There’s an excellent piece up on the Alban Institute website, written by a Lutheran pastor named John Berntsen, called “The Impossible Task of Ministry,” which I commend to your reading—and not only if you’re a pastor; like Dr. Andrew Purves’ book The Crucifixion of Ministry: Surrendering Our Ambitions to the Service of Christ, which I wrote about here and here, I think the Rev. Berntsen’s piece is important reading for anyone who’s in leadership in the church in any way at all. Indeed, one way in which his article could serve the church is as a more accessible introduction to the theme Dr. Purves takes up in his short but dense book; since the article is adapted from a book of his own titled Cross-Shaped Leadership: On the Rough and Tumble of Parish Practice, I’ll be interested to read the book and see how he develops it, and how his insights complement and perhaps differ from Dr. Purves’ work. For now, here’s an excerpt to encourage you to read the article:
At a deeper level, the cross is the story of the world’s resistance to grace. The cross is the showdown—yes, the confrontation—between a steadfastly loving God who wills and calls a world into covenant partnership and a world that wants to live in its own strength, playing God for itself. Jesus comes preaching a kingdom of righteousness, justice, and unconditional love, and the world says, “No thanks. We think our system of merit and scorekeeping and judgment is safer. We prefer the reign of our marketplace to your upside-down kingdom that reckons by grace. So count us out.”But public leadership in the church is subject to a continuous cycle of death and resurrection. The very initiatives, actions, and plans of leaders undergo the cross. Under the cross, the moment-by-moment doings of ministry are subject to countless deaths and resurrections, few of which are heroic or glorious. So how does this transformation take place amid the rough and tumble of parish practice—through what I call cross-shaped leadership? . . .Ministry is hard. Ministry is, in fact, impossible. (Just try to referee a fair fight about the virtues of “contemporary” versus “traditional” worship if you need any reminders about that.) It’s a perfect storm in which leaders are pressured either to pick winners and losers or to feed the multitudes by offering a cafeteria of consumer choices. Here’s the good news, though. Once we’ve accepted the truth that ministry is hard, even impossible—once we’ve stopped living in denial of this reality, or perhaps whining about it—it becomes the truth that sets us free. We cease being gloomy servants, weighed down by our resentful conviction that we are all alone in our work, and instead become joyful coworkers of a strong, wise, and consoling Lord.