"It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." - Eph. 4:11-13
i only remember snippets of my seminary education. some of the snippets are smeared with shit, such as the moment in class during my first week when professor jefferson davis lee told me in no uncertain terms that "we aren't going to answer questions like yours in this class," but there are are a few snippets that i still treasure. one of the latter snippets is of the time that professor gary parrott, building on the thesis of r. paul stevens' liberating the laity, told us that the heart of christian ministry is building the body up to the head, who is Christ. of course ministry can be viewed through more opaque lenses, parrott admitted at the time, but the irreducible core of serving Jesus is building a community that grows up into the beauty, goodness and truth of Christ.
i must admit that for many years i have thought about building people up into Christ as merely spiritual work. to wit, i tried to teach the whole counsel of scripture by opting for exegetical rather than sound bite sermons or teachings, consistently encouraged people to intellectually acquiesce to traditional Christian doctrine concerning Christ's death, burial and resurrection and sought to include as many people as i could in the sacraments of baptism and eucharist.
at this point in my a-institutional ministry i still think that the focus of my early work is important, but i also view paul's imperative to build up the body into Christ in a much more holistic manner. thus, i am almost certain that when i am accompanying individuals who are seeking to enter the world of competitive employment i am operating as much from the center of my calling as i am when i am preaching a sermon, performing a baptism or presiding over communion. in some sense, i even feel more centered in the employment specialist role than i do in the teacher's seat. in fact, there have been a number of occasions lately when i have been able to almost step outside of myself in the moment and watch myself walking through the workshop at rectangle and grinning from ear to ear as i greet participants, encourage young job seekers to persevere and constantly emphasizing the potential of individuals rather than bemoaning their current reality. in those moments i can hardly recognize my old cynical self and cannot help but wonder whether i am operating more in and with the Spirit in those moments than i am when i participate in almost any other activity or serve in any other role.
i am rambling...i guess what i want to say is this: there are as many diverse and wonderful ways to build communities and individuals up into Christ as there are unique communities and individuals. if we who are members of the church could begin to see our "building up" role in a much more holistic way i have little doubt* that both the church and the very ends of the earth would be so much better for it.
so here's to hoping for a few more prophets to find their calling in the political systems of the world, where they build nations up into the justice of Christ. let's send out more educational apostles from our communities who are educated in the finest institutions of the world and dedicated to helping the kids in new orleans sharpen their arithmatic and accompanying sped students in the bronx as they learn life skills. and here's to the church commissioning more environmental evangelists who call consumers to repent of our unecessary consumption so that we can participate with Christ as he sustains the natural world and celebrate the revelation of God that is barely concealed in every rock, river and tree.
the body of Christ needs to open its eyes. the only limit upon paul's imperative to build up communities and individuals into the beauty, truth and goodness of the creating and all-sustaining Christ is our imagination. so let's start building!
* and, for me, that's saying something.