The Crucifixion of Ministry - Book Review
Before I review The Crucifixion of Ministry I need to offer some disclosure. When I purchased this book and set out to read it, I did so based on the topic and where I was at the moment in terms of my own struggles in ministry. I had no idea that Dr. Andrew Purves would be on the list of professors in my Doctor of Ministry program through Pittsburgh Theological Seminary where he teaches Pastoral Theology. So, if I am raving about how awesome this book is (which I will be doing), don't discount my ravings later on when you discover that I am studying under Dr. Purves.
In other words, I am not sucking up.
Purves begins The Crucifixion of Ministry with a provocative question: "Has God killed your ministry yet?" For those who are serving in ministry--whether within or without the context of a church--this is more than just a provocative statement. It is nigh unto heresy. You see, most of us church leader types have bought into the lie that in order for us to be more effective church leader types, we need to be a busy as possible about the business of ministry. Purves reveals that in our current Christian culture, about 90 percent of a pastor's time is spent doing congregational administrative work rather than the things to which he/she is actually called to do.
And it's not just our congregations that are demanding this of us. We do it to ourselves. Purves asserts that we need to understand that our ministry is not our ministry at all but the ministry of Christ. And if we refuse to get this, God will move us out of the way so that our congregations can actually see Jesus. "God," he writes, "will not be timid about getting us out of the way."
Purves then goes on to outline just what he means by "the ministry of Christ." He asserts, "Christianity at its core is about the self-referenced claim by a person who said, 'I am the way the truth and the life.'" In other words, all that we do in ministry should be focused on the central notion that Jesus is exactly who he claims to be: God. "If we lose ground," he writes, "concerning the single, saving lordship of Jesus Christ and his significance, the church will be truly apostate." According to Purves, as ministers, we are called to point to Christ, spend time with Christ, preach Christ, and leave the growth, life and transformation of our churches up to Christ.
Subsequently, Purves goes on to address the materiality of Christ through the Church, through the proclamation of the Gospel and through the sacraments. Dealing with a Risen Christ rattles us to our core. For those who would join in what Purves would identify as Christ's ministry, the Risen Christ can be be both rattling and incredibly troublesome. Preachers should take heed as Purves states that "the sermon does not mediate Christ, Christ mediates the sermon." When Christ begins to preach your sermons, troubling things can happen. Purves acknowledges this when he says, "Bearing witness to [Christ] will get you into trouble, for you will be standing alongside him, and they too (the personnel committee) may come for you in the night."
I love that.
As he concludes his thoughts on the deaths of our ministry, Purves posits, "Everything in this book so far may be summed up as the theological intent of Galatians 2:20, 'I, yet not I, but Christ.' It is the radical center of all practical theology." Doing ministry in the way that so many of us ministers do it is not a "matter of a minister working hard," as Purves states. It's not about "preaching relevant sermons, being a super-efficient congregational administrator, attending those who are sick, downcast, grieving and lonely, all the while growing the congregation and charming the people with a winsome and attractive ability to relate warmly."
"Outside of abiding in Christ," Purves asserts, "we have no ministry."
Purves closes the book with a few "practical" thoughts on how ministers can begin to embrace a Christ-centered ministry. He makes great pains to indicate, however, that his intent was not to create a "how-to" book, but to simply provide a different way of thinking about ministry that is more in line with what God intended for the Church and it's leaders.
I needed this book right about now. I've been busy---too busy. I have the tendency to be the pastor in the paragraph that outlined how our culture views a "successful" minister. It is going to take a certain amount of trust in Christ, however, to let go of that and simply believe that Christ will go before me. We've become so connected to this old paradigm that it will take Divine Intervention for most of us to get knocked out of the way so our people can see Jesus. I am starting to feel pretty knocked. I think I better pay attention.