Here’s a thought that should terrorize every person who calls himself or herself a minister. Saint Augustine, toward the end of his Confessions, says, “To all officers of your ministry, who are necessary for perfecting the fathful in this life, you willed that by those same faithful, works fruitful for the life to come should be offered for their temporal usage,” (Book 13, ch. 34).
Like Glenn Beck, here’s what I think I know:
1. The “officers of the church” (pastors and other such leaders) are the instrumental cause for the perfecting (maturing) of church members. God has ordained that pastors and teachers are the means of growth for the church. If we don’t do our jobs, the church doesn’t grow, i.e. Christians don’t grow.
2. The “faithful” (Christians, the church) are the instrumental cause of good works that produce eternal life. They are offered to the world for the sake of the world’s salvation. If the church doesn’t do its job, the world goes hungry.
3. If pastors and other leaders don’t do their job, the church can’t do its job. The result is not a happy one for the world.
In case someone may think I’m slipping into “works righteousness,” (i.e. that we earn our salvation by good works), you need not waste time going down that path. My line of thinking does not at all call into question God’s grace for our salvation. It does, on the other hand, make me think that the church – at least most of what we call the church in the United States – is doing a cruddy job.
I’ve been thinking recently about the connection between my personal spiritual growth and the calling of Jesus to serve the neighbor. Most of the time when we focus on spiritual growth and the relevant practices (i.e. Bible reading, prayer, fasting, worship), we don’t connect it to other people. The closest we get is some notion of accountability; that is, I recognize I need other believers to help me grow.
More importantly, we Christians need to grow toward maturity for other people. Our spiritual life is not our own. It’s for the other.
When I start to think of how self-absorbed most of our church activity is, I am embarrassed. I am a “religious leader,” an “officer of the ministry” as Augustine put it. What am I doing to help the church do its job? If you’re in ministry, what are you doing? Honestly, how much of your time is spent in activity that aims at blessing, healing, growing the other? I’m asking myself this question more and more.