Saturday, May 26, 2007

Mine, Yours, His

So here's a thought I'm thinking, as I'm reading a newsletter. The sincere and respected pastor tells me that, in order to follow Jesus' model for ministry, I must practice delegation, i.e., "involve other people in your ministry." And while I agree with the idea, it's at this point that something clicks. Three little words:




Is something wrong here?

When I think of delegation, I think of giving qualified people a piece of my action. Those people are in place to work out my plan of action. Their positions exist for my sake. I give some of my own authority to them so that they can do what I want but can't (because I haven't the time or the expertise, perhaps).

And then there's the word "your." Delegation is, at heart, about what's mine. You can have some of it, but remember: It's mine. God gave it to me. My car (I can drive it wherever I want); my house (I can let you in or keep you out as I please); my. . . .


Is something wrong here? Because suddenly the concepts of "mine," and of "delegation" as we use it, don't apply. They just don't seem to go with the idea of creating a body in which Christ is the Head and people take up functions based on giftings. And possession doesn't go with the idea of serving; and that, of course, is what "ministry" means.

I don't mean to say or even imply that there is no such thing as authority in the local fellowship of believers. The Bible's clear about it. At times, Paul stood forcefully on his apostolic authority when he corrected believers. But there are two points to be clear about. First, he never called any ministry his in the sense of owning it. What he had was a trust, not a possession. Second, ministry didn't matter to him anyway; people did. They were his crown, his joy, and his gift to God.

Right, so this is straining at gnats. We know that pastors don't really believe ministry matters more than people. Nor that they really possess "their" ministries. Nor that delegating means letting folks in on "my" action. So why bother pointing these things out?


Form follows function, and words describe concepts. If we use the wrong words, this might show that we have the wrong concepts. Is it possible for us to use more "body" terms and fewer "ownership" terms? Would doing so return the Church to the form Jesus Christ left behind Him, the form the Holy Spirit gave life to?

If this sound angry, I want to make it plain that most pastors I know care very deeply about their people. They try hard to shepherd their flocks in the knowledge that God will hold them to account for their work as overseers. But there are many, many well-meaning pastors who simply lose perspective--in part, I think, because they are taught to think of ministry as "theirs." And those they "delegate" are seen less as God's appointees than as the pastor's appointees. There is a difference between helping gifted people grow into their gifts and picking folks to implement my vision. It's easier for us to confuse the two than we would like to think.

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1 comment:

Julie said...

Words Mercutio...they absolutely DO matter! As you said, Robert, inaccuracy in language use may be indicative of a lack of understanding. The issue of possesiveness in ministry often goes beyond the pastoral as well. It's something we all need to consider carefully. Well said.