Ministry (41): Effective even when it fails

God is the one who designates an individual for a ministry. And yet sometimes it does not work. The problem then lies at the human level. What if something goes wrong?

This is not about results or success because God does not expect results from His servants. What He expects is that they do His will. And yet it can happen that ministers are no longer able to exercise their ministerial authority within the scope of their ministerial mandate.

This does not, however, call into question the original call of God. Because the cause is the imperfection and fallibility of human beings. This is made clear in the article “Election and calling to ministry” in a special edition of the Divine Service Guide (2/2020).

Failure attributable to the minister

The doctrinal essay gives four reasons which might make it difficult for ministers to exercise their ministry: if ministers conduct themselves in a manner that is inconsistent with their ministry; if they are not in oneness with the apostolate; if they lose the trust of the members through their conduct; or if they no longer want to place their gifts and strength into the service of the Church.

In all of these cases, the ministers deprive themselves of divine blessing. Nevertheless, the acts which they have performed within the scope of their ministerial authority remain valid: the sacraments, the absolution, blessings, and the proclamation of the word continue to unfold their effects.

When failure is attributable the congregation

Human weaknesses can cause members of a congregation to have an intolerant or even hostile attitude toward a minister. Such a minister will no longer be able to fulfil his mandate with them. “Such a failure is then attributable to the congregation,” it says in the special edition of the Divine Service Guide.

When failure is attributable to the Apostle

Sometimes it turns out that a minister fails to live up to his or her ministry despite their best efforts. Then “the Apostle must have the honesty to question himself”, the doctrinal letter points out. “Perhaps an error was made in assessing the needs of the congregation or the abilities of the minister.” In any case, the Apostle is obliged to see to it that such ministers and their families receive support, if necessary, by adapting the mandate to suit their abilities.

When failure is attributable to external circumstances

Sometimes things happen that make it difficult or even impossible for ministers to exercise their ministry: health problems, changes in family or professional life, changes in the composition of the congregation, or changes in the way church districts are organised.

“Such changes do not call the calling of God into question,” the article states. This must then prompt leading ministers to think about what God expects now, how the ministers in question can continue to exercise their ministerial authority in accordance with the will of God, or to what extent the mandate may need to be adapted.

Assurance also at the leadership level

All of these points also apply to ministers who have been assigned a leading function or an assisting function. This applies above all to the leaders in the congregation, the district, or the Regional Church.

The same holds true here. Possible changes do not call the divine calling into question because right from the outset an appointed or assigned minister is called to perform a clearly defined task within a defined context and a certain period of time.

Important is, the essay concludes, “The knowledge that they have been called by God gives both appointed and assigned ministers the assurance that God supports them in their task, and that He blesses the work that they do in faith, love, and oneness.”

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Andreas Rother
ministry, Doctrinal statements