Formation for Ministry in a Secular Age (3): Ministerial Practices

In part one and two of this series on “Formation for Ministry in a Secular Age,” we explored the cultural situation in which the church finds itself today and a few sources of wisdom for navigating and living in this secular society. Instead of lamenting this reality, church leaders and clergy must envision life within this society through the lens of the calling and missional purposes of God.

Key Skills and Capacities

Without doubt there are particular skills and capacities that are pertinent to this generation of Christian leaders. I would insist that we should nurture a full-orbed theological formation: immersion in the Scriptures, in the Christian theological tradition, along with the spiritual practices of the faith. We should also remain committed to formation in the basic capacities for ministry: preaching, teaching, pastoral care, and liturgical leadership.

In other words, we surely need to avoid all the pressure points that might come our way to short-change our students based upon some perceived sense of urgency. Ministry students must continue to pursue theological and pastoral formation. I would even go so far as to say that the MDiv has never been so crucial to ministry formation; the full academic and intellectual process of rigorous study has never been so vital for the life and ministry of the church.

What does theological formation look like in a secular context? To use the image of William T. Cavanaugh, what would it look like to view the church, not so much as a hospital but a field hospital (See Field Hospital: The Church’s Engagement with a Wounded World [Eerdmans, 2015]). Perhaps we are not so much in the work of preparing medical doctors for the hospitals in our cities, but for ministry that is much more like the work of Doctors without Borders.

There are four particular capacities or skills that we must cultivate in our ministry students. Although not an exhaustive list, these four capacities are surely essential for ministerial leadership at this time.

Preaching for Monday Morning

Ministerial students must learn to preach with the assumption that the kingdom of God is happening, and not simply on Sunday, but also on Monday morning. Moreover, preaching should have a view to the marketplace—the schools, businesses, art galleries, and legislative assemblies of our society. Students must cultivate a practice of preaching that has a vivid connection to the world and equips women and men to be agents of peace in this world (as they, in the language of Jer 29, seek the peace of the city). Indeed, it is important to preach the whole counsel of God. In so doing, we must foster in our ministerial students the capacity to preach in a way that speaks into the Monday through Friday life of their congregations. Ministerial students must learn to empower congregations to engage the social and cultural contexts in which they live and serve in local communities.

Advocacy for and Fostering Just Communities

To serve faithfully in our time, ministerial students must maintain a measure of understanding about the economic consequences of preaching and the ministry of the church. Ministerial formation should include basic learning about the economic dynamics of the towns and communities and cities. Preaching that is blind to the fundamentals of the economy is naïve at best, and irresponsible at worst. At its worst, such blind preaching can actually become complicit in unjust economic structures and systems.

Peace Making

Although the church has always been called to peace making, it may be that this is the particular calling of the church in a post-Christian society. Our communities and the society at large are caught up in conflict at so many different levels. Our legislative assembles are venues of conflict and discord, not collaboration and principled compromise. When we hear about conflict, on a national or local level, whether it be political, racial, economic or religious, it will be important for ministerial students to know that they have the skills to mediate, to foster ways and means for those in conflict, and come to an understanding and some measure of reconciliation.

Liturgical Leadership that is not Escapist

Ministerial leaders must learn how to bring the pain of the world into the heart of our worship. Recently, the Province of Alberta ,where I live, was blind-sided by a horrific wildfire that cut through several communities, most notably the city of Fort MacMurray. Eighty-eight thousand people were evaluated. The Sunday after this massive evacuation I happened to be the guest preacher at an Evangelical church in the province. I was stunned that this congregation did not offer prayers or commentary or mourning or anything of substance to assist the worshipping community in processing this traumatic experience. The worship leaders knew how to lead in a few happy-clappy songs. Unfortunately, they had no capacity—no sensibility—that would help them lead the congregation in prayer for those who had been evacuated, let alone for the crews who were still fighting the fire. They did not know how to mourn or express perplexity before God or cry out to God for intervention. We desperately need liturgical leadership that knows how to bring the deep pain of society at large and the individual person or family into worship. Of course, there is no better guide to this kind worship than the Psalms.

When the mayor of our city thinks about our university and seminary—in this case, our mayor in Calgary is an Ismaili Muslim—what might come to his mind? What does he associate with our institution? What are his perceptions of us?

