Who can be a minister?

We don’t have to debate about whether women or people who are gay should be ordained as ministers.  We can look at the words of Jesus and learn the answer to who is a minister.

Matthew 20:20-28
20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons approached Him with her sons. She knelt down to ask Him for something. 21 “What do you want?” He asked her. “Promise,” she said to Him, “that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right and the other on Your left, in Your kingdom.” 22 But Jesus answered, “You don’t know what you’re asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” “We are able,” they said to Him. 23 He told them, “You will indeed drink My cup. But to sit at My right and left is not Mine to give; instead, it belongs to those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.” 24 When the 10 disciples heard this, they became indignant with the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them over and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and the men of high position exercise power over them. 26 It must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many.”

This thought is continued a few chapters later – 

Matthew 23:8-10 
8 “But as for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi,’ because you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father, because you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 And do not be called masters either, because you have one Master, the Messiah.

We can assume this instruction extends to all titles that are currently used for ordained ministers. We aren’t supposed to elevate ourselves over other people, and we are not supposed to put other people over us.

Even Jesus insisted on this rule for himself.  He continually pointed to God as the only one above us – not even himself. 

Luke 18:18-19 
18 A ruler asked Him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 “Why do you call Me good?” Jesus asked him. “No one is good but One—God."

So the answer is simple.  NOBODY is supposed to be above anybody else in the Church.  No ordained ministers, no bishops, no popes – NOBODY.  Only God is above us. This is what Jesus teaches us, and as he is the Messiah, that is what matters.

We are all ministers, by virtue of our call to this life.  If we do what God tells us to do, we are Jesus’ family.

Matthew 12:46-50 
46 He was still speaking to the crowds when suddenly His mother and brothers were standing outside wanting to speak to Him. 47 Someone told Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to You.”  48 But He replied to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” 49 And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven, that person is My brother and sister and mother.”

So who is a minister? Those who do good.

Matthew 7:15-20 
15 “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves. 16 You’ll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So you’ll recognize them by their fruit.”

What are some examples of “fruit”?

Galatians 5:22-25 
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith,23 gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit.

And you can’t ever go wrong with treating other people the same way you would want to be treated.

That includes – giving food to the hungry, giving a beverage to the thirsty, giving shelter to the homeless, giving clothing to the naked, healing to the sick, and visiting the imprisoned.  (See Matthew 25:31-46)

Jesus is far more interested in what we DO more than what we BELIEVE.  It is about right action, instead of right ritual.  It doesn’t matter what day you serve God, because it should be every day. It doesn’t matter what gender or sexual orientation you are, because this call is for everyone.

We are not to create limits. The work is too important, and too big. So who is a minister? Anyone who does the will of God. 

Mark 9:38-40 38 
John said to Him, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in Your name, and we tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us.” 39 “Don’t stop him,” said Jesus, “because there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name who can soon afterward speak evil of Me.40 For whoever is not against us is for us.
Matthew 9:37-38 
37 Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. 38 Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”

Notice that in all of the Gospels, Jesus doesn’t talk about what people should wear, length of clothing or hair, or what is the right seminary to go to – because these things don’t matter. Jesus called day laborers – simple fishermen and tax collectors, to be his disciples. They weren’t educated. They weren’t first in their class. They were simple people, just like us. He calls us too, right now, as we are.  We are called to be Jesus to a world that is desperate for his healing touch.

Good News and the Holy Temple

Why is it that so many denominations focus on the part of the Gospel that says “The Gospel has to be preached to all nations” (MT 24:14, MK 13:10), but seem to completely gloss over the fact that they don’t have to prepare for what to say when we share it, because the Holy Spirit will give us the words? (MK 13:11, MT 10:19-20, LK 12:11-12, LK 21:14-15)?

These two concepts come when Jesus is telling his disciples about the end of the Temple, not the end of times. This too is something that many church leaders don’t mention, or don’t notice. Many denominations feel it that the more nations that they preach the Gospel to, the closer they are to Jesus coming back. They prepare tracts and rehearse missionaries towards this end. Nowhere in that section does Jesus talk about the end of days – just the end of the Temple. The Jewish Temple has been destroyed for thousands of years, and the Gospel certainly wasn’t preached to all nations before it happened.

So what is going on?

Jesus was talking about the Holy Temple literally, and the Holy Temple spiritually. The Temple was a literal building at the time, but the Spirit left that building and entered into Jesus, and through him, into us. We are the building. We are the Temple now. Remember that Jesus was the “cornerstone” which the builders (the Jews) rejected. Remember that Peter, a human being, was the rock upon which Jesus built his new church.

The Church is a literal Body of believers, not a place. This is the message that needs to be spread through the Holy Spirit. We are to wake people up to this, to prepare their hearts, just like that simple manger in Bethlehem, to welcome in Christ.

