Ministry Resources--
Reflections on Models of Ministry and Implications for Ministry Training


Models of Ministry as Reflected in a Brief History of Ministry
by Bob Young
[Some concepts are drawn from Ron Osborn, "The Many Faces of Ministry," (unpublished) cited in Hough, Joseph, Jr. and John Cobb, Jr., Christian Identity and Theological Education, p. 5-16]

History shows the emergence of dominant ministerial types, created not by expectations of persons in churches, but by social situations, theological concepts of church and ministry which were part of the prevailing Christian tradition, and socio-historical locations. Social change and criticism combine to create confusion in ministry identity.

I. The Master.
The master was the authoritative teacher, rooted in the history of the sages of the orient and rabbis of Judaism. Calvin institutionalized the ideal of the authoritative teacher in Geneva. In Puritan New England the Master with learned found esteem and affection. The authority of the Master rests on an existing authoritative body of literature and a personal knowledge of that literature. This view of ministry is dominant when the focus of religious expectation affirms the existence of a body of knowledge necessary for the salvation of the world. Such a view of ministry required preparation in the university. This has been a dominant view in the rise of the American Restoration Movement. One example is Alexander Campbell's establishment of Buffalo Seminary. Similar are the popular writings of Campbell as reflected in his periodicals, and the teaching and preaching style he employed.
With the rise of religious freedom and separation of church and state, the minister functioned amidst religious pluralism. The authority of such leaders sought new foundations.

II. The Revivalist and the Pulpiteer.
The changing social setting required not that religious leaders interpret a body of teaching as authoritative, but that they be able to persuade religiously inclined persons of the importance, even the superiority, of their teaching. Thus the master was replaced with an adapted model of ministry. Oratory replaced instruction, the minister came to be identified with preaching, and the focus turned to the conversion of sinners. This emphasis, however, changed the assumptions of the church and of the surrounding culture.
With the revivalist roots of the Restoration, one might observe that both Campbell and Stone were ahead of their time. They exalted revivalism and oratory in advance of the culture. This may account for some of the early success of the American Restoration Movement. The word of Walter Scott on the Western Reserve is an early example of revivalism and the preaching pulpiteer.
Although a new model of ministry was developing, most ministers in the United States did not have the oratorical skills required for the Pulpiteer or Revivalist. Rather ministers undertook the task of establishing new congregations in the expanding nation, building church buildings, and organizing the activities locally and more broadly. As more and more people affiliated with the church in various patterns of association, the need for educating the new church members occupied much of the effort of these ministers. Osborn describes this situation,
"In the space of a hundred years, they transformed the religious situation in America. Where the churches had gathered into the fold only about one person in twenty when the young nation began, these work-a-day ministers brought in, instructed, motivated, organized, and equipped such numbers of people, that by 1890, church membership made up virtually 40% of the vastly expanded population. (Osborn, 3, 45, as cited in H&C, 10).
The minister as a master was both present in the continuing instruction, but overwhelmed by the tremendous needs of the local church. No longer could the primary task of the minister be instruction. Some few influential Pulpiteers and Revivalists developed a personal authority and presence that could be heard in society at large, but the dominant ministerial model was formed by the hordes of ministers who assumed organizational leadership in countless churches and church organizations. This was the time of formation of many parachurch organizations, colleges, children's homes, and similar organizations. Thus the ministry model came to be what Osborn calls the Builder.

III. The Builder.
The Builder model developed both as a result of the needs of the expanding nation, a developing understanding of society, and as a result of a new model which included ministry among the professionals. With a world view based on a scientific understanding of the universe, a world view that described the world as operating according to fixed laws and predictable, empirically-based scientific theories could be constructed. Such theories could be tested through observation, confirmed, modified, and used to improve every enterprise. Thus the progress and prosperity of humankind was insured. This allowed the application of the scientific theory to social, political, religious, and moral matters. [Becker]. This was at long last the fulfillment of the divine endeavor.
The scientific theory expanded the definition of profession. In addition to the study of divinity, law, and medicine, a new group of professionals (engineers) could use electricity, mechanics, physics, and the sciences generally to engineer a different world. This emerging concept was important, because it assumed that such was possible in virtually any endeavor. With a professional model of ministry, the minister could use a body of knowledge, apply the research- based theory to a set of problems, find a workable theory of practice, and fix things gone awry. Especially in the social, behavioral, and human sciences, professionals thus became innovators, testing hypotheses, using knowledge, solving problems.
This new understanding of the professional affected the self-understanding of ministers. What is an appropriate educational model given the nature of the changing task of ministry? A modern understanding of the professions requires training in dynamic leadership and interpersonal relationships. The result was a blurring of the appropriate models of ministry education.

IV. The Pastoral Director.
By the early 1900s no single model of ministry was dominant in churches or in society. Niebuhr suggests a hybrid model, the Pastoral Director, which has elements of all of the above. The major difference Hough and Cobb note is a subtle shift from building to maintaining. Thus the pastoral system allowed these ministry types to manage the church from their office. Confusion about ministry has only increased and the authoritative basis for ministry has been largely lost.

V. The Manager and the Therapist.
The continuing reshaping of culture has produced two new dominant ministerial characters. Alistair McIntyre says the Manager is the dominant ministerial type today, a modern professional who embodies professionalism. The manager can help motivate, identify objectives, and devise strategies. What the manager can do for an organization, the therapist does for individuals or personal system.

These few examples of ministerial character shifts suggest the contemporary problem. Ministry is caught in a quagmire of uncertainty, regarding foundations, roles, expectations, and faithfulness. Cut loose from theological roots and biblical understanding, at the mercy of the winds of culture and personal preference, the minister may lose identity and focus. Of equal concern is that ministerial education may not know which way to turn.

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Last updated February 23, 2001.