As a part of the Incarnational Theology seminar, Dr. Heather and I use a case study method to foster intercultural conversation about the nature of ministry. Each student presents a ministry event from his or her discrete context. An event is a decision made by the minister, among viable alternatives, for which he or she takes responsibility for the outcome.
Ministry colleagues then give feedback and affirmation about the case, and all participants gain insight into the nature of ministry from this respectful exchange. Students from the US as well as from Myanmar marvel at the similarity of ministry challenges, and share the good humor born out of seeking to be faithful leaders even when their “sheep” are a wayward group.
Yesterday we processed events related to conflict over pastoral leadership, preferential treatment of rich in congregations, mixed-marriage, i.e., between Buddhist and Christian, people so divided in a congregation that one group destroys the church’s building, competing views of sexual purity, the nature of evangelism, only to mention a few.
These are holy conversations as we listen to the journeys of pastoral leaders seeking to embody the grace of God in these situations, the real test of incarnational theology. We probe significant theological issues such a the nature of the church, the role of the Holy Spirit, forgiveness and restoration, and the meaning of God’s atoning action in Jesus. As practitioners share from their widely varying contexts—from tribal villages to urban centers—common themes emerge. Humans are vulnerable, prone to self-interest and seduced by power. Pastors, too, learn to acknowledge their brokenness and offer ministry as fellow humans.
How grateful I am for this kind of learning among scholar-practitioners. It is a healing process to delineate a ministry situation that had caused one great anguish and hear gentle words from other ministers. In my judgment, if ministry colleagues could regularly pursue this practice, some of the isolation and self-doubt that can plague practitioners could be overcome.
On Friday I will begin the journey home. Once again I return with gratitude for the privilege of learning together how to strengthen the witness of Christ’s church.
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.