What Do Ministers Do?

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In the Evolution of the Pastoral Ministry Sam Hamstra outlines how the roles and functions of the pastor have changed over the last century.  Hamstra describes a paring down of the office as some traditional functions were given to specialized ministry roles.  Over the same period of time our official descriptions of what pastors do have moved in the other direction. The latest evidence is a recommendation by the task force to study the office of elder and deacon to add engaging in “the work of diaconal outreach” to the list of a minister’s responsibilities. 

Prior to its major revision in the sixties, the church order said that “the office of the Minster is to continue in prayer and in the ministry of the Word, to dispense the sacraments, to watch over his brethren, the Elders and the Deacons, as well as the Congregation, and finally, with the Elders, to exercise church discipline and to see to it that everything is done decently and in good order (Church Order Commentary, Van Dellen and Monsma, 1954 printing).  This description seems to be drawn from the tasks the apostles gave their attention to (Acts 6:4) and the marks of the church (Belgic Confession, art. 29).   That connection will be obscured over the decades.

The core functions of the old church order were carried over into the 1960s revisions while some things ministers had always done, like conducting public worship, catechizing youth and exercising pastoral care were now specified rather than assumed.  Interestingly these are some of the same functions that are now being carried out by youth pastors, worship leaders, and pastoral care teams. Oddly “continuing in prayer” dropped out of the list at this point (Revised Church Order Commentary Van Dellen and Monsma 1967 edition).   

In the 1970s, training members for Christian service and engaging in and promoting the work of evangelism were added to the list (Manual of Church Government 1980, Brink and De Ridder).  Now the report suggests that engaging in and promoting “the work of diaconal outreach” be tacked on to the end of the list. These successive additions suggest that we are not really sure what a minister is supposed to do.  We just keep adding to the list things we think the church forgot in previous generations.  They also demonstrate that it is impossible to keep up with changing expectations. 

The 1978 revision did make a helpful move when it set out the basic task of a minister: “the calling of the minister of the word is to proclaim, explain and apply Holy Scripture in order to gather in and build up the members of the church of Jesus Christ.”   Perhaps it would be better to focus here.  Instead of adding to a list in order to reflect the theological flavour of the decade, define the core and give each generation the flexibility adapt it in ways that fits their context. 

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Thanks, Norman. I agree.  It is time to focus.  Let's hope that vital conversations about pastoral theology continue to take place and that clarity emerges about the core functions of the pastoral ministry. 

Community Builder

The proposed change to Church Order Article 12-a is much more nuanced than simply adding "diaconal outreach" to the job description of the minister. Please interpret the change in the context of the ground that was provided. Though not mentioned in the ground, a valid interpretation of the change would be that promoting the work of diaconal outreach would be more applicable than engaging in that activity.

Ground: According to Article 30 of the Belgic Confession, ministers of the Word are called to common tasks with elders and deacons in equipping the church. Likewise, the second half of Church Order Article 12-a is intended to give an illustrative list of those tasks that the minister is called to do with other  officebearers. Making reference in the article to elders alone is confusing, since some of the tasks belong to other officebearers as well, such as supervising fellow officebearers (see Church Order Art. 82-84 and Supplement, Art. 82-84) and exercising pastoral care (see Art. 65). The proposed language removes this confusion by making a generic reference to other officebearers and including diaconal outreach in the tasks that the minister does in common with other officebearers.

Key, in my understanding of Article 12a, is the distinction between the first sentence and the second sentence (which is alluded to in the ground given for the recommended change). The first sentence is about the minister’s focus -- his or her calling specifically as minister. The second sentence is about the breadth of ministry work that a minister should be prepared to encounter -- his or her calling as one of the officebearers in the church, working together with the others in common ministry.

In view of this distinction between the two sentences, it looks to me like Article 12a captures quite well the competing concerns mentioned above: to define the core (sentence 1) but also have a view of the breadth (sentence 2).

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