Well, I would like it to be the following:

  • That he knows we are seeking the well-being of the city, and, as a religious community, we are empowering and equipping people to see the civic good and work for the peace of the city;
  • That he would know that we are deeply committed to justice, to advocacy for the poor, and that we will challenge unjust social structures, and that if this makes him uncomfortable, so be it;
  • That he would know that he can call upon us to be instruments of peace—finding just peace, and means towards peace—for those in conflict; that we would be masters of the art of mediation; and,
  • That in our worship we feel the pain of the city and pray for the city.

We are seeking the peace—the shalom—of the city, peace with justice, peace as flourishing, peace as the resolution of conflict, peace as radical empathy with the pain of the city.

Spiritual Practice for the Church in a Secular Society: The Call to “Interiority”

In addition to nurturing the intellectual and practical skills of ministerial students, we must also give attention to the following question: What does spiritual formation look like in this secular context?

To explore the answer to this question, I lean into the wisdom and insight of Louis Dupre, former professor of the philosophy of religion at Yale University (See “Seeking Christian Interiority: An Interview with Louis Dupre,” Christian Century [July, 1997]: 654-660). Dupre speaks directly to the secularism of our time before referencing the remark of Karl Rahner “that Christianity in the future will be mystical or it will be not at all” (655). After he notes the significance of this observation, he stresses that “to survive as a genuine believer, the Christian must now personally integrate what tradition did in the past” (655). In other words, I would add, the Christian and the church will need to cultivate the capacity to be deeply Christian when this is not reinforced by the social context and cultural sensibilities in which we live. We must develop deeply religious sensibilities—the capacity to live with a deep appreciation of life in the Spirit that fosters our ability to live in dynamic union with Christ (John 15.4).

Dupre observes that this requires the development of an interiority—not as a way of being disengaged from our society, but as a means of fostering the very spiritual resources that will equip and empower the church to engage our culture. As he puts it, “Even the contemplative is responsible for the civilization in which he or she lives” (657). Later, he notes: “A genuine Christian interiority must provide the inspiration for a humanism capable of living a vigorous, free and open life within one’s culture, whatever its condition…. The spiritual Christian is not involved in constant polemics with the surrounding secular world. Since that person’s force and strength comes from within, he or she can grant society and culture their full autonomy” (657).

This is a rather liberating observation. It is not as if we are wringing our hands or bemoaning our state, but rather—at peace with God’s purposes, our world, and ourselves—we can be true to our Christian calling and live with the potential for minds that are set on things above (Col 3:2). In response, I would suggest that theological education and leadership formation needs to include the cultivation of the practices and sensibilities that will include:

  • A recovery and full embrace of the practices of prayer and discernment, the capacities to live with a deep awareness of the inner witness of the Spirit, in and through our prayers, something that we will learn even as we lean into the masters of discernment in our Christian heritage and as we learn, as did the ancient church, to allow the Psalms, as Dupre notes, with regard to Henri Nouwen, that he “had the Psalms always nearby to bring ‘before God’ the passing moods and attitudes of the day”
  • A reaffirmation of the vital place of the sacraments in the life of the church and of the individual Christian—something that the pre-Christian church recognized as vital but which Calvin and Wesley viewed as indispensable to the life of the church and to their own lives, sufficient that for Wesley it was his pattern to have communion twice a week (see his sermon, “The Duty of Constant Communion” here) as a way of reminding us that true mysticism is deeply grounded in the tangible and concrete acts of the Christ-ordained acts of baptism and the church (on a side note, our insistence on sustaining a once-a-month, first Sunday of the month observance of the Table is simply nothing other than naïveté, and the failure to give grace to those who so urgently need food for the road in a secular age),
  • A reaffirmation that critical biblical study is essential to the life of the church for both lay leadership and clergy, as is the spiritual practice of reading the Scriptures with an open and eager heart, eager to “receive the Word with joy given by the Holy Spirit” (see 1 Thess 1), which suggests to us the ancient practice of meditation, and
  • A reaffirmation that our personal interior practice needs structures and forms of accountability, including spiritual friendship and spiritual direction, ways and means by which our interior life is nurtured and strengthened by grace-filled conversation and by which we are actually accountable for our interior lives, not living in isolation but living and working with and wrestling with our inner demons while attending the work of the Spirit, while in the company of others.

If we foster a practice of prayer and discernment, a deep appreciation of the sacraments, biblical meditation, and spiritual friendship and accountability, we have the capacity not to be consumed by the spirit of the age, which is fear. We can know the grace of that peace that transcends understanding and the courage that is required to be both fully present to our world and emotionally anchored in the love of God.

