Be Humble, Be Salt and Light

Life_in_Tension_revision_front_20200101You are the salt of the earth, 

but if salt has lost its taste, 

how shall its saltiness be restored? 

It is no longer good for anything 

except to be thrown out 

and trampled under people’s feet. 

(Matt 5:13)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Beatitudes introduce the Sermon on the Mount, where themes in the Beatitudes get expanded and anticipate Jesus’ life and ministry. Some of these same themes are highlighted, for example, on the night of Jesus’ arrest. From the Beatitudes to the sermon to the cross, Jesus’ primary theme is humble witness.

Context of the Sermon

The centrality of Christian witness in Jesus’ teaching is immediate and obvious, starting in the verse after the Ninth Beatitude where Jesus teaches about salt. Salt is a gregarious because its usefulness comes only in combination with food—no one eats salt by itself. Salt is used to enhance the flavor of foods and to preserve them. Metaphorically, “the disciple is to the people of the earth what salt is to food.” The disciple, who refuses to be salt, is useless and stands under judgment—”good only to be thrown out and trampled” (Guelich 1982, 126–127).

The centrality of witness is reinforced with a second metaphor about light (Matt 5:14-16). Clearly for Matthew the tension between the disciple and the world is real, ongoing, and at the core of the mission. At the same point Luke’s account is a discussion of enemy-love (Luke 6:27–28), because without enemy-love no one can witness.

Witness is also a key to Isaiah 61:1:

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound . . . (Isa 61:1)

The Messiah is anointed to “to bring good news to the poor” (‎לְבַשֵּׂר עֲנָוִים; “lebaser anavim”), a clear reference to witness. Notice that the Hebrew expression is only two words: the word for poor (“anavim”) which can mean “poor, afflicted, humble, meek” (BDB 7238)  and the word for “bring good news” (“lebaser”). If humble witness describes the Messiah and his job description, then the expression is unambiguous and applies to  Jesus (Schnabel 2004, 3).

Context of the Final Hours

On the night when Jesus knows that he will be arrested and his last minutes are precious, he undertakes two conspicuous acts of humility: he washes the disciples feet at the Last Super (John 13:4-5) and he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt 26:39).

The Gospel of John records that Jesus knew that he would soon be betrayed and die (John 13:1–3) and, while a condemned man is normally withdrawn, paralyzed with fear, and bitter, Jesus calmly begins an object-lesson about humility:

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him . . . If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. (John 13:3, 4, 14)

Slaves washed most feet in the first century because most people walked barefoot (or wore only sandals) and shared the roads with work animals (who often fouled them), which made dirty, stinky feet the norm. As far as we know, none of the disciples were slaves or owned slaves, but accepting a task reserved for slaves would not have been a popular object-lesson. Peter objected at first, but when he later understood the message about humility, he let Jesus wash his feet (John 13:8–9).

Foot washing is not recorded in Luke, but Luke records Jesus’ teaching about humility:

And He said to them, The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called Benefactors. But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. (Luke 22:25-26)

The importance of humility in Christian leadership and service is clear in Luke without mentioning foot washing. While foot washing demonstrated humility before his disciples, humility before God was demonstrated in the Garden of Gethsemane where he prayed: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matt 26:39) Jesus repeats this prayer three times in Matthew, underscoring the importance of this prayer (Matt 26:42–44).

Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane displays piety, courage, and humility. It also highlights the importance of pain and suffering in sanctification. In suffering, do we turn to God like Jesus or turn into our pain? When we turn to God in spite of pain, we demonstrate our faith and our identity draws more closely to Christ.

REFERENCES

Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius (BDB). 1905. Hebrew-English Lexicon, unabridged.

Guelich, Robert. 1982. The Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding. Dallas: Word Publishing.

Schnabel, Eckhard J. 2004. Early Christian Mission. Vol 1: Jesus and the Twelve. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press

Be Humble, Be Salt and Light

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Lent_2020  

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Seibert Clarifies The Ups and Downs of Part-Time Ministry

Warren Seibert, The Calling of the Part-Time Pastor

Warren Seibert. 2016. The Calling of a Part-Time Pastor: A Guidebook for Small Church Leaders.  Bloomington: Westbow Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

It is interesting how the watering down of religious commitment has affected our notions of a healthy church. In the rabbinic tradition, a rabbi could hold worship with no less than a minyan (10 adult males) which meant that, if the congregants kept the tithe (a tenth of their income), the rabbi could maintain a living standard consistent with his minyan.[1] In the U.S. today, where average giving is more like 1 percent of income, a church needs about 100 members to support a pastor. Because already about 2/3 of the Protestants churches in North America have less than 100 members (xiii) and about 30 percent of the pastors already part-time (xvi), the loss of millennial and builder generation members can only increase the financial pressure to call part-time pastors (11).

