What is ministry today?

In a word: big.

Each week, this blog mines some of the wonderful data in the world to explore the best thinking in order to help make that big topic smaller and more understandable for ministry. This week, I’d like to offer a little bit of the big picture that I’m seeing, so you can understand where I’m coming from as one post leads to two and beyond. Ministry in big picture, with all the assorted lights, camera, and action. (Because, honestly, aren’t you tired of hearing what’s not working and looking for what is?)

The best way to talk about ministry today is to tell you what I am passionate about – this will also help frame the work I’ll offer to this blog. I’m passionate about the possibilities of this time, both for ministry and the church. Many have decried the end times for the local church, the national denomination, and Christian faith; but I’m one who sees more possibilities than problems. Recently, I’ve been seeing a lot of articles, posts, and fodder about the fate of Sunday school, an admittedly failing institution in many of our local churches. (Usual problems: not enough kids, not enough volunteers, not enough young people, yada, yada.)

And, then, I think about some of the wonderful work folks are doing to re-invent, re-imagine, and re-discover within our nation’s colleges and universities. The problem of how to educate the next generation is not unique to faith. And, really, some of our nation’s brightest minds are working on that problem. How do you do distance learning? What does a degree mean? We’re living during a time when a $200 laptop, an Internet connection, and some nights at home can net you classes at some of the nation’s most prestigious schools. Free. Some programs make you pay for the degree, or the test, but the information and learning is free.

keyboard-621829_640Not that long ago, there were silos of learning where information, education, and knowledge were kept and only the privileged few had access. As ministers, we are the recipients of that legacy as our faith forbears often were the only educated people in town. No longer. Looking back further, the same was true before the Protestant Reformation when the work of the monks and the printing press changed the face of faith. (For the most interesting retelling of that time I’ve seen recently, check out PBS’ Wolf Hall. Place yourself in the shoes of both the proto-Protestants and the Catholic church.)

Too often, and too much, of what comes out of the leaders of our local churches smacks of that same sense of elitist entitlement to truth that the Protestant Reformers fought, and died, against. Wait, you say, where did that politically edged comment come from?

I think the status quo wants us to believe that it’s still ok for church to be the gatekeeper of knowledge, at a time when the world is becoming more open and more available to most, perhaps not all, people.

I am passionate about the possibilities of this time. It is now possible – with a little sleuthing, a little listening, and a little connection building – to see into the discussions and debates happening in the secular world and to very easily use their insights to help address church problems. We live in a time when the great foundations of churchland are being shaken, made new, and will be eventually reformed and renewed. Could Bible study, Christian education, or discipleship building learn from online universities? I think so. I can see no reason why faith formation could not happen in that sort of long-distance model (in fact, it’s already happening in a variety of ways).

But there’s still a great deal of work to do. I’m 36 years old and am part of the 6.4 percent of UCC clergy under 40. I live and work in New England, which polling shows to be one of the most secular parts of our country. For the established church to continue, and for it adapt into the future, our collective understanding will need to expand and some of the traditional boundaries of culture, career, and calling will need to be expanded. Ministry is bigger and more interesting today than our modern understanding allows.

And, all this is a very good thing.

I believe what will work are things like this blog, which engage people of faith, new data, and ideas to help foster greater understanding. I have hope for the future because I believe that many of the problems we all see – shrinking and closing churches, decreased funding, increased apathy – are all the birth pains of a new expression of church in the world.

My pledge to you, our readers, is that I will use these blog posts to help explore some of this new world. I will not be encumbered by traditional lines of thinking but will explore broadly, deeply, and far across traditional lines.

That’s my two cents.

In the comments below, tell us what you are passionate about? What areas of church life really need exploring? Where do you find exciting possibilities?

Rev. Jeremiah Rood lives in Massachusetts, with his wife, Amanda, and two small black cats. He has experience working in local congregations, but most recently has turned his attention to building an active online ministry at www.revjeremiahrood.com and www.localchurchrevival.com.

Rev. Jeremiah’s ministry includes spending a year in a detox working with struggling addicts and alcoholics. His time is now split between writing a book exploring these issues and working with folks struggling with a variety of different developmental and life challenges.

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