We do need to be good witnesses, sure. We need to “acknowledge Jesus before others”, certainly. But we don’t have to prepare, because the Holy Spirit will give us the words. We’ll have better words through the Holy Spirit than we could ever prepare on our own. How interesting that the idea that the message of Jesus has to be preached to all nations is only in two Gospels, but the message about the Holy Spirit giving us the words to be able to do it is in three – and actually twice in one of them. More is said by Jesus about the Holy Spirit than sharing the message, and I think we need to notice that.

Our job is to be messengers, but not in the usual sense. We are to let the Holy Spirit speak through us. We don’t have to worry about it – we just have to let it happen.

Perhaps that is why so many church leaders don’t talk about this. The Holy Spirit can’t be controlled. People who have the Holy Spirit in them don’t read from the script or from a prayer book. There is nothing “common” about the Holy Spirit. It can’t be contained. I believe that many church leaders are frightened of this, because once the Holy Spirit gets loose, it can’t be put back.

Once it gets loose, people might just start to realize that Jesus didn’t ordain anybody.

Once it gets loose, people will remember that Jesus made us all ministers, by virtue of our baptism.

Once it gets loose, people will remember that Jesus said the only One above us is God – not a Rabbi, not a Teacher, not a Father – not any religious authority.

Come, Holy Spirit,
and spread over your Church,
and make it new.
Cleanse us with your fire,
turning the lead of
ritual and rote
into the gold of
service and joy.


Paid ministers or not?

Are ministers supposed to be paid or not? What does Jesus say about this?

Here, he is sending out his disciples, giving them instructions.

Matthew 10:7-10
7 And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons: freely ye received, freely give. 9 Get you no gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses; 10 no wallet for your journey, neither two coats, nor shoes, nor staff: for the laborer is worthy of his food.

So they received freely, so they should give freely. Got it. So they should heal people for free, because that was a gift they received for free.

Then they are told to take no money with them, not even taking a wallet or extra provisions. People are supposed to give them what they need, because “the laborer is worthy of his food.” Some translations say “the worker is worthy of his keep” so it isn’t just about food, but everything. So that sounds like they should take what is offered to them as their salary.

But what about a minister who has special training? What if he had to go to school to learn, and has thousands of dollars of debt because of that? Was that freely received? Should he expect a salary or a stipend?

Ministers have to eat, and have shelter, just like everybody else. So what should they do?

Not worry, because God knows what we need.
8 Be not therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. (Matthew 6:8)

We are not to store up anything.
19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal: (Matthew 6:19)

Ultimately, we are to not worry about anything, because God will provide.

25 Therefore I say unto you, be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than the food, and the body than the raiment? 26 Behold the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not ye of much more value then they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto the measure of his life? 28 And why are ye anxious concerning raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: 29 yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God doth so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? 31 Be not therefore anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? 32 For after all these things do the Gentiles seek; for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. 33 But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. 34 Be not therefore anxious for the morrow: for the morrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. (Matthew 6:25-34)

Jesus lived like this – not in a fancy house, but homeless. He gave thanks for whatever he was given. He didn’t ask for anything, and trusted that God would provide. This too is part of being a minister, a disciple, a follower of Jesus. If we are to truly follow him, we are to live like him.

Matthew 8:19-20
19 And there came a scribe, and said unto him, Teacher, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. 20 And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the heaven have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.

(All Bible translations are ASV, which is public domain)

Bell towers

I keep being drawn to bell towers these days. Not real ones, but images of them. I didn’t even realize they were bell towers. I just knew they were four-sided tall towers, with window-like openings at the top.

What did I think they were? I didn’t. I just thought they were pretty. Now that I know what they are, I have to meditate upon it, because apparently it has a meaning and a message for me.

Anything can be a useful thing to meditate on. Anything can give you insight and teach you. But I find it especially significant to focus on things that repeat, because I see them as a sign from God to pay attention. God is saying “Here is something you need to notice.”

One of the images was at a friend’s house. Her husband had taken a picture of a bell tower at a church in downtown Nashville. It is just the bell tower, the sky, and birds. Something about it reminds me of the Episcopal retreat center on Monteagle Mountain. That place is old and musty and quaint and a little falling down. It has a Spanish mission style architecture, with red-tile roofing and white stucco exteriors.

This bell tower is like that, but I think there is more to it. There is something that hints at the idea of the Holy Spirit, with the birds flying nearby. There is something about the angle of the picture that makes me think the eye was suddenly jerked upwards, noticing this structure for the first time.

I’d admired this picture several times when I went over to visit, and then it was missing. They’d taken it to an art show to try to sell it. I felt the loss of it more than I realized. I didn’t know that I liked it that much until it wasn’t there. I asked my friend to have her husband make me a copy of it so I could have it at my house.