We must lean into and draw upon the wisdom, resources, and admonitions from our respective theological and spiritual traditions. Wesleyans must read Wesley; Mennonites must read Anabaptist sources; Reformed church leaders must read spiritual guides in that tradition. We must also learn to draw on the wisdom from the Other—with Catholic Christians reading Luther and Calvin, Evangelicals reading John of the Cross and Teresa of Ávila, Christians in the West reading Orthodox writers all with this conviction that perhaps no tradition has all the spiritual resources we need to live in these challenging times.

Conclusion

As may be self-evident, when it comes to forming pastors and church leaders for our day, I conclude that there is nothing to gain and everything to lose by shorting the process. It is not wise to proceed by thinking that church leaders need less theological and spiritual formation than a generation ago. More than anything, a full-orbed theological program of study, complemented by a richly textured approach to spiritual formation, is indispensable for our ministerial students. We neither serve the church nor prospective church leaders well by suggesting that they shorten their course of studies or that abbreviated approaches to ministerial formation are adequate for our day.

[This essay is an adapted and revised version of an original essay written by Gordon T. Smith, “Formation for Ministry in a Secular Age: Equipping Clergy and Laity for the Church in Exile,” Didache: Faithful Teaching 16:2 (2016). ISSN: 15360156 (web version)–http://didache.nazarene.org. Used by permission. Copyright (c) 2016 by Gordon T. Smith.]

Formation for Ministry in a Secular Age (2): Sources of Wisdom

In part one of this series on “Formation for Ministry in a Secular Age,” we explored the cultural situation in which the church finds itself today. As the church seeks to live faithfully in this age, there are at least four potential sources of wisdom for the church of our generation that could provide significant guidance and resources for ministerial formation.

Prophetic Witness

The social and cultural location of the church can appropriately be compared to that of the experience of the people of Judah when they were in exile. Thus, we should read the prophets, for they spoke and wrote during the period of the exile—the Babylonian captivity. Ezekiel and Daniel were actually a part of the exile, but I am thinking here as well of others, including Jeremiah and Isaiah whose writings took account of the exile. Of course, seminary students need to immerse themselves in the whole of the Scriptures and know how to read the Bible from Genesis to the Revelation. But I am wondering, if in our time, particular attention should be given to the prophets. They are always relevant, but they may be particularly relevant for our times.

This reading would give ministerial students at least three perspectives. First, there is the vision for the city, captured best by the words of Jer 29. We engage the city because we seek the flourishing of the societies of which we are a part.

Second, there is an appreciation of the vital place of economic justice in the witness of the church. Worship and witness have no credibility without a commitment to economic justice (See Isa 58). Thus, the great observation by Nicholas Wolterstorff that for the OT prophets, there is no holiness without justice and no justice without economic justice (Justice: Right and Wrongs [Princeton University Press, 2010]: 83). So frequently, our notions of holiness become little more than morality. While moral depth and integrity is essential, the prophets remind us that it is not a true morality if it is not reflected in a commitment to economic justice.

I am struck by this in my own context. My religious tradition tends to emphasize how secular society challenges our biblical and traditional understandings of human sexuality, gender, and marriage. And yet, for the OT prophets, while not an incidental topic or theme, this is not the defining question when it comes to what it means to be the people of God in exile. This leads me to wonder: Should questions of human sexuality be the critical and defining boundary marker between the faith of the Christian church and the society at large?

Rather, might the witness of the prophets suggest that what defines the church, in such a time as this, is a deep commitment to social justice, works of mercy, and advocacy for those at the margins of our society? If so, it would radically change the way the church is perceived in the society at large. So much of contemporary Evangelical worship actually tends toward escapist theology rather than empowering God’s people to attend to the social and economic structures in which they live and work. Isaiah 58 suggests that this is deeply incongruous.

Third, there are the remarkable words of Isa 43:2. These words remind those who go into exile that as they go through the waters, they will not be overcome. When they go through the fire we will not be burned, for the very simple reason that the Lord will be with them and will go through the exile with them. We must learn to know and live with a consciousness of God’s presence in a very different social and cultural context. For the people of Judah, the presence of God would look and feel very different during their time in Babylon but God would be there. In like manner, the Spirit of God is no less present in our society; it is merely that we need to develop the eyes to see and discern his presence.

The pre-Christendom Church

If the church is to be an effective witness in a post-Christendom world, then we should give particular attention to the wisdom from the pre-Christendom church.

