Saturday, February 18, 2012

Ministry by the Book

What is the model, or models, that one should use when engaged in church leadership?  And how are those models to be shaped?  These are the questions that Derek Tidball addresses in Ministry by the Book: New Testament Patterns for Pastoral Leadership

Some people would say that the New Testament is primarily about Jesus and the Good News, and that it was never Jesus’ intent to establish anything like what we know as the church today.  Tidball holds a different view, believing that throughout the New Testament there are things to learn about early believers in Jesus, how they lived and related to one another and their culture, and which can modeled by the church today.  He works his way through the New Testament, identifying 14 different patterns that may be followed by pastors and other congregational leaders. 

In most of the books he identifies both a specific circumstance of the church and then outlines an associated ministry pattern found in the local church.  Examples are “Mark: ministry in an oppressed culture,” with “The ministry of kingdom emissaries” and “Hebrews: ministry in a faltering church” with “The ministry of a reflective practitioner.”  Exceptions are for the letters attributed to Paul, which he subdivides with the themes “ministry in an infant church,” “ministry in a maturing church,” and “ministry in an aging church” and Jude and 2 Peter, which are combined as “ministry in an endangered church.”  In the concluding chapter he discusses implications of the ministry patterns for individual pastors, congregations and denominations.

One of the strengths of Tidball’s approach is in identifying the characteristics of the church and then exploring the ministry pattern appropriate to it.  In “Matthew: ministry in a divided church,” the pattern is “The ministry of wise instruction.”  In particular, Tidball discusses the role of the scribe within the Jewish community and Matthew’s tendency to portray them negatively, following that with a discussion of how the knowledge of a scribe could be used more positively to build up a community of believers.  He includes a word of caution on those characteristics that leaders could easily carry to excess, including ostentation, authoritarianism, fanaticism and legalism. (35-36) 

Another strength is Tidball’s commitment to stay close to the biblical text and resist reading into it more than is actually there.  This was particularly evident when talking about ministry gifts and the differing roles in which they may be used.  He knows that the text gives a general description of certain roles, such as deacon, elder and bishop, but points out that it does not give a lot of specific information about particulars, such as the clear limits to those roles or the establishment of a church hierarchy, which as is found within nearly every Christian denomination.

I acquired this book by accident.  It was on the early draft of a syllabus for a course on church leadership.  I bought the book and when the final syllabus came out it was no longer among the required texts.  And that, in a way, was a gift, for I was able to read it for my own learning, rather than reading an assigned portion of it and then completing a required project with the information. 

I take from it a greater understanding of the circumstances of the early church and the different ways in which God was active in meeting those needs, and hope that I can discern some of those circumstances within my own congregation.  And as I read of the different leadership patterns I recognize that I am stronger in some areas than in others, which perhaps will allow me to cultivate the varying gifts of the congregation, so that we can provide, to the best of our ability, the presence of God in the place where he has gathered us.   

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