Blogs,  Vic Stanley

For The Love of Others Pt. I

Written by Victor Stanley Jr.

Introduction

“No one presumes to teach an art that he has not first mastered through study. How foolish it is therefore for the inexperienced to assume pastoral authority when the care for souls is the art or arts.”[1] These are the words of St. Gregory the Great written in late 6th century in his book Liber Regulae Pastoralis; or Book of Pastoral Rule. In this book he lays out what it means to sit in a position of leadership and authority, to care for souls, and to live as an example to others. It is a book that all those who step into any type of ministry should read. One simple thing that has much gravity to it is St. Gregory’s assertion that ministry is focused on the “care of souls.” This focus should ground anyone’s philosophy of ministry and serves to shape what we will call the meaning, motives, essentials, and methods of ministry.

Meaning of Ministry

There are three basics ways one can prepare himself or herself for ministry[2] (more can be added, but we will look at these three): Education, mentorship, practice. While I believe these three flow one from another in succession, I believe that they should all be happening at the same time and continue throughout one’s life. Let’s start with education.

St. Gregory the Great makes it very clear for us when he says, “…how often do they who are completely ignorant of spiritual precepts profess themselves physicians of the heart, while anyone who is ignorant of the power of medicine is too embarrassed to be seen as a physician of the body.” One must be educated before than can claim to properly and carefully practice any art or discipline. Let me be clear that when I speak of education, I am speaking in the vein of Neil Postman who in his book The End of Education distinguishes between education and schooling. Education is the ascertaining of knowledge and wisdom through learning and experience. Schooling is a system in which one might receive an education, but it is neither the primary nor exclusive domain where learning does or should take place. While I do attend school and take classes, this is mostly because our society values an idiot with a degree more than a wise person with life experience. And so, I go to school.

I have learned far more from mentors and participation than from sitting in classrooms. A mentor guides a person, teaches them, provides them opportunity to succeed and fail, grow and learn. Under the guidance of mentors, I have been able to practice my art, that is ministry and the care of souls. It is through mentorship and practice that I have received a true education that in reality is far more valuable than a degree. Of course, we live in a society that has made the college/university degree a commodity with a high price tag that can be traded in order to gain much socioeconomic benefit. I’m not against higher education, in fact I believe that it is greatly beneficial for many disciplines, however, I am against the perceived supremacy of higher education. For those who plan to go into ministry there must be an understanding of the difference between learning many things in a seminary and what practicing those things actually looks like. This is the value of having a mentor who has lived it, who has experienced it, and who can hand down that wisdom to you.

Practice is, I would say, the most important part of preparing for ministry. We prepare for most everything else by practicing, yet when it comes to ministry, we are content to sit in elephant tusk towers reading books and debating theology and philosophy; I get it, it’s comfortable up there. “…we are, ultimately, liturgical animals… We are what we love, and our love is shaped, primed, and aimed by liturgical practices that take hold of our gut and aim our heart to certain ends.” (author’s emphasis)[3] James K.A. Smith’s book Desiring the Kingdom deals specifically with Christian education in Christian institutions; a great read for anyone looking to shape their pedagogy. What Smith argues is that what we do, our practices and rituals, shape who we are, or who we are becoming. Thus, the ministry student ought to start doing ministry right away. She need not way until she has reached a certain point in her program before she actually starts ministering. Practicing ministry gives legs to all that is being learned in the classroom, it allows one to test out the theories and practical theology. Get with a pastor or missionary, a Sunday school teacher or parachurch organization leader. Let them teach you by providing space and opportunity for you to serve. In this a person receives an education while being mentored and practicing that which they want to do as a full-time career. This is what I have done and continue to do, and I am grateful to my mentors and friends for all that they do in my life.

Of course, all of this must be coupled with spiritual discipline and formation. Time, energy, and communion are key (while not a Baptist, their influence is clear in my partiality towards threes). More than managing my time and being regimented, I focus on carving out time or “stopping time.” Life is unpredictable and ever-changing, which means my regiment gets thrown off often. I am an executive in a missions organization, an executive in a small corporation, a member of the vestry at my church, and I work as a professional sound engineer on the side. My positions in these organizations place me in charge of four different companies and a lot of people. I mentor a few young men and women, I teach, I write, I administrate, I organize, I sit in meetings, I travel the United States and the world. My time is full up and my energy is expended to the maximum. In order to make sure I take time to pray and read my Bible I often have to stop time by simply pausing during my day and engaging in these two spiritually formative practices. This often means being late or pushing tasks back a day in order to commit time to setting my mind on Christ. What good is it being a so-called Christian leader if I don’t actually live the Christian life?

Energy is a second thing I must be mindful of as I serve in my various capacities. I only have so much energy each day, and I must use it wisely. I cannot be friends with everyone, I cannot spend time with a bunch of different people, I cannot do all the things I would love to do or take part in all the things my friends and family are doing. It takes energy to read the Bible, it takes energy to pray or meditate, it takes energy to meaningfully engage with friends and one’s community. Thus, I must conserve my energy and expend it in ways that are most beneficial to those whom I serve, namely God.

