By John Eric Tumbado
I would like to take for myself a piece of advice from the comedian George Burns on pursuing longevity—wait, who doesn’t want to live long anyway? So might as well take this advice too. He said:
“If you ask me what is the single most important key to longevity, I would have to say it is avoiding worry, stress,and tension.”
However, if that’s the case, I would know as early as now that I’m doomed…coz I’m treading the path toward becoming a teacher, or perhaps a preacher (am I?).
Kidding aside, I wonder since when did church workers (specifically the pastors/preachers/teachers) start to have their so called “stress” from their duties—stress brought about by the ‘seemingly existing’ tensions in the church. While I was a newbie Christian,I’ve always thought that getting involved in the ministry means getting uninvolved with those “unhealthy” stuffs. But as years went by and as I became more exposed to what a minister does, it seems to me that what I thought back then was very ideal, YET not impossible.
As I collect my thoughts on this, I could only see the vitality of the roles of a minister as the initial reason for these pseudo-stresses inside the church.
The duties of a minister—which includes teaching, preaching, counseling, celebrating, and organizing—are very important for the growth and sustainability of a church. These tasks unite the flock; they impart oneness in mind and in spirit; they foster mutual understanding; they pacify arising conflicts; they give words of encouragement to the down-hearted. These are just among others which the Spirit uses for the church to survive and develop.
These tasks are too important to be neglected. Too important to be overlooked. Too important to be ignored. And so, too important to mess up with.
I am therefore suspecting that this is the reason why structures and certain orders have been made for the conduct of these duties. It is inevitable; it’s how things work. The more crucial your role is, the higher the standards are demanded from you. The higher the standards set,the more people keep an eye on you.
From this point of view, we can only imagine how pressured our church workers are in fulfilling the members’ or even the leaders’ expectations. As the pressure builds up, it seems that the working ground of the minister becomes limited and confined.
But should this really be the case? Should this be seen as the real picture? Should we consider structures and orders as a threat or a burden?
Let’s try to look at things from the context of artists—painters. There are a lot of painters who have mastered different types of genres and disciplines. We have impressionism, abstract, portrait, cubism, surrealism, among others. And when one takes an art degree in college,these various disciplines will be taught and learned. However at the end of the day, no matter how diverse these disciplines and rules are, these guide the painters to come up with an incredible masterpiece. On the other hand, there are those who opt to veer away from the set rules and standards to revolutionize the existing art norms during their time. These artists are whom we now call ‘great painters’ in the history. One of those in particular was Vincent Van Gogh.
Now let’s go back to the context of a minister, Jesus Christ. During his time, there were already different existing views coming from the Pharisees, Jews, the Roman Empire, and different sects of Judaism. There were also set rules on Jewish practices, Law interpretation, ethical standards, ethnicity,politics, and economy. Jesus knew all these norms, but he had a different approach and perspective that turned the world upside down. However, he did not intend to abolish the Law by doing so, as the society thought he would. Just like Jesus said on Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
For instance, the lawmakers and the Pharisees could not accept Jesus’ view on Sabbath and Law (Mark 2:23-28). Also, the Jewish people was surprised to hear Jesus’ words about ethnicity and ethical view (The Good Samaritan – Luke 10:25-37). But these unacceptable ideas in the past have become part of our practical beliefs today. Sadly though, it seems to me that many of us Christians still live up to yesterday’s structures and are trapped in the ‘church orders’ which forms us into today’s Pharisees.
The problem here is that we try to look at the order first before the principle behind it. We have to understand that‘principles’ shape ‘orders’ which should be guided by the ‘context’. Orders have their own context by the time they were formed, but still driven by the principles. Therefore, we should keep the principles while adapting to the context for us to form an effective set of orders. This way, we can eliminate the tension that seemingly exists in teaching, preaching, counseling, celebrating, and organizing; thus, making the ‘ideal’ tangible and possible.
If we intensely study our context’s needs while keeping the principles of Jesus Christ, perhaps we could come up with a free way of exercising our gifts without feeling pressured, limited, and confined. That is the true order because order should cater to people and their context. I suppose that this is the kind of spirit or wisdom that inspired our church fathers, particularly the reformers, to come up with their own structures, and I believe that this same spirit should be imbibed in our church today. With this kind of atmosphere, perhaps I can finally live up to Burn’s advice: to break-free from stress and tensions. 🙂
Orders and contexts change but the principles stay the same.