Thursday, February 19, 2009

Guest post: Scripture, Ministry and the People of God – Introducing a new blog

A guest post by Mark Stevens

As a celebration of the official launch of "Scripture, Ministry and the People of God" I (Mark) have two copies of Eugene Peterson's "Under the Unpredictable Plant" to give away (A book that changed my life and helped me to hear my vocational call). All you have to do to be in with a chance of receiving one of the copies is, follow the blog (on the right hand side of the page), promise to add me to your RSS feed, and perhaps leave a comment or two! Finally, I would like to thank Chris for his help and support and Jim West has been a great sounding board for the original concepts for the blog. Thank's guys! UPDATE: I will announce the book winners towards the end of February.

Why does "Scripture, Ministry and the People of God" exist? Or, why does a Minister feel the need to blog?

The truth is I do not feel the impulse to blog for blogging sake. What I find of utmost importance is the need for me to continue my biblical and theological reflection and blogging is the avenue for me that encourages this. As a minister I often find the nature of parish ministry drawing me away from the discipline of biblical and theological reflection. I am not referring to ministry with people in our church who at unexpected and even sometimes at unwanted times call on us to be their minister. I refer to the business or busyness of ministry that subtly leads us astray. I wrestle with my schedule longing to have more time to reflect and the reality that there are only so many hours in a day. I try as best I can to prioritise what I deem important and work hard to allow my week to be formed by my values and not needs or distractions. Nevertheless, this is a tension in which I will always dwell as a parish minister.

It seems to me that for many of us, once we leave our colleges and universities, reflection stops and the work of ministry begins. However, it is within this context, if we allow it, that our theological journey takes on a new frontier; that of practical theology! Practical theology is not a theology of method, as Anderson argues, rather it is the, “critical engagement with the interface between the Word of God as revealed through scripture and the work of God taking place in and through the church in the world” (Ray Anderson, The Shape of Practical Theology, 2001, p.8). It is precisely within this tension that reflection takes place. A helpful metaphor in understanding my own vocation as a minister is, “theologian in residence". It is important that this metaphor not be used as permission to lock myself away in the Minister’s study and pour over scripture and the church fathers seeking to develop my own theological agenda. Rather it is permission to escape ministry as a business or management. It helps me to see my role as more than the day-to-day needs of the church. It is a vocation explored within the context of the community for the community. The distractions that I mentioned are the very outworking of Christ’s ministry in our midst. The phone call, the visits, the paperwork and even the sermon preparation are the necessary tension to theological reflection. As Eugene Peterson might say, “this is where we see Christ at play” and where we reflect on the nature and work of God revealed to us! It is in ministry that we find a playground for the unpacking of our theology.

In my role as “[theologian] in residence” I seek, as Anderson explains, “to interpret scripture, tradition and praxis, in order that the contemporary praxis of both church and world can be transformed” (Ray Anderson, The Shape of Practical Theology, 2001, p.33). As a minister who is helping a community understand who they are as the people of God and what that means with our particular context theological reflection is the method in which I am seeking to adjust or recalibrate the two horizons of gospel and mission so that they are horizontal. The task of theological reflection for the minister must not become a purely academic exercise. It takes place as an act of prayer and submission to God. It is explored within the context of relationship, Father, Son and Spirit and the community of God’s people. As we worship and pray, as we seek to listen to God and discern the movements of his grace in our midst we are indeed reflecting on the God revealed in Jesus Christ. As theologian in residence I am a “Practical Theologian” in service to God and his people, calling the church to its task of a missionary community established in Christ and thrust out by the Spirit.



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