Good books

Creative Ministry. 
By Henri J. M. Nouwen.
New York: Doubleday, 1971. 123 pp.
Review by Dr Ng Peh Cheng

The book is the outcome of Henri Nouwen’s own personal struggle to bridge the gap between ministry and spirituality,

When I look back at the way I wrote this book, I begin to realize that  it is a very personal book. In fact, it is an attempt to articulate ideas and feelings about the ministry based on the ups and downs of my own experiences.  . . . I also hoped that my “confession” could be of some help to others in the ongoing discussion about the value and meaning of the Christian ministry (p. 121).

Lest the readers who are not ordained ministers or priests label the book as irrelevant to them should ponder on these words of Nouwen,

Ministry in no way is a privilege.  Instead, it is the core of the Christian life. No Christian is a Christian without being a minister (p. 114).

Every Christian is a minister. This book is about the lifestyle of every Christian – every man and woman who wants to live his life in the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (p. xxii).

Hence, the terms, “minister, priests and layman” are used interchangeably in the book.

 

Purposeful Christian ministry covers the five core functions of teaching, preaching, individual pastoral care, organizing, and celebrating. Effectiveness in fulfilling these ministry responsibilities demands those ministers or lay leaders who are called to exercise in any of these functions to undergo “professional” training. Essential training includes gaining the knowledge and understanding of the Scripture and special skills to respond to the needs of individuals and groups. Professional training is also valuable in equipping the minister with the best method or approach to find answers to questions that may threaten their survival in the ministry (p. xx): 

How do I preach to a church congregation in a language that will make me  understood?
How can I be of help to a husband and wife struggling with marriage conflicts?
How do I assist a dying patient?

Other ministry techniques needed in the Singapore context today may include,

How do I counsel gambling addicts and gaming addicts?

How do I help parents with delinquent children?  

How do I respond to the question, “Can I work in a casino?”

These questions are extremely important to their ministry and require the minister or the lay leader to do careful study, research and acquire the necessary competencies.  However, the author cautions,

These questions are not the last ones and not the most decisive. Sometimes it even seems that underneath all these concerns is the question about the spirituality of the man or woman who raises them” (p. xx).

That is, Christian ministry preparation must go beyond professionalism. Why? The ministry leader may be struggling with his or her sense of being (p. xx),

Who is God to me?

Does Jesus Christ really motivate my life?

How do I think about my own life and death?

Is it my desire, task, or vocation to intervene in anyone’s life at all?

Why read, talk and teach about prayer when I never really experienced much of anything that deserves this title?

The struggle will seek out the true relationship between the minister’s personal Christian faith and his or her act of service. To Nouwen, a doctor may cure a patient without subscribing to the value of human life but it will be impossible for a Christian minister to provide pastoral care who does not uphold the sanctity of life that forms the core of his or her faith.  Therefore, ministry and spirituality are not mutually exclusive. They are inseparable. The author reasons and illustrates from his repertoire of experience the creative link between spirituality and the ministry functions of teaching, preaching, pastoral care, organizing and celebrating in the next five chapters of the book.

 

The ministry of teaching can be a violent process or a redemptive process. The first chapter compares and contrasts the two models of teaching. The violent model of teaching provokes unhealthy competition, views the teacher as the expert and alienates students from “real” life learning. In contrast, the redemptive model creates a binding teacher-student relationship that promotes mutual trust and producing students who are lifelong learners. The redemptive model of teaching is the preferred choice but the teacher must exercise creativity to break students’ resistance to learning, 

Teaching becomes [a spiritual and creative] ministry when the teacher moves beyond the transference of knowledge and is willing to offer his own life experience to his student so that paralyzing anxiety can be removed, new liberating insight can come about, and real learning can take place (p. 114).

Preaching is the “heart of the Christian ministry” but the preacher often faces the question of motivating his audience to listen or removing barriers that “prevent the Word of God from falling on fertile ground (p. 25).  The chapter discusses the two major difficulties in preaching: the messenger and the message. The solution lies with the spirituality of the preacher who must “move beyond the ‘telling of the story’ and makes his own deepest self available to his hearers so that they will be able to receive the Word of God” (p. 114). 

 

The pastoral relationship between the minister and the person in need of help takes the form of a spiritual covenant and not a professional contract (Chapter 3). The minister is called to “go beyond the levels of skills and techniques” (p. 63) through self-denial and by being a faithful witness of God’s covenant and contemplating on the meaning of human suffering (pp. 64,65).

