Ministry, Transition, and Grief

from "The Present Future" by Reggie McNeal and "The Prophetic Imagination" by Walter Brueggemann


"For the world is grown full of peril..
and in all lands, love is now mingled with grief."

Galadriel in JRR Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings"

God must have a lot of confidence in you to put you on the planet at just this time. It was his sovereign decision to insert you onto planet earth during a time of huge transition. It takes incredible faith to lead during hinge points of history.

"Think about John the Baptist as a transitional leader. He grew up hearing the stories of Luke 1 and 2 as part of his family legend. Can't you just hear John's mom? "When your dad found out we were expecting you, he was speechless!" or "When your Aunt Mary came to see me to tell me she was going to have a baby, I thought you were going to jump right out of me!" John saw heaven open and the Spirit descend when he baptized his first cousin. Yet when he was in jail he sent word to Jesus, "Now, let's go over this one more time: are you the one?" Jeus doesn't slam John. In fact, he extols his cousin: "There's never been a better man born," Jesus says (Luke 7:28).

"Jesus doesn't slam you for your doubts, fears and uncertainties either. He wants to encourage you in your current assignment. You are being asked to lead during a time when you are not sure where all this is going. If previous history is an accurate indicator, the kinds of changes we are undergoing will not settle out for another century or more. This means that some of you are giving direction to the great-great-great grandparents of the leaders of the Christian movement when it all shake sout on the other side of the postmodern wormhole. You are leading by faith, trusting that the subplot obediences you practice will contribute to the larger drama. Your courage to believe with partial sight will be rewarded one day when a full view is afforded.

"On the flip side, you have the chance to do what only a few have been privileged to do. You get the chance to give shape to the movement that will define its expression for perhaps hundreds of years (if Jesus tarries). You must choose carefully.

"Leadership is always in high demand and short supply. Sometimes the leadership deficit is more acute. This is especially true in times of great paradigmatic shifts, when the leadership requirements are shifting also. It takes time for a new crop of leaders to come up to speed to the new set of challenges. We are in such a leadership crisis now in the North America church. Simply put, we have a critical shortage of the right kind of leadership necessary to help the North American church become more missionally effective."

From Reggie McNeal, "The Present Future"


Not long after I read the above, I read the following words in "The Prophetic Imagination." I believe many of us who are called to walk in new directions, and reflect on life, kingdom and culture will identify with them. This is a call to grieve, and to believe, and to move forward...

"As I reflect on ministry, and especially on my ministry, I know in the hidden places that the real restraints are not in my understanding or in the receptivity of other people. Rather, the restraints come from my own unsureness about this perception... I, like most of the others, am unsure that the alternative community inclusive of the poor, hungry and grieving is really the wave of God's future. We are indeed "like people, like priest" (Hosea 4:9). That is likely the situation of many of us in ministry, and there is no way out of it. It does make clear to us that our ministry will always be practiced through our own conflicted selves...

"We ourselves shall move in and out [of certainty, of our convictions about the nature of the kingdom of God and His body, our awareness of what God is doing] precisely because of our poor capacity to grieve the death in our own lives and so be amazed at the new futures. We are not more skilled in that than all the other children of the compromised community, and therefore we must engage in the same painful practices of becoming who we are called to be. I have come to think that there is no more succinct summary of prophetic ministry than the statement of Jesus: "Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh" (Luke 6:21), or "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Matt 5:4).

"Jesus' concern was finally for the joy of the kingdom. That is what he promised, and to that he invited people. But he was clear that rejoicing in that future required a grieving about the present order. Jesus takes a quite dialectical two-age view of things. He will not be like one world liberals who view the present world as the only one, nor will he be like the unworldly who yearn for the future with an unconcern about the present. There is work to be done in the present. There is grief work to be done in the present that the future may come. There is mourning to be done for those who do not know of the deathliness of their situation. There is mourning to be done with those who know pain and suffering and lack the power or freedom to bring it to speech. The saying is a harsh one, for it sets their grief work as the precondition of joy. It announces that those who have not cared enough to grieve will not know joy.

"The mourning is a precondition in another way also. It is not a formal, external requirement but rather the only door and route to joy. Seen in that context, Jesus' saying about weeping and laughing is not just a neat aphorism but a summary of the entire theology of the cross. Only that kind of anguished disengagement permits fruitful yearning, and only the public embrace of deathliness permits newness to come. We are at the edge of knowing this in our personal lives, for we understand a bit of the processes of grieving. But we have yet to learn and apply it to the realilty of society. And finally, we have yet to learn it about God, who grieves in ways hidden from us and who waits to rejoice until his promises are fully kept."

Walter Brueggemann in the second edition of "The Prophetic Imagination" p.118


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Last Updated on August, 2005