Overview of purpose and goals
We call our initiative Re-Forming Ministry: Recovering the Shared Teaching Office of the Church in order to indicate our understanding of ministry's common, comprehensive theological task that is done in, with and on behalf of the church. Too often, theology is understood as an academic task that is confined to theological schools with disastrous results for both the church and the academy. The theological task — serious, sustained attention to the core of Christian faith and life — is the vocation of the whole church. Within the whole church, however, three ministerial offices are called to exercise a shared teaching office. Re-Forming Ministry entails distinct yet related means of drawing together selected pastors, professors, and church officials in order to accomplish crucial goals:
Forge new models of collegial relationships among the three ministerial loci in the pastoral-ecclesial system. Relationships are not currently characterized by mutual responsibility and accountability. Pastors defer to professors' theological wisdom and resent church officials' regulatory procedures. Professors overlook the theological significance of pastoral proclamation and disparage the ecclesial substance of church officials' ministries. Church officials imagine that professors' theological work is irrelevant and that pastors' primary obligation is ordered congregational success. Re-Forming Ministry will forge new patterns of relationships in which pastors, professors, and church officials build trust and engage each other as peers in common service to the whole church.
Engage pastors, professors, and church officials in the shared practice of serious, sustained attention to the faith. Re-Forming Ministry will engage participants in new patterns of serious, sustained and common theological work. The church's theological work will be altered as each locus of ministry contributes its particular theological wisdom in a shared exploration of core matters of Christian faith and life. Pastors, theological faculty, and church officials approach matters from different ecclesial locations, but their perspectives are compatible, for they contribute to a fully ecclesial appropriation of a fully corporate gospel.
Focus common theological work on a pressing theological concern before the church. Shared theological work cannot be sustained if it is episodic intellectual reflection on diffuse questions of Christian faith and life. Pastors, professors, and church officials will engage in focused inquiry on a pressing, unresolved theological question that is of immediate concern to each individually, and to all commonly. The theological work of Re-Forming Ministry will be worth the concerted, persistent attention of participants.
Embark on a multi-year year inquiry into the identity and life of the church. The most pressing issue before the church is — the church! Uncertainty about the church's character and mission leads to confusing purposes and strategies, and to doubts about most forms of church life. What is the ecclesial identity of the church in a culture that disparages institutions while prizing personal fulfillment? What is the meaning of church membership in a consumer culture? Which gifts and qualities are needed in church leadership? How should the church proclaim the gospel? These and other deeply ecclesiological questions will engage the full, shared theological attention of pastors, professors and church officials.
Center ecclesiological inquiry on the "marks of the church" — proclamation of the gospel and celebration of the sacraments. Proclamation of the gospel (not limited to preaching) and celebration of the sacraments (not restricted to liturgical observance), supported by disciplined ordering of community life, are the heart of the Reformed tradition's understanding of the church and its understanding of the pastoral vocation. Yet there is confusion about each of the marks: lack of clarity about their range, disagreement about their adequacy and uncertainty about their centrality to pastoral practice.
Develop ecclesiological clarity about word and sacrament as the heart of pastoral vocation throughout the pastoral-ecclesial system. Pastoral excellence is most fully supported when there is a discernible focus on pastoral vocation shared throughout the pastoral system. Concerted attention to core practices of Word and Sacrament will yield strategies for enhancing pastoral excellence that transcend idiosyncratic and episodic efforts and can be reinforced by theological education and church structures.
Engage in shared ecclesiological inquiry publicly. Pastors, professors and church officials will not do shared work for themselves alone, but for the whole church. Pastors, professors and church officials will exercise the Reformed teaching office by conducting their shared inquiry in public, using a variety of media to inform and engage wider circles of colleagues in ministry. The Re-Forming Ministry initiative will teach by the way participants work as well as by the content of their work.
Widen the circle of discourse. The public work of small groups is necessary to demonstrate the possibilities of recovering a shared teaching office in the church. Confining ecclesiological inquiry to restricted groups is not adequate to the re-formation of ministry, however. The extensive publications program of the Office of Theology and Worship, a dedicated web site, church magazines, journals and books are among the traditional instruments that will help to foster a wider circle of discourse in the church.
Engage the pastoral-ecclesial system. Traditional means of informing a wider audience are important and necessary, but they are not sufficient to create a "critical mass" that can effect enduring change in the pastoral-ecclesial system. Widening circles of pastors, theological faculty and church officials will be drawn into engagement with both the process and the substance of work.