 

The fourth chapter examines the relationship between spirituality and the ministry of organizing.  The term, “organizing” describes the minister as an agent of social change or a social reformer. Should Christians be involved in social reforms?  To Henri Nouwen, preaching the word, “love” from the pulpit and teaching the concept of “love” in the classroom will be meaningless to a “woman who does not have enough bread for her children,” and “counselling skills will not take away her hunger” (p. 70). The real agent of social change must be “contemplative at heart, able to hear the voice of God in the middle of the crying children, and see His face behind the dirty curtain of misery” (p. 87). That is, the change agent must be a man or woman, who integrates contemplation with action,

Real social action is a way of contemplation, and real contemplation is the core of social action. . . . action and contemplation are two sides of the same reality which makes a man an agent of change (p. 88).

Chapter 5 calls for the minister to enable his fellowmen to a celebration of accepting and valuing one’s life. It is a spiritual exercise to “turn away from fatalism and despair and to make our discovery that we have but one life to live into an ongoing recognition of God’s work with man” (pp. 93, 94).  The rest of the chapter illustrates how “life” should be celebrated.

 

The book is not about garnering the most creative method, technique or approach to “doing” ministry to gain power, recognition and success for the minister. Creative ministry is about bridging the gap between spirituality and ministry. The emphasis is “being” a minister in which the ministry becomes a way of the Christian life, 

If teaching, preaching, individual pastoral care, organizing, and celebrating  are acts of service that go beyond the level of professional expertise, it is precisely because in these acts the minister is asked to lay down his own  life for his friends (John 13:13), (p. 113).

Neither is Nouwen writing against training or theological education for ministers,

[Ministry] calls for men and women who do not shy away from careful preparation, solid formation, and qualified training but at the same time are free enough to break through the restrictive boundaries of disciplines and specialties in the conviction that the Spirit moves beyond professional expertise. It calls for Christians who are willing to develop their sensitivity  to God’s presence in their own lives, as well as in the lives of others”  (p. 119).

NEWS BITS

  1. Alumni News. Dr Atomic Leow sends greetings to BGST staff and students. He has enrolled  in the medical school at the University of East Anglia, United Kingdom.
     

  2. We congratulate Peter & Lydia Lim on the birth of their daughter, Sophia Lim Hui Yim, on 2 Oct 2006.
     

  3. Courses for MCS & MDiv - 2007

Send an email to Anthony at bgst@pacific.net.sg to indicate your interest to enrol in any of the courses listed below:

  • ME 101- Introduction to Evangelism & World Mission

  • MM101- Vocation, Work & Ministry

  • TS 251- The Christian Spirit

  • TS 252- Christian Ethics

  • TS 211- Theological Foundations I

  • TS 212 - Theological Foundations II

  • TS 230-  Apologetics

CHAPEL NOTES

Oriana Sun was the chapel speaker on Sept 27. She spoke on the subject of meditation and shared her personal journey of spirituality.

Chapel speaker on Oct 11 will be Lewis Lew.

BGST GENERAL FUND UPDATE

Operating expenses for Oct 2006

$  57,090

Balance in General Fund as at  1st Oct 2006

$    41,521

Funds received to-date (10th Oct)

*This does not include interest-free loan received.

$  4,941

Balance to raise for Oct 2006

$  10,628

Total Budgetted Operating Expenses

for Nov to Dec 2006

$144,480

Balance to raise for the rest of 2006

$155,108

 


A Blessed Birthday to ... 
 


Ms Christina Goh  9/10

Mr Adrian Ang  9/10

Ms Lois Teo  9/10

Ms Wong Kuan Ying  10/10

Mdm Susan Yap  11/10

Mr Vincent Yu  11/10

Mr Samuel Ratnam  11/10

Ms Cerintha Chia  11/10

Mrs Dorcas Tan  11/10

Dr Michelle Liew  11/10

Mr Francis Ng  11/10

Mr Steven Lee  12/10

Mr Francis Lee  12/10

Mr Tan Wei Lieh  12/10

Dr Daniel Chua  13/10

Mr Peter Pan  13/10

Mr John Tan  14/10

Dr Alvin Oh  14/10

Pastor Jeffrey Tay  15/10

A/P Quek Ser Aik  15/10

Mrs Jess Goh  16/10

Ms Janice Koh  16/10

Ms Hor Yuet Sim  17/10

Mr Kevin Teo  18/10

Ms Lee Siew Lan  19/10

Mdm Laura Seet  19/10

Ms Bessie Lee 19/10

Ms Joyce Carino  20/10

Mdm Maisie Kang  20/10

Mr Mark Sng  22/10
 

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