Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Claudio Pose: The Pastoral Ministry in the Dynamics of Mission

Today's post is by Rev. Claudio Pose. Rev. Pose is a pastor of the Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina. It originally appeared (in Spanish) on the website of the Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina (IEMA) as part of a series organized by the Centro Metodista de Estudios Wesleyanos (CMEW). It appears here in translation with the author's permission and with the assistance of CMEW.

The Bible provides us with abundant material on the image of the shepherd. The context of a rural culture of antiquity, in which shepherding flocks was a common and well-known task, make this figure a pedagogical resource to explain, for example, God's love and care for God’s people. Since the Old Testament, God appears as a shepherd (Ez 34:31). In the New Testament, Jesus declares himself a shepherd (Jn 10:14). Shepherding implies caring for and guiding the flock (as in Ps 23). One can also note that references to the flock may include groups and persons not contained in the immediate group (see Jn 10:16).

The church took the figure of a shepherd from the Scriptures to refer to ministry in church communities, although the New Testament testifies to the use of other figures taken from the culture: elders, teachers, etc. Although some versions translate the word pastor on several occasions, only in Ephesians 4: 11 do we find an explicit mention of the figure of the pastor as a ministry in the congregational task.

The theological controversies of the first centuries within the Church strengthened the figure of the pastor as a doctrinal authority responsible for the administration of the sacraments, to guarantee that those people recognized by the community determined what was correct, amidst the disputes and interpretations that abounded.

The Middle Ages concentrated the regulation of “sacred matters” in the ordained ministry, producing a priesthood of mediation between the people and God. The Protestant Reformation confronted this idea by upholding the universal priesthood of all believers.

Methodism, as a movement that emerged within Anglicanism, maintained the criterion of the ordained ministry and the universal priesthood of believers. However, the plasticity with which Wesley responded to each new challenge led him to maintain the tension between respect and recognition for the ordained ministry of the Church of England and the need to provide answers to the enormous number of people who joined the ranks of Methodism.

In the colonies of America, the process was different, and the arrival of independence posed new challenges that included the ordination of ministers. Although the functions of the elder continued in accordance with Anglican precepts, new ministerial figures emerged for preaching, teaching, and spiritual guidance of communities.

From this background of the rich heritage of the universal church, Latin American Methodism was nurtured, particularly, from the model brought by the missionaries from the United States. Along with their theological training and Methodist identity, but the missionaries also brought their lifestyles and their cultural baggage, which were not always easy to differentiate from the contents of the gospel. I remember in my early adolescence during a congregational assembly, listening to a brother defend the idea that it was necessary to bring missionaries from the United States because together with the wisdom of their faith and their formation, they brought us a lifestyle that we needed. Theology, culture, and even ideological values seemed to be a single package.

The appearance of local seminaries in Latin America produced groups of pastors formed in the light of theological traditions, coming from the northern hemisphere, but now with an eye on the vernacular challenges. Starting in the sixties of the last century, this search for a dialogue between the problems of our continent and our communities became more evident. The nascent processes of autonomy simultaneously accompanied and enriched the process.

New times for mission and ministry

As has been stated in previous articles, the mission of the church in these times requires a review and rethinking. Pastoral ministry is an expression of the mission of the church. This is the order. In its Constitution, the Argentine Evangelical Methodist Church defines ordained ministry as follows:

“The Argentine Methodist Evangelical Church recognizes the universal priesthood of believers, as well as the need for an ordained representative ministry, called by God and authorized by the Church for specific functions of the same.” (Art. 7, sub. 3)

The ordained ministry is an expression of the universal priesthood and is representative of it, as well as of the connection of the church. It immediately clarifies that it is for specific functions, so that there is no way to confuse representation with substitution, a phenomenon that we will address below.

In the present, one may detect some tensions produced by the expectations that exist about ordained ministry in the framework of churches with difficulties in rethinking its mission and functioning. In addition, the ordained ministry has traditionally been formally trained in theological institutions and supported, partially or totally, to guarantee greater time dedicated to such tasks. All this appears up for debate in the present. The possibility of revising traditions and purposes is always something beneficial. The question to take into account is where we carry out the debate from.

Next, we present four descriptions of mission and pastoral ministry.

The pastoral ministry as a substitute figure. As stated above, there is an idea rooted in the communities that the pastor concentrates the responsibility for the mission of the church, transferring the universal priesthood from all the believers to one person. The enthronement of the pastor as a kind of “ideal believer” is an underhanded demand that no person, minister or layman, can bear. In some cases, this phenomenon has reached the pastoral family, causing an unbearable burden on spouses and children.

The characteristic of the pastoral task. The General Regulations of the Argentine Methodist Church define the pastoral task as follows: “The elder is an ordained minister for the proclamation of the Word, the direction of worship, and the administration of the sacraments, and to train, guide, and serve the Church in the fulfillment of its mission in the world, through teaching, pastoral counseling, and leadership.” (Article 701)

Ordination encompasses the task of proclamation, direction of worship, and administration of the sacraments. It then indicates that it enables, guides, and serves the church in the fulfillment of its mission in the world. It is important to highlight these last two elements: it is the whole church that must fulfill the mission, and it has the world as its objective.

Pastoring in a continent torn by inequality. In the situation of Latin America, where millions of people are condemned to possess the image and likeness of God disfigured by the conditions in which they are forced to live, it is necessary to ask: What is the shepherd’s flock? What are the limits of pastoral action? Do we limit the pastoral task to the administration of sacred matters, when human life, the most sacred thing, is at risk? These questions touch not only on the scope of the pastoral role, but the entire mission of the church.

The need for a trained pastoral ministry. To the extent that we can understand that the diversity of gifts and services in the church also allows us to discover the diversity of ministries, this will not blur the function of the ordained ministry. David Bosch investigates the relevance of the ordained ministry in the mission of the church and states about the pastoral role, “the guardian who helps the community remain faithful to the teachings and practices of apostolic Christianity. … The priesthood of the ordained ministry exists to facilitate, not to remove, the priesthood of the entire church.”

These times require spiritual, social, political, and cultural discernment. That is why there is a need for an ordered ministry prepared with the tools that make adequate accompaniment of communities possible. Jesus demanded that trained religious leaders be able to discern the times because the church's agenda is in the world and not inside church buildings.

“The Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test Jesus they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.’” (Mt 16:1-3)

Questions for reflection

  • If the mission of your congregation has already been discussed, you could now discuss what pastoral ministry would be appropriate for that mission.
  • What other ministries does the community have? Discuss how to train and support them. Why is pastoral work important in these ministries?
  • What challenges does the neighborhood or city in which the community is located pose?

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