Before Reading a Church Management Text

The one true word is Jesus Christ. 

Because of his faith, the work of the church matters. 

The church proclaims the faith of Jesus Christ, a Palestinian Jew who was risen from the dead, trusting the witnesses of the apostles and the confession of the saints. In our weekly gathering, we bring our own bodies, transformed by that same faith, before one another, God, sharing our lives with one another.

Without this, management books don’t matter. 

The Church, as an institution or firm or body, forms and disciplines people living into the faith. Such persons are imperfect and come from distinct walks of life. They don’t always know what they are doing. They bring heavy burdens to the table. They can be malformed by abusive institutions that stunt our emotional maturity. They may be suspicious also of anything too organized or that requires commitment. Yet, even in in a world that feels beyond our control, we preach about Jesus Christ and explore the kind of life his faith requires. We claim even the broken and lost can be capable of brilliant things.

Therefore, when it comes to the ordained leadership, it’s an obvious and straightforward expectation that clergy should know the story through disciplines each academic and practical.  Episcopal clergy will not merely be satisfied with reading the Bible as a self-interpreting document, but also read in its historical context. They will also reimagine the story through asking questions and opening new possibilities in the world, both personal and social. They engage the text as handled down, through a tradition, in the various ways it’s been offered.

This will mean priests take the atonement seriously. When I say this, it’s in the thinnest sense possible: The death and life of Jesus matters. And for this reason priests share Jesus’ faith in God, known through lives changed and through the recollections of trustworthy witnesses, his apostles. We firmly believe The Truth will set you free, and love one another, for He is raised from the dead. God wins over the forces that would crush the spirit. Have hope that it does.  It does not need to be more complicated than this. 

A Christian priest believes in a Trinitarian God. I do not have any desire to insist, however, that a priest must adhere to elevating any particular person in the Trinity or must affirm Greek categories of divine identity. We assert that the trinity is the accurate description of God, and Jesus is a sign of God’s presence, if not THE sign, and the only one needed, for simplicity’s sake. That said, we can also admit there is no reason to be triumphalist or snooty about it. There is no zero sum game that says just because you’ve got something right, others don’t in their own way.

If the priest can’t preach Jesus with this confidence, then there are other ministries available to them. I submit, not all Christians must believe anything the church teaches. Their role is to live into their baptism as best as they are able.  But ordination rightfully conveys some expectations.  “I believe so that they don’t have to,” one seasoned priest wryly said to me.  His job was to make the argument through a life and through his word.

“Make me feel that you believe the words you say” a young Catholic Christian once wrote. That’s a reasonable lesson for a priest to remember. The laity are allowed to have their convictions, even as we hope that God tenaciously wants us to know and bring us to know him more deeply.  So before the basics of managing a church, say I believe in one God…