow out of that minister’s calling, out of the fabric of truth of which that minister is an exponent. Ministerial being should be defined, if the New Testament is to be allowed any say in the matter, by worthy character, a passion for truth, and the kind of wise love that yokes together this character and this passion in the service of others. But professionalization has worked to undo this relationship, for the market in which ministers function is shaping who they must be in a way that makes connections to this world of truth uneasy and often unnecessary (237)”.
So the question before me is whether I am going to have my life and future ministry defined by who I am according to Scripture or by what the culture of professionalization around me attempts to conform me into being. Am I going to try to market myself and become individually “successful,” or am I going to find contentment in the smile of my Master which is infinitely more valuable and honoring than the loftiest and most grandiose gestures of man? How can I so live and minister that I get out of the way concerning God’s purpose for me and find freedom in giving myself gladly in service to Christ’s Church? Wells concludes:
“The source of this freedom for today’s ministers is located in the very heart of their vocation. The source lies not in their professional status or their current location along the trajectory of a career. It lies in the fact that they serve the living God, who is no respecter of persons, in the fact that they are servants of his Word and Son, before whom all will be judged. It is this understanding that gives ministers the freedom to remain in one location however long it takes to make theological truth a central and effective part of their ministry, regardless of whether their careers pass by them in the meantime (250)”.
In this life, there will be men who rise to the place where buildings are named after them, Bibles are provided for their signature, and megachurches seek out their notoriety and skill, but friends, let us remember who we are and what we are called to do. When the race is finished and life is over, there will be one word that will matter in the end. That word will be spoken out of the same mouth who told us that “it is enough for the servant to be like his master” (Matt. 10:25). What is that word?
good and faithful