Then there is another picture. There is an etching that I’ve admired for at least eight years. It was tucked away under the stairs in an art gallery in Banner Elk, North Carolina. Every year, for years, I’d gone by this gallery and noticed that it was still there. I hoped that they would put it on sale. It was $100. I couldn’t really justify $100 for an etching. They can make more – it isn’t an original, a one-of-a-kind. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that if I didn’t have it, I would feel the same loss, the same emptiness that I felt when my friend took that photograph away.

I remembered that I’d paid more than $100 for that photograph. That too can be reproduced. That too isn’t a one of a kind. But, hey, artists have to eat and pay bills, and I sure wish that people would pay me full price for what I make. So it was time to pony up and buy it.

It wasn’t until I saw the title written on the back of the etching that I knew it was of a bell tower. Two bell tower images, purchased within a few months of each other, both now in my house. I’d admired the etching for years and not even known what it was.

So what about bell towers? They are where the church uses to call the faithful to prayer. But “the call” can also mean the call from God. It can mean about the call to ministry, the call to service.

I need to listen to this message.

If I don’t respond to the call, I’ll feel empty. I’ll notice that it isn’t there and feel lost. This isn’t about iconizing the image of a bell tower – it is about heeding what it points to. It is about hearing the call and responding to it. It is about realizing that if I don’t respond, I’ll feel like I’ve missed out on my life’s purpose.

Does this mean I’m being called to the ordained ministry? No. Most certainly not. The more I read of the words of Jesus, the more I know with all certainty that the ordained ministry is a direct affront to Jesus’ wishes.

Jesus came to take away the power from the authorities. He removed all divisions between God and people, and between different groups of people. Jesus says we are all good, and we are all ministers, by virtue of our baptism.

So what, exactly? I feel like I’ll know when I get there. It would be nice to follow along a path that others have trod. It would be nice to be able to say what I’m headed towards, but there aren’t words yet. Perhaps it should just suffice to say that I’m headed towards God, and forget about the how or the what or even the when. Just do it, you know?

Meanwhile I’m going to fall and fail and trip a lot. Meanwhile I’m going to tick some people off and alienate some others. In short, I’m going to be human.

Basically, I’m like a bell tower. I want to call others to prayer. I want people to go towards God. If I can show them a path or light the way, awesome. Meanwhile, I have to hear and heed the call for myself.

But bell towers crumble, and get dirty, and birds start to nest in them. They stop working right.

Just like how I don’t want to get stuck iconizing the image of the bell tower, I don’t want people to focus on me. I don’t want people to think I’ve got all the answers, because I certainly don’t. I want people to know that they are forgiven and loved, and that they are supposed to go do the same.

What do you say I am?

Recently I have been asked if I was a minister or a teacher. This was in two different settings, but it was close enough together that I decided to start thinking about it.

In both situations I kind of hedged. I didn’t really say no, and I didn’t really say yes. I am both, in a way. I’m both at the same time, but not officially.

But what makes one official? The paperwork? A ceremony? Does training count? What kind? Or is it simply if you do the work, you are the worker?

For three years, I’ve tutored kindergartners who have learning disabilities or have English as a second language. Before that, I did the same in college for years. I’ve taught classes on various subjects in the medieval reenactment group I was in. I’ve taught classes at my old church. In all these situations, what qualifies me is that I do the work. I just know how, and I do it.

I’ve taken classes in Pastoral care, in the Circle process, and been in the discernment process to be a deacon. I’ve read many books on how to be a minister and how to bridge cultures and styles. I’ve gotten certified as a minister online so I can legally perform weddings for people who are not affiliated with a religious community. In this, what qualifies me is the training.

To me, part of being a minister or a teacher is not that I think I’m better than those that I minister to or teach. It is that I feel it is my blessing to help them remember their own power. It isn’t about “lording” over people. It is about leading them back to themselves.

My goal in both being a minister or a teacher is to help build bridges. I’m a facilitator, a translator. I find out what is preventing them from being able to fully be themselves, and I find a workaround. Perhaps there is some prayer form that they don’t know about. Perhaps they would enjoy painting more than beading. I try to find the best fit for the person.

When people ask me if I’m a minister or a teacher, perhaps I should ask them “What do you say I am?” like Jesus did. Jesus didn’t tell anybody what he was. He just did the work – with no training and no certification. He was all about just getting in there and doing it. He wasn’t ordained, and he didn’t ordain anybody. He was actually against the idea of giving over your power to authority figures.

Perhaps if people on their own are asking me if I’m a minister or a teacher, I am. If they see me that way, then I must be that way, right?

But I’m not a minister or a teacher in the way they think I am. I don’t want them to then think that I have some authority or power over them. It is the exact opposite. I’m here to help them find themselves. I’m here to help remove stumbling blocks. I’m more of a facilitator – I make it easier. In a way, I’m more like a cheerleader than a coach.