Of course, we are students of the entire history of the church and our theological vision and perspective should be informed by an immersion in this history—the story—of the church from the 1st to the 20th century. An MDiv without a strong component of church history is devoid of a crucial building block in ministerial formation. And yet, for our generation, rather than privileging the 16th and the 18th centuries—the Protestant Reformation and the Great Awakenings—we may want to broaden the scope of our study. Perhaps, today it is crucial to study the Patristics—the study of the Fathers and the early Church—more than ever. Perhaps for students who are going to serve the church in a post-Christendom age, we need to learn what it means to draw on the wisdom of the early Church prior to the conversion of Constantine. Such a reading and immersion would provide contemporary ministry students with at least three helpful perspectives.

  1. It would help the student transcend some of the divisions, polarizations, and debates that, while pertinent perhaps in the 16th and the 18th centuries, are quite simply not relevant now. They are, at most, of incidental interest. They might help explain our situation but they do not justify it. Our age needs to consider how the early Church was fully sacramental, and at the same time, affirming of a deep interiority. I have suggested elsewhere that we need to be Evangelical, Sacramental, and Pentecostal, and this insistence that it is not one, but all three to which we are called. In part, this is informed by what seems to emerge from the witness of the early Church. I should just note in passing that I am amazed at those Christian communities that still insist that 16th century polarities in the church—and to some degree 18th century divisions—should still define Christian debates and disagreements in our day.
  2. It will mean that the church must develop a renewed appreciation for the creedal character of our faith and witness, including our reading of the Scriptures. We must avoid the Biblicism that has become somewhat rampant in recent Evangelical circles. Affirming the creedal heritage of the church gives us a better anchor—or, better said, a more consistent and dependable authority for the life and witness of the church. In affirming the creeds as central to the faith of the church we avoid many of the points of division or schism that so easily divide us.
  3. It would call for a return to the idea of initiation into the Christian faith. Here I would speak to the remarkable work that the Roman Catholic Church has done on rites of initiation, evident in the RCIA (i.e., Rite for the Christian Initiation of Adults). This is simply a brilliant document and practice—a process—for initiation into Christian faith that is a conscious attempt to take ancient pre-Christendom wisdom and bring it to bear in the life and practice of the contemporary church. I would also add that this would require a full restoration of the catechumenate. Here, the catechesis of our children would be viewed as an essential way by which we live out the life of the church.

Historic Minority Churches

Although this situation—to be the church in a post-Christendom age—may be unique to us, the church has always, somewhere at least, lived with the challenge or reality of being a minority presence. There have always been segments of the church that have been a minority Christian presence and have learned how to thrive and how to be an effective witness even though in the minority. This may be a relatively new development for the church in Western Europe and North America but this is not so much the case for many global Christian communities.

For example, take the historic Christian churches in the Middle East—Lebanon, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey, and India. In these nations or regions of the world, where Islam or Hinduism or Buddhism is the dominant religious presence, there has always been a church that has not merely survived, but actually thrived as a minority presence.

As the church in the West engages this kind of context, it should humbly recognize that it has something to learn from those for whom this is nothing new. Perhaps this means that as part of our theological formation, we should actually visit the church in Lebanon or Pakistan or Turkey. As we visit as learners, we can ask how the church has and can be faithful to the gospel, and also live with integrity, grace, and resilience in such a time or situation.

What might we learn from this voice or source?

For starters, we might come to learn what it means to be the persecuted church. The church in the West has more or less assumed that persecution is the mark of the church. The church far away, not the church in the West, has actually experienced it. Increasingly we need to learn from the witness of the martyrs. We need to learn that this witness can inform our own faith and practice. This means that we learn, in the language of 1 Peter, to know persecution, even find blessing in the suffering, because we are doing right (3:14). We must be wise and discerning and not claim that we are being persecuted when we are less than astute. We must avoid the claim that we are being persecuted when we are simply being less than wise.

Second, although there are certainly those in such situations who choose to see themselves as embattled warriors against the dominant religious or ideological voice of their region or nation, it is my impression that these minority Christian communities are significantly effective in faithful witness. They choose to live as good neighbors, good citizens, who seek common cause with those of other religious or ideological conviction. For example, take Lebanon, where there are Christian groups that demonize Islam. I wonder if it is more fruitful to do what others have and are doing: to actually view Islam as a potential ally. What if we learned together and from one another, to advocate together with civic authorities for what both religious traditions recognize as both a crucial human and societal value. There is a theological school just outside of Beirut, for example, that has an annual Christian-Islam dialogue, with local imams invited to the campus for conversation and shared learning. Interestingly, this is viewed not as a threat to Christian identity but as an essential part of living faithfully as a minority presence in Lebanon.

