Sunday, September 07, 2008

Losing Patience

Pastoral ministry in an age of remarkable technological advance brings significant blessings and challenges. One of the challenges is to be aware of just how much technology is able to reshape our internal world and to reconfigure our expectations.

Ministering in the midst of so much human efficiency carries with it the temptation to think that God's work can be similarly managed, controlled, manipulated and predicted. Of course this has been clearly with us since Finney, perhaps even before that. This mindset of utilizing "new measures" to achieve certain results went hand in glove with a theology of grace that Pelagius would have been proud of.

Could it be that those who embrace the theology of Augustine, and Calvin, when it comes to divine sovereignty in salvation are immune from this approach? I know that it is counter-intuitive to think that Calvinists forget their Calvinism as they engage in ministry, but the pressure remains to place too much weight on what we are able to achieve at a pace that we can direct.

I'm not arguing for passivity, or the neglect of strategic thinking and the responsible use of people and resources. I am asking whether the technological atmosphere in which we live, move, and have our being, plays at times an unhealthy role in shaping our expectations and norms. All of which seems a far cry from the atmosphere of 2 Timothy.

God's work is not amenable to our timescales. Paul calls Timothy to exercise patience as he corrects false teachers (2:24, knowing that they need God-given repentance), and to follow his example of patience in ministry (3:10). Timothy's ministry is to have the hallmark of complete patience in teaching (4:2). The very image of the hard working farmer itself encourages a long term perspective on Word ministry (2:6).

So for Paul these things go hand in hand. Timothy must be committed to the Scriptures, which means accepting their authority and grounding his ministry in their teaching and application (3:14-17). As he does so he is to take his cue from them as he navigates the shifting positions of his listeners and the wider theological scene (4:1-5). He is not to be overwhelmed if at times it appears that he is preaching "out of season." Paul has called him to stay always on the apostolic track, which has given him a pattern for what to teach and how to live (3:10-12).

This perspective, the deliberate cultivation of patience in the work, is always to be offset against the temptation that we have to think that God's work can be micro-managed by us with immediate success.

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