Introduction

In his book, The Call of a Part-Time Pastor, Warren Seibert writes:

“The only thing that is really ‘part-time’ or partial about my ministry position is that amount of financial compensation that my church is able to provide at this time. This is why I prefer the term ‘bivocational’ to describe my life and service…Simply defined, a bivocational pastor is someone serving in a ministry setting who must rely upon an additional source of income outside their ministry in order to support themselves or their family” (xviii).

“the truth is that part-time pastors are not a new phenomenon at all…a careful study of church history demonstrates that what is actually ‘new’ in the church is full-time clergy.” (5)

What is a Tentmaker?

The Apostle Paul, for example, worked as a tentmaker; Chrysostom was a farmer; Dionysius was a physician (4-5). Seibert offers many examples in support of his thesis, which is that part-time pastors are the norm, not the exception, even today.

Warren Seibert is himself a bivocational pastor ordained by the Reformed Church in America,[2] who also works as a registered nurse. He divides his book into three parts:

  • The World of Part-Time Ministry,
  • The World of the Part-Time Church, and
  • A Partnership in Full-Time Ministry (xi).

Let me address each in turn.

The World of Part-Time Ministry.

Many Christians and many pastors have negative attitudes about small churches and part-time pastors. Why? (12) Denomination groups, for example, often perpetuate these attitudes both by setting minimum salary requirements above what small churches can pay and refusing to ordain candidates for ministry who do not have paid ministry positions, forcing them, in effect, to take volunteer positions that many cannot afford.

Contemporary Mission

Seibert sees the small church as the contemporary mission field (13) where the pastor is called to full-time ministry, just like every other Christian (23).

He divides this call into three parts: a call to salvation, a call to sanctification, and a call to service (26). This last call, the call to service, distinguishes the pastor from other Christians. Each of us has a call to service, but not all of us have a call to pastoral leadership (35). In the reformed tradition, the call to service is referred to as the “priesthood of all believers” (30) and it is not simply a task delegated to the pastor.  Ministry can never be delegated to the pastor because there is “simply too much work to do” (38).

The World of the Part-Time Church.

What is a church? In the New Testament Greek, the church (ekklesian; ἐκκλησίαν Matt 16:18) translatesfrom the Greek as the called out ones (43).  The ones called out are called out by Jesus himself. Therefore, Seibert clarifies, saying: “The church is a gathering of people who profess that Jesus is their Lord and Savior.” (44) The many voices that we hear today that compete for the time, energy, and resources of the church, he suggests, need to be subordinated to the authority of Christ (45) who calls his church to make disciples by means of going, baptizing, and teaching (49).  The four fundamental tasks in making disciples, he suggests, are: worship, discipleship, fellowship, and evangelism (51).

A Partnership in Full-Time Ministry.

Unrealistic expectations by churches and by pastors, especially unspoken and assumed expectations, hamper many part-time pastors (71). One colleague close to me, for example, received a call after the retirement of beloved pastor. He responded to an expressed desire to recruit new members only to find that the church desired new members to look like the old ones. Not meeting the unexpected desire, he found himself seeking a new position about three years later.

Expectations of the Church

Seibert offers lists of expectations that the church should have of a part-time pastor and what the part-time pastor should expect of the church. The church should expect:

A person of strong character, a call to bivocational ministry who believes and preaches the Word of God, is a person of prayer, loves the people, provides pastoral care, leadership, and training, and agrees with the duties and expectations of the ministry (73-76).

Expectations of the Pastor

The pastor should expect:

A church that prays for their pastor. It accepts their pastor’s leadership, cares for the pastor and family, holds realistic expectations, ministers alongside the pastor. It furthermore understands the limits of part-time work, and supports the ministry with attendance, giving, and salary (76-79).

Seibert observes that Gospel ministry remains hard, but not complicated (81).

Warren Seibert’s The Calling of a Part-Time Pastor is a helpful guide for small church leadership. It is short, understandable, and readable.

[1] The definition of a minyan is only hinted at in the Old Testament. Moses and Jethro, for example, talk about leaders of tens, fifties, hundreds, and thousands. “Moses chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people, chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.” (Exod 18:25 ESV; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minyan ).  In Numbers 14, Moses refers to the 10 spies who grumbled about entering the Promised Land, as a: “wicked congregation”. The tithe is more concretely defined (e.g. Lev 27:30-32).

[2] http://West-Copake.RCAchurches.org.

 

Seibert Clarifies The Ups and Downs of Part-Time Ministry

Also see:

Karr Voices Memoir Clearly 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2vfisNa

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