Every Christian is a theologian.
I consider it my life’s work to help “everyday Christians” grow in their knowledge and love of God so that we all can put our gifts to good use by joining with God’s redemptive work in the world. In biblical terms, I’m called to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” and to “build up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12).
Now, on the one hand, this means that I’m not supposed to do all the work of ministry myself! I am not an expert who asks the non-specialists to step aside so that the real work can be done by a professional. No! The “ministry” is done by all the saints, not just the ordained clergy.
And yet, on the other hand, I must set the saints a good example in my life and work. I must constantly grow in the knowledge and love of God if I am to be “a messenger, watchman, and steward of the Lord” who can “teach, to warn, to feed, and to provide for the Lord’s family” (2019 BCP, p. 489).
Pastoral ministry requires a lifelong devotion to the Word of God. As my bishop put it when I was ordained to the priesthood, “the demands of this holy Office are so great” that I must “lay aside all worldly distractions and take care to direct all that [I] do to this purpose: read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Scriptures” (2019 BCP, p. 489).
Put simply: Bible study—and not just for sermon preparation—is essential for pastoral ministry. I will not be able to “frame [my] conduct, and that of my household and those committed to [my] care, according to the doctrine and discipline of Christ” (2019 BCP, p. 489) unless I’m saying “no” to enough other things to protect the time and space I need to digest the Scriptures.
But, of course, I can’t accomplish any of this on my own. I need to “pray earnestly” for the “Holy Spirit to enlighten [my] mind and strengthen [my] resolve” (2019 BCP, p. 489). To equip the saints for the work of ministry, I need to saturate my life with Scripture and prayer. This is the two-stroke engine, as it were, that drives a genuinely successful ministry of Word and Sacrament. It’s the part of my ordination vows that enables me to do the other things I vowed to do:
- “to minister the doctrine, sacraments, and discipline of Christ, as the Lord has commanded and this Church has received them, according to the commandments of God, so that [I] may teach the people committed to [my] charge with all diligence to keep and observe them”
- “to banish and drive away from the Body of Christ all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God’s Word”
- “to use both public and private admonitions and exhortations, to the weak as well as the strong within [my] charge, as need shall require and occasion be given”
- “to frame and fashion my own life and the life of my family, according to the doctrine of Christ, and to make myself and them, as much as I am able, a wholesome example and pattern to the flock of Christ”
- “to maintain and set forward, as much as I am able, quietness, peace, and love among all Christian people, and especially among those who are or shall be committed to my charge”
- “to obey my Bishop and other chief Ministers who, according to the Canons of this Church, may have charge and authority over [me], following with a glad mind and a good will their godly admonitions, and submitting [myself] to their godly judgments” (2019 BCP, pp. 490–91).
Such is the ministry of Word and Sacrament to which I have been called and ordained within Christ’s Church.
At the end of the day, as a pastor, I am not a CEO, guru, or celebrity speaker. Instead, I am an under-shepherd, with delegated authority from the Good Shepherd to feed and equip his flock to do the work he has called us all to do.