• 03:22
  • Sunday ,28 February 2010

The Ministry (11): God is the Core of Ministry

Pope Shenouda III

Pope Shenouda Article


Sunday ,28 February 2010

The Ministry (11): God is the Core of Ministry

God is the main cause and goal of ministry, for He calls for it and works in it. However, so many ministers handle many subjects but mention nothing about God. They do not introduce Him to the hearts and minds of people! Their words are mere knowledge about things far from God, perhaps on virtues, history, famous characters, dogma, rituals, but in all that God is not apparent.1. Ministry reveals God's humbleness: Undoubtedly, God can do the whole work alone and turn the whole world into saints. He can manage the ministry through you or without you, for He needs no one. By His Holy Spirit He can change hearts and lead sinners to repentance. But in His humbleness He made us take part in His work, in communion with the Holy Spirit. He works with us and through us; He does everything and ascribes it to us!

Shall we then forget God in our ministry, or do like some ministers who take of the ministry a chance to build for themselves positions, fame or authority, and for this purpose adopt certain views and form special followers? The ministry becomes subject to divisions and fighting, and there appears Paul and Apollo. The ego takes the lead and the minister seeks his rights, his position and his dignity! The name of God disappears amidst all of this, though He is the core of ministry.

2. God calls for ministry: As the Lord Christ said to His disciples, "You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit." (Jn 15: 16) "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined." (Rom 8: 29) No one takes this honor to himself, "but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was." (Heb 5: 4) This applies to priesthood as well as to ministers in general, like the twelve and the seventy disciples (Lk 10: 1) The Lord Himself said to the Father, "As You sent Me to the world, I also have sent them into the world." (Jn 17: 18) Ministry then is a mission for which God chooses who He wills and sends them. Ministry is His work, and the vine is His, for which He sets stewards to work in it under His supervision. 
3. God is the speaker in ministry:   No one in ministry may speak of his own self, for even Balaam said, "The word that God puts in my mouth that I must speak." (Num 22: 38) A minister ought to speak that which the Lord puts in his mouth, take from God and give people. A minister ought to be a good conductor or a spokesman as Moses the Prophet was; for we read, "Now the Lord called to Moses, and spoke to him … saying, 'Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them …" (Lev 1: 1, 2; 4: 1, 2; 7: 28, 29; 11: 1, 2). Moses had not the ability to speak before that, and he said to the Lord, "I am not eloquent neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant, but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue." But the Lord said to him, "I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say." (Ex 4: 10, 12) The Lord Christ likewise said to His disciples, "It is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you." (Mt 10: 20) How beautiful to have the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2: 16), not speak of our own minds! St. Paul in spite of all his talents asks the Ephesians to pray for him with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit that utterance might be given to him when he opens his mouth (Eph 6: 19)! Let us learn this lesson from him and not rely on our intelligence, knowledge and experience; for it is God who gives strength and power to His people (Ps 68: 35).  Therefore if you do not have words from God it will be dangerous to fill the minds of people with persuasive words of human wisdom (1 Cor 2: 4), rather than with God's. Therefore, pour yourself before God before going to minister that He may give you a suitable and useful word.
4. God gives power and influence:  We ought to have power from the Holy Spirit before ministering, as the Lord commanded His disciples to tarry in the city of Jerusalem until they are endued with power from on high (Lk 24: 49). With that power they were to receive power from the Holy Spirit and be witnesses to Him (Acts 1: 8).
Preparing ministers: Some may prepare ministers by providing them with curricula and lessons on Scripture, history, dogma, and rituals, besides practical training under supervision. All this is useful, but spiritual preparation is necessary. A minister needs to be filled with the Spirit, that he may receive from Him what he can give the others; not only words, but also power, spirit and influence, and deep love by which he can love and seek the salvation of those whom he serves. A word from Peter the Apostle on the Day of Pentecost made about three thousand souls believe, feel cut to the heart, and get baptized (Acts 2: 41). It was a word bearing power, spirit, and ability to fulfill. Some people say convincing words with skill, but do not give the listener the ability to act. So, when you prepare the lesson you have to prepare yourself spiritually in order to be filled with the grace which may give you the word of power and influence. Then you will be able to bring God with you into the class that He may speak on your mouth and work in the hearts and minds. The listeners will feel that it was God's word and that it moved their hearts and their emotions. A true minister is Theophorus, i.e. God's bearer, like St. Ignatius of Antioch. Such a minister brings God wherever he goes to everybody, for he has tasted communion with Him and wants the others to taste it, saying to them, "O taste and see that the Lord is good." (Ps 34: 8)
Therefore, there is a difference between ministry and teaching. Teaching conveys knowledge from an experienced person to the others by teaching methods, whereas ministry is conveying people to God through a spiritual person who gives them spirit and love for God and His kingdom. Actually, many of those in the Sunday Schools are teachers not ministers! Many read much, know much, and are able to convey their knowledge to the others, but this is teaching not ministry. A minister loves people and carries to them God's love and Spirit. He is steadfast in God and in His love, for "God is love" (1 Jn 4: 16). Love is a main factor in the ministry, without which it turns into mere activity. If you have such love you will not able to rest unless you carry every soul to God's heart, otherwise you are unprepared for ministry. You ought to love people deeply as God loves them, because they are your brothers/sisters, God's children. So you love their salvation, love the church His body, and the kingdom where people will enjoy God. You wish everybody to love Him, for He first loved them (1 Jn 4: 19).
