Monday, September 03, 2007

Reflections on New Wine 2


When I first came across the phrase "teaching how to minister" at a charismatic gathering, I assumed they were referring to Christian ministry - i.e. the taking of responsibility for an aspect of Christian communal life. It might have meant learning pastoral care, how to give a talk, leading or planning a service of worship, visiting, or helping or leading a community in discerning God's call and putting it into action.

However, it didn't. Rather surprisingly (at the time) 'ministry' in this context had a very narrow meaning indeed - it referred to what I can only describe as the administering of a particular form of prayer by one or more people to another. Prayer inviting the Holy Spirit, laying on hands, and seeking prompting from God as to issues that might lie behind the presenting symptoms.

A 'time of ministry' (another frequent phrase) refers to a period set aside, usually at the end of a talk or worship for a group of people to offer this form of prayer to anyone who wishes to take it up. So far, so good. I've participated myself.

My problem with New Wine was that every meeting had to end with such a session, and the associated expectation of a spiritual / emotional / personally transformational experience. It seemed particularly weird at the end of Elaine Storkey's address, which had much more socio-political content. Surely a more appropriate response to the Holy Spirit at that point might have been to pledge something, like: join a community association, work for an issue of social justice, help to run a project, write to people to get stuff done, etc. Surely we've got to have a bigger vision of encountering and responding to God?

From another very different theological perspective, I also recall what an old Anglo-Catholic priest once said about always ending meetings with a short communion service. "Chips with everything" he complained, even though his personal spirituality held the eucharist as central. He felt it was demeaning of something which could and should be precious to do it mechanistically after every churchy gathering just because you felt you ought to. I can't help feeling the same about "times of ministry". By their nature they should be arranged as and when appropriate and probably spontaneously.

Ironic that a form of Christian spirituality which has arisen from the spontaneous exuberance should become so ritualised in its format. Perhaps I'm getting cynical in my old age.


Tom Allen said...

Similarly it tokok me a while to adjust to the similar " a time of worship" which is not an act of worship, but a specific time within an act of worship where a "worship leader" ( a musician cheerleader)leads a time carefully planned "spontaneous time of short repetitive songs" with a similar expectation - and I certainly identify with the Anglo Catholic Eucharistic experience - some so special becomes some routine

Mike Peatman said...

Yes, I found myself being a worship leader (ie bloke with guitar leading songs) when I thought that was what I did every week in the liturgy!

What is a time of worship? I thought that was a lifetime.

Matthew McMurray said...

My problem with that view of ministry was always the sense in which I felt that (even if it wasn't explicitly advertized as such although it seemed sometimes to be) that was the only that God could touch me or speak to me. Of course, you always get the prayer-ministry junkies as well.

Often, I felt that I was much closer to God in the moments in Church when nothing was going on, when it was quiet enough to hear oneself think. Oddly, churches that are concerned about the availability of prayer ministry and responding to God seem often (but not always or at all times) to have a lack of respect for sacred spaces and quiet meditation in which to quieten one's soul before God.

Now, I have got Taizé chants going around in my head. Perhaps I ought to do a pilgrimage.

Hannah said...

Having gone to many such similair Christian events when I was younger that always ended with such times, I think I have become used to them. (doesn't mean I think they're always good and or appropriate for the situation)

I do think they lead to 'newer' Christians if you'll pardon the expression thinking that this is the only way to experience God and then getting frustrated and confused when normal life turns out to be very different.

What I don't like is ministers/service leaders always offering/pushing prayer ministry after services and why is it always at the front in full view of everyone - if I did want prayer for something this would make me less inclined to go forward.

Matthew McMurray said...

Regarding your final point about it being pushed etc... I wonder if it is to make sure that those on the prayer ministry team feel useful.

Sometimes I think that the prayer ministry culture can exacerbate the feeling of society and even church becoming much more consumerist. I would rather feel that I was part of a community in which I could share and who would pray for me, and I for them. I don't mean that the two are always mutually exclusive though. Neither do I think I know what the answer is.

I suppose it is better that prayer ministry is available than not available...just in case it is useful.