Third, I could here also echo the comments made about the early Church: The passing on of the faith from one generation to the next takes on particular urgency. We would learn to become masters of nurturing our children in the faith when the society at large does not in any way reinforce that teaching. Thus, to stress again, it may mean that we recover the ancient practice of catechesis.

In the end, I wonder if our ministerial formation needs to include actual visits to minority churches where we come as learners. I also wonder if our curriculum should include the written works and publications from this social and cultural context—that is, works that are clearly written from the margins of a society. Maybe we should be reading Indian and Middle Eastern theologians and spiritual writers. For myself, as I young pastor, I discovered the work of Kosuke Koyama, a Japanese theologian who spent many years in Thailand. I offer this as but one example of such a voice or perspective.

Current Secular Settings

Another source of learning and wisdom comes from the church in those regions or societies that are already secular—perhaps, they have been so for quite some time.

In particular, I am thinking of the church in Central and Western Europe—societies where the Christian faith was perhaps a given, a dominant presence. It may have even been the “state religion,” but now church buildings have become mere artifacts of a previous golden age. Recently I was in conversation with a pastor who moved to Canada from a pastoral appointment in Amsterdam. I was struck by his comment: “I have seen our future.” He is but one pointing to the reality that those of us doing ministry in North America would do well to learn from those who are ahead of us on the curve towards secularism. The church, now residing in a post-Christian society, must learn what it looks like to sustain vitality in its worship and its witness.

Perhaps, we could benefit from reading Thomas Halik—from the Czech Republic—with his keen insights into the nature of faith in this kind of social context (Night of the Confessor: Christian Faith in an age of Uncertainty [Image, 2012]).

Perhaps we should attend to the wisdom of former Archbishop Rowan Williams, especially his call for the church to eschew violence. His work on Fyodor Dostoevski (Dostoevski: Language, Faith and Fiction [Baylor University Press, 2011]) and his The Truce of God (Eerdmans, 2015) make a powerful case that our greatest enemy is not the society in which we live, but our own fear. The greatest enemy of the church is not external to us, but internal to us. Indeed, fear is insidious, cutting the nerve of creativity, innovation, and imagination.

Perhaps, we ought to re-read the work of Soren Kierkegaard from the 19th century. His discussion of the nature of faith is more relevant today than ever.

Finally, the most pertinent voice in this regard, as many have recognized, is that of Bishop Leslie Newbigin. His Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Eerdmans, 1989) is but one of his many powerful contributions to this conversation. It reflects the wisdom from both life and ministry in India, a perspective from a minority position and the vantage point of post-Christian Europe.

[This essay is an adapted and revised version of an original essay written by Gordon T. Smith, “Formation for Ministry in a Secular Age: Equipping Clergy and Laity for the Church in Exile,” Didache: Faithful Teaching 16:2 (2016). ISSN: 15360156 (web version)–http://didache.nazarene.org. Used by permission. Copyright (c) 2016 by Gordon T. Smith.]

Formation for Ministry in a Secular Age (1): The Situation We Find Ourselves In

The social and cultural context of the church in North America is aptly described as post Christian or post-Christendom. It is rightly observed that the church, which a generation ago had a voice, some authority, even perhaps a privileged voice in society, is now a church at the margins. The church, as some have put it, is in exile. In some ways this may appear to be a relatively new development, but the major cultural shift began in the 19th century. Increasingly, over the past century and a half, atheism has become the default ideology of the societies of which we are a part. Even if the intellectuals of the West acknowledge an historic and cultural debt to Christianity, the sensibility of our age is no longer merely dismissive of Christianity but as often as not rather ignorant of it. We live in a culture where we see traces of the influence of the Christian faith, yet we can presume that the Christian voice is even at the table.

The church in North America may be surprised at such a statement. Many assume that if we live in a “secular age”— to use the language of Charles Taylor— this is a relatively recent development. They assume that just a generation ago, Christian sensibilities still had an authoritative influence in the public square. It may actually be more accurate to say, at most, it seemed as such. Although it has taken a while, the secularizing seeds planted in the 19th century have grown and matured. Today, we live in a world where we face the hegemony of secularism.