Communion is the final thing that nurtures spiritual growth and development. By communion I mean the communion of the saints, and particularly a local communion. I am distinguishing a local communion from what is commonly called the “local church.” We all need to be a member of a local church where we worship, serve, and pray together. Our local communion most likely will include other members of our local church, but the former does not necessarily entail the latter. We ought to find those with whom we connect on a deep level spiritually, emotionally, and mentally and join ourselves to them. This does not mean finding people who agree with us or behave and act exactly as we do, we are not looking for people to validate us or mirror us. We are looking for people who build us up through exhortation and rebuke, through love and loving discipline, through truth and kindness. These are people we can journey through life with even if only for a time or if only while we remain in a particular place.

Yet, the longevity or brevity of our journey with a particular person or group is not the measure by which we determine the impact of that relationship. Rather it is the depth and imprint left on us by that person or group that really reveals the value of our time with them. I know a lot of people, or rather I am acquainted with a lot of people. Most of them don’t know me, many of them think they know me or at least hold a lot of assumptions about me, but in the end, they know me not. I know a few people, I open my life up to a very select few and have no interest in opening up to more than them. I know some people who spend time with a great many people, it baffles me, and at the risk of being judgmental I imagine their “communion” to be a hundred miles wide and two feet deep. I join myself to very few, and it is this communion that inspires me, encourages me, challenges and reshapes me. It is this communion that holds me accountable and constantly redirects my life towards Christ.

Motives of Ministry

The Church is the visible body of Christ on Earth. It is made up of all those who have been baptized into Christ, given their lives to Him through faith in His death and resurrection, and confess Him as Savior and Lord. To have salvation is to be in Christ, and to be in Christ is to partake of His body, to be a member of it. To be a member of the body is to be a part of the Church that is the body of Christ, thus, as the Catholics say, “there is no salvation outside the church.” The “local church” as it is commonly called, is a particular manifestation of this larger entity known as the Church within a particular geographical location; It is the gathering of a small group of members of the larger body. Local churches have a governing body that manages, oversees, leads, and serves the community of Christians that have gathered together. The local church preaches the Word of God, administers the sacraments—baptism and the Lord’s Supper—through ordained ministers, instructs the faithful, disciplines those who need it, proclaims the Gospel throughout their locale, and serves one another through prayer and fellowship. The local church is not divorced from the worldwide body of saints who constitute the Church, but rather is a visible picture of the whole.

The preaching, teaching, and proclaiming of the Gospel is one of the primary activities of the local church and should be one of the primary activities of any Christian organization or ministry. The Gospel is not merely relegated to the realm of evangelism and missions, it is foundational for the spiritual growth and formation of all Christians, new and mature. In most churches the gospel is taught as what Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15: Jesus was crucified, buried, and raised from death on the third day. While this may be the central focus of the Gospel it leaves out the other 30,000 plus verses in the Bible. Two books of the Bible that provide very complete understandings of what scripture in its entirety teaches are Romans and Hebrews. Both books speak of Creation, The Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. These four could be said to be the pillars on which the biblical narrative stands. Thus, the Gospel in its fullness provides an understanding of each of these four.[4]

LOJ Ministries, the organization I helped found and now work for makes the following statement in their Purpose Statement: “Our faith is not relegated to a specific area of life, rather it permeates all of life calling us into a particular kind of life, that is a Christ-centered one.” The Gospel is not simply presented at specific moments or in certain places, it is always being communicated through our lifestyles, our conversations, our work, and our teaching. We are very careful to make sure that no matter what we are doing, whether it is writing curriculum, training pastors or lay persons, leading small groups, etc. everything points back to the grand narrative of Scripture that directs our whole being mind, body, heart, and soul toward Christ. We craft trainings, curriculum, and teachings that show how every single part of our lives ought to be shaped and directed by the Gospel, from what we eat and the products we purchase, to the media we consume, to our relationships and beyond.

In order to develop and maintain this type of ecosystem we strive to develop among those in our organization what Joel Beeke and Mark Jones call a “pilgrim mentality” that views Christians as pilgrims sojourning here on earth but not belonging to the world.[5] LOJ’s mission, vision, and purpose are built around Hebrews 12-13 by pressing in to the writer’s assertion that we are journeying to the heavenly city prepared for us by God, the city that has foundations. We have adopted many practices of liturgical churches such as the Anglicans, Catholics, and Orthodox. Contemplative prayer, liturgy, fasting, observance of the Church calendar, meditation, intentional engagement with the poor and oppressed, and many other practices are incorporated into our ethos. These practices reorient not only our minds, but also our souls and bodies around Christ and the life He calls us to live. By engaging in these formative practices coupled with teaching and training in theology and missions we begin to inhabit the “rest” spoken of in Hebrews 4, and it is in this rest that we truly find our life in Christ and completely depend on Him.


[1] Pope Gregory I, The Book of Pastoral Rule, ed. John Behr, trans. George E. Demacopulous, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press “Popular Patristics” Series, no. 34 (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2007) 29.

[2] For the rest of this article I will take a first-person point-of-view as I lay out a brief philosophy of ministry. I will examine my own life and ministry as it pertains to the meaning, motives, essentials, and methods of ministry.

[3] James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation, Volume 1 of Cultural Liturgies (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2009) 40.

[4] The Double Edge, “The Full Gospel,” The Double Edge, accessed October 23, 2017, https://www.hebrews4.org/blogs/2016/688/.

[5] Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012) 843.

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