Holy Spirit and Effective Ministry

We need to see the embers and nurture the fire

People came to hear Jesus teach and they asked each other, “What’s different about that guy?” The Gospel writers, who are already shifting into an institutional mindset, offer this answer, “He spoke with authority.” Actually, what people sensed was the natural flow of Jesus’ passion for God. Later, the book of Acts tells how the church, as an institution, was formed. The Apostles note that a man named Stephen was really doing a lot of service for others, so they ordained him a deacon (literally, one who serves). Luke wants to us to observe how organizational innovations like this helped the early church to grow. But the religious historian’s point is overwhelmed by the greater story of how the Spirit filled these people. When Stephen is martyred, friend and foe alike pay homage to his spiritual passion. Somewhat to the chagrin of Bishop James and other early church leaders, the Apostle Paul spent his time out on the street passionately loving people into God’s Kingdom. The later letters of Paul (or perhaps his amanuensis) contain an unfortunate, ragtag, jumble of hints about church organization. But his early works thrill us with their descriptions of a life shaped by the Holy Spirit. His passion seems to be to guide people onto the Way, so that their spiritual gifts might be manifested in their daily lives and the church (see Romans 12, I Corinthians 12 and 13, Ephesian 2, and Philippians 2). The New Testament ends with neither an organizational chart, nor a creedal confession, but with an unmediated narrative about the Spirit and the visions she instills in those still willing to dream. The book of Revelations is a nonlinear portrayal of spiritual passion. In the end, God says that he will make everything new (Revelation 21:5). There are no limits to the love of God or the power of His Spirit. Each person that serves in ministry, channels some of that spiritual passion from the end of days into the present moment.

    At the end of the fifth chapter of Mark, Jesus brings a child back from the dead. Then he goes home to Nazareth where he is not able to perform many miracles. He explains that prophets only get respect when they are far from home. The biblical role of a prophet wasn’t to predict things, but rather, to see the movement of the Spirit (be a see-er) and cobble together language to describe it. Popular culture and religious institutions perennially lose sight of God, and as a result, start acting in ways that oppose the Spirit. It’s the prophet’s job to enable the paradigm shifts that heal society. Jesus did this everywhere he went, except Nazareth. Don’t make the wrong assumption about this.  Jesus isn’t complaining about the damp rag effect that the home-crowd might be having on his spirit. What empowered his ministry was not so easily thwarted. Instead, he wants people to see what he saw. He wants them to join with him in authentic servanthood. The Nazarenes, like most church goers today, wanted a heroic leader. They wanted Jesus to do great religious things so they wouldn’t have to. 

    In all group endeavors, it is common for people to ask their leaders to point them in the wrong direction. Part of the prophetic role of pastoral ministry is our responsibility to be a see-er and to cobble together language that leads to paradigmatic changes in the hearts of our parishioners. We want them to become servants, too. From time to time, they’ll fight us in this. The old guard always wants to go faster and further along the path that leads them away from real partnership with God. We will be required to have a certain degree of internal clarity about the shape and form of the Holy Spirit, to be of much help to them. Our enthusiasm for the Spirit, needs to sustain us when our leadership is unappreciated. Before the advent of switched on devices, women used to kneel before the kitchen hearth and blow on the embers each morning to restart their cooking fire. So we are humbled by the relationship between Spirit and effective ministry.