I’ve thought a lot about purposeful ministry this past year. It’s not that ministry is ever aimless, but the essential role of context has become more apparent than ever. “I was trained not to change lives but to produce church members.” Blake Bradford shared this comment from one of his workshops with Board of Ordained Ministry Leaders at last fall’s quadrennial training. That was the context of church I grew up in. We had what Bishop Janice Huie calls a “pipeline” that moved people from birth/baptism to camp to confirmation to college to committees to leadership so that Christ’s good news could saturate our communities. Somewhere along the line the pipeline developed leaks. It’s time for a new metaphor, that of ecosystem, rather than pipeline, she says.
“So that” is a biblical statement. (Ex. 25:8; Mt 5:16, John 3:16…) Bearing Fruits, by Tom Berlin and Lovett Weems emphasizes this phrase’s power to move us into more purposeful use of the gifts God gives us in the context where God has placed us. I love the way Lovett’s article this week in Leading Ideas connects that sense of contextual purpose with the power that we have as leaders.
The third source of a leader’s authority comes from the calling of the context. Leadership is finally about real people in actual circumstances. Proverbs says that “when the righteous are in authority, the people flourish.” Paul speaks of authority being used for “building up” and not for “tearing down.” People may give us a leadership position, but the authority needed to lead must be worked out among the people with whom we serve. An essential element of authority comes from the credibility a leader establishes with the people the leader works with most closely. James Kouzes speaks of credibility as “credit-ability.” People analyze our credibility all the time just as a bank might assess our credit worthiness. Indeed, credibility is the working capital of the leader. A leader draws from the account of credibility to make change possible.
Church leaders share a calling from God, experienced in each of our lives. We share a calling from the church expressed in our forms of ministry. We share a calling of context in our local and global communities yearning for hope and healing. This is where the power and integrity of our ministry lives because it is where the Spirit is moving, recreating the ecosystem of human life in God’s creation.
So! May your ministry in this new season be blessed as you live into the peculiar, propelling, particular call that will nurture and challenge you to be a gifted agent of God’s grace SO THAT all God's children actually experience God's purposeful love.