 Ministry is not mere knowledge conveyed from one mind to another, but rather spirit and life absorbed from a minister bearing God. Poor is the minister who is away from God; he has nothing to offer to others; he has not experienced God.   An example from the Holy Scripture is the seven stars and seven lamp stands:  St. John saw the Lord in the midst of the seven golden lamp stands, with the seven stars in His right hand, i.e. the angels of the seven churches (Rev 2: 1; 1: 20). Indeed, for He said "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them." (Mt 18: 20) This also is the image of the Tent of Meeting amidst the tents of the people. He is amidst His churches working, managing, strengthening, and giving word to speakers.
He is the true light that lighted the seven lamp stands. He is the holy oil that lights the lamp, or the sap of life flowing in the vine giving it life, growth, and fruit. He holds the ministers in His right hand, moving them where He wants, but people think them moving by themselves. They chant while in His hand, "The right hand of the Lord does valiantly; the right hand of the Lord is exalted." (Ps 118: 15, 16) A minister who is in God's hand cannot deviate or get lost, for God's hand moves him.
If you are not in God's right hand, you cannot minister.Preparing a minister then is putting him in God's hand to be an obedient tool in His hand, like the soft clay in the hands of the potter making from it a vessel for honor (Rom 9: 21). Such is the successful and effective ministry. A minister has to derive power from God renewable everyday. He has to pray continually for himself and for those whom he serves that God may give them power to overcome the various types of corruption in the world that attract people. He has to pray that God may give him word and wisdom and keep him lest he be a stumbling block to anyone; that God may guide  him and them, teach and take care of him and them, and lead them all to green pastures and still waters! As St. Augustine said, 'I may seem to be a teacher, but I am like them a student in Your class. I may seem to be a shepherd, but I am among Your flock.' In this way you introduce God into your ministry, and the lesson will be from God to you and them in His love. God Himself will be the lesson and the teacher, and the ministry will be the action of the grace of God' in you for the others' sake, connecting both to God, or rather to the communion of the Holy Spirit. 
What then is consecration?  It is love, growing until the whole heart and time be God's, whether through talk or ministry. However, some ministers get involved in the ministry to the extent that they forget God! Those misunderstand ministry, thinking it mere knowledge or activity, or they focus on the means rather than on the goal, or on the ego rather than on the ministry itself. Knowledge was the first war against man, for when he desired to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil he became ignorant, because he did not seek the knowledge of God. Therefore, we say in the Holy Liturgy, 'Give me the advantage of your knowledge.' The Lord Christ also said, "This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God." (Jn 17: 3) Actually, so many are scholars, and so few are saints! However, we want the knowledge of God and His ways, as the Psalmist says, "Show me Your ways, O Lord, teach me Your paths." (Ps 25: 4) We want humble knowledge that does not puff up (1 Cor 8: 1). To such human knowledge with which some may fill the minds of people there apply the words, "He who increases knowledge increases sorrow." (Eccl 1: 18)
See then what type is your knowledge. Is it mere ethics? Ethics is in philosophy like the stoic philosophy, or in primary religions like Henduism and Buddhism. Ethics is mere conduct, whereas spirituality is attachment to God. That is why there may be a decent person, but has no relationship with God. What degree is your ministry, mere knowledge, ethics, or spiritualities? Do you connect people to society or views, to yourself, or to God? Do you train them in holiness without which no one can see God, and in purity of heart through which they become the image of God? Virtues are necessary, so is knowledge, but they should not be separate from God. The same applies to the parents: Is their goal to bring up submissive decent children or children attached to God with love, obedience and belonging, by which they can be holy in mind, body and spirit, and their conduct be a fruit of their love for God? Do they bring them up to focus on eternity and on the Kingdom, their eternal abode? 
 An example of the curricula that ought to be included in church education includes:1. Holy Scripture: Do you give mere knowledge or the story of God with people: His love, care, and forbearance? Do you tell people stories from the Bible, or from civil history, or the history of God's dealings with people in His eternal love, power, and wisdom before creating them, reminding them that He is "Immanuel, God with us" (Mt 1: 23)?2. Speaking about sin and repentance: You should clarify that sin is not mere corruption but rather separation from God and disobedience. Repentance also is not mere correcting one's conduct but rather reconciliation with God and return to Him by which the way changes from worldly to God's way and love. In calling people let them know that in their being away from God they deprive themselves from His communion. Say to them with the Psalmist, "Taste and see that the Lord is good."3. Speaking about the biographies of saints: Is it mere presentation of their lives and works, or rather of how God prepared those souls until they attained such high levels and kept them, and how they loved Him from all the heart? It should be the story of God's work in those persons and the exchanged love between them and God, which Paul the Apostle summarized it in the words, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me." (Gal 2: 20) Can you then speak about the saints biographies without mention of God' life in them, His gifts to them, their being led by God always in triumph in Christ (2 Cor 2: 14)?! It is the story of divine love, which you ought to convey to people, about which the spiritual elderly saint (Sheikh Rohani) said, 'God's love made me as stranger with mankind and every human thing.' 4. Speaking about the eternal bliss: Can there be eternal bliss away from God? Is it mere heaven, blessings, kingdom, and heavenly Jerusalem? Is it a mere garden? Or is rather enjoying the continual communion with God and with the saints who loved Him, and fulfillment of the divine words: "Where I am, there may be also" (Jn 14: 3)? It is "The tabernacle of God with men." (Rev 21: 3)    5. Teaching Theology, Dogma, and rituals:  It should not be mere intellectual knowledge but interesting talk about God, by which people may feel that you are speaking divine words in an interesting and stimulating way. There is no more space for further talk. Let us continue in another article or a book, God willing