New or old, this is our context. The Christian faith and community is now a distinct minority and very definitely not the privileged voice.

We tend to bemoan this development—wringing our hands and wondering what went wrong, but we should instead view this as an opportunity, perhaps even one providentially offered to the church. Rather than viewing this as a tragedy, perhaps we should rather invest our emotional and intellectual energies in the work of asking what it means to be called to be the church in this context. Rather than fighting the loss of “voice” or authority in the culture, might it be better to ponder what it might mean to have a different kind of influence within the societies of which we are a part?

With respect to theological education in this secular age, how do we prepare leaders to serve the church in this society? Rather than bemoan this development, we must invest our intellectual and emotional energy in intentionally forming women and men for ministry in this social, cultural, and political context.

When we ask this question—What does theological education look like for such a time as this?—we have to first ask what it is we hope to be and do, and how Christian witness and the mission of the church will find expression in this context. How will it be live out? What does Christian witness look like in this time and in this age?

Christian Responses to the Rise of Secularism

Typically, there have been three responses to this question. As of late, a fourth response has been proposed.

  1. Some, of course, choose to go along and get along. Many suggest—if not explicitly, then in their behavior—that we should not poke the bear. We should live out our lives quietly without making too big a deal of secular values. The problem with this approach is that the lives of suburban Christian remarkably resemble the lives of their non-Christian neighbors. And the values proclaimed by larger suburban churches are in many respects the values of the age. The church is little more than a false comfort, and women and men are not equipped to challenge the culture around them nor be a source of prophetic (Christian!) witness. We have, in effect, become secularized. Our religious sensibilities are merely surface sentiments.
  2. Some take the route of the ghetto. Although not new, the church has resorted to this approach in almost every generation and in diverse social contexts: to flee the society and build a protective wall—either literally, or at least sociologically. Whether the desert fathers, the Benedictine monastic movement, the more contemporary Amish communities, or the Bible school movement, many institutions and communities intentionally choose to live “apart”—literally away from the city—in spaces or venues that protect young people by shielding them from the city. We have, in effect, sought to retreat and protect ourselves from becoming secularized.
  3. Still others, take a “culture wars” approach to engaging the society. According to this argument, we were once a Christian country, one that reflected the purposes of God in the formation of these western nations. The church and the Christian faith should rightly be a privileged voice, and we need to defend this right in the public square, in the legislative bodies, and in the courts. We should, in effect, seek to fight and restore our country to its original design and intent.
  4. And most recently, there is a fourth alternative. This approach is perhaps best described by James Davidson Hunter (and others) as “faithful presence”—in, but not of the world, one might say, echoing the language of John 17 (See To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World [Oxford University Press, 2010]). In other words, we are called to be full members of the society. Rather than waging war with secularism, we should accept this new dynamic and fashion a way of being present that reflects deep, Christian conviction. We should, in effect, be faithful to the gospel and be present to the society in a way that is not adversarial but actually peaceful. In the language of Jeremiah 29, we should “seek the peace of the city.”

Is There “One” Approach?

While, without doubt, I am inclined to think that the fourth approach—faithful presence—is what should inform our thinking and practice, there may actually be some truth, even some value, in all four approaches.

  • We need to discern where God is merely calling us to be. Instead of viewing this reality through the lens of war, we need to learn how to get along in a pluralist society. We need to acknowledge where “that battle is lost” and let the issue be—be it Sunday closing laws or the use of the Lord’s Prayer in legislative assemblies.
  • We are indeed called, at times, to retreat and withdraw—either literally to the desert or to safe places of renewal. Yet such withdraw need not be at the expense of full engagement with the world.
  • We are called to confront our social context and political systems, but we need to choose our our battles wisely.
  • We are called to be a faithful presence, but we will need to embrace the fact that this will come at a cost. It will require us to bear a cross.

If this is the challenge for the church in North America, we need to consider the implications for ministerial formation. In order to navigate our world faithfully, we must learn what it means to be the church and what it means to do ministry in this context—the way it is, rather than the way we wish it to be. In the next essay, we will explore where we can find the wisdom and guidance to respond to this challenge and opportunity.

[This essay is an adapted and revised version of an original essay written by Gordon T. Smith, “Formation for Ministry in a Secular Age: Equipping Clergy and Laity for the Church in Exile,” Didache: Faithful Teaching 16:2 (2016). ISSN: 15360156 (web version)–http://didache.nazarene.org. Used by permission. Copyright (c) 2016 by Gordon T. Smith.]

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