Andrew Purves, professor of pastoral theology at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, in his latest book, The Resurrection of Ministry: Serving in the Hope of the Risen Lord, endeavors to show how living in the hope of Jesus’ resurrection can help pastors overcome the discouragement and regret that comes from ministry. A companion volume to another work, The Crucifixion of Ministry, which deals with surrendering desires for ministry so that a faithful pastor might participate in the ministry the crucified Jesus is doing, this work follows up the crucifixion of personal ambition in ministry with hope for the down-hearted pastor. Purves’s goal in writing this new work is to help pastors move from ministering in the mood of Holy Saturday, between Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, to serving in the hope of Easter Sunday.
When Purves speaks of the “mood of Holy Saturday” he is referring to the empty, hopeless sense of despair and confusion Jesus’ disciples would have felt that Saturday between Jesus’ death and resurrection. According to Purves, though pastors hold to the belief of the hope of the resurrection, they often do not minister in the joy of knowing that the Redeemer lives. In chapter 1, he argues that freedom from discouragement in ministry lies in focusing on the resurrected, personal Jesus rather than on the tasks of ministry, resulting in devotional rather than dutiful, task-oriented service. Instead of being managers, pastors should become theologians, always studying the work of the risen Christ.
Chapter two focuses on the fact that Jesus encounters us. As we put the ascension of Christ back in its place, we recognize that Jesus is alive and actively ministering. The church is not the work of pastors but the direct result of the ministry of the living Christ. In chapter 3, Purves suggests that the realization that Jesus is not among the dead should consequently change the focus of our ministry to celebrating the risen and active Lord in every activity of the church. We are to trust in the fact that though we can’t always see it, Christ is faithfully at work both in our church and around the world. Therefore we always bear witness to the resurrected Lord even though we see no immediate fruit.
In chapter 4, Purves argues that moving from the mood of Holy Saturday to that of Easter Sunday is really a matter of focus: by striving to imitate Jesus and to be identified with him rather than our ministries. As we fix our minds on what has been accomplished by his resurrection, we can trust that we and our ministries are acceptable to God through him. Chapter 5 calls for a return to joy and hope in the power of the resurrected Jesus. Affirmation of this truth results in hope even in the face of pain, grief, and suffering and a ministry of joy as we celebrate God’s victory in Christ over sin and death. In chapter 6, Purves argues that our ministry, in light of Jesus’ resurrection, should be characterized by worship, hope, wonder, courage, power, and peace.
The paragraphs above are a practical summary of The Resurrection of Ministry, but the book is anything but. Purves’s desire was to write a pastoral theology of the resurrection that was more theological than practical. But how can you write a book on how to move from discouragement in ministry to one of joy and hope without being practical? The take-away points were hidden within nonlinear, unsystematic, theistic musings that were more metaphorical than theological. That sounds harsh, but let me explain. First, Purves’s goal of writing a pastoral theology book that is not practical seemed to force him away from writing in a logical order. This made it difficult to read and discern what he was really trying to say as he would hop around from one scantly connected thought to the next. The reader will really have to mine in order to get to the gold. Second, he did not deal specifically with biblical texts but rather used the biblical stories surrounding Jesus death, resurrection, and ascension to create analogies related to experiences in ministry, leaving the impression that his hermeneutic is very allegorical.
A third issue is that Purves hung on this metaphor of “moving from the mood of Holy Saturday to the mood of Easter Sunday.” It was repeated countless times through this short book, leaving the reader with a sense that the analogy was more the inspiration of the book than living in the hope of Jesus’ resurrection. Purves’s unwillingness to deviate from the metaphor made some parts of the book very difficult to understand. It would have been of greater benefit to drop the analogy and simply focus on the hope and joy awaiting all believers through the resurrection and return of our living Lord Jesus. The already frustrated reader might be further aggravated by Purves’s unnecessary plugs for various theological positions, such as needless declarations for egalitarianism and Purves’s view that the risen Jesus’ mediation before the Father is part of his continuing work of atonement, or as he says reconciliatory “at-one-ment.”
There are however, two praiseworthy insights in this book. First, Purves is right in believing that there is great hope and joy in truly believing in the resurrection of Jesus, not just for ministry, but all of life. He does help his reader to refocus on the big picture: that our hope is not found in the success or experience of ministry but in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Good News requires bold confidence in the resurrection. Joy comes not from success in ministry but in our risen Lord; not visible results in our churches, but in our eternal destiny, reconciliation with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Second, Purves reminds the reader that Jesus is living and active. He is not sitting in heaven twiddling his thumbs. The ministry of the church is Jesus’ ministry, not yours. He is active not just in your local church, but throughout the world. He is ministering not just when you see results, but is ever intimately involved in the lives of his people. When you catch that, it changes the way you view ministry. This is not an easy hill to mine. It can be difficult and frustrating. Yet, there is some gold in it. You’ll have to decide if it is worth the effort.