A Brief Review of
Serving the People of God’s Presence: A Theology of Ministry
Reviewed by Fred Redekop
Terry Cross is a professor and dean of the School of Religion at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee. Lee is the university of the Church of God, that is identified by the same city. He has an earlier book that sets out the churchly framework for theology entitled, The People of God’s Presence: An Introduction to Ecclesiology (2019). The book being reviewed is a companion to this earlier book.
His thesis can be found in the introduction:
“A common paradigm for ministry today among many churches in Western societies is to relegate the majority of ministerial work to paid clergy whose professional training has provided them with various forms of work we call ministry. It is this widely accepted model for ministry that I believe needs to be reconstructed so that the church may rise to its calling…. It is my proposal that the structural framework of the local church and the paradigm for leadership must be radically reformed so that a more authentic form of ministry may flourish among God’s people.” ( 13 )
Toward the end of the book, he restates the original thesis in different words, “ As part of the universal priesthood of all believers, Christians are called by God not to sit in the pew but to go forth into the world.” (235)
The rest, one could say, is commentary on this one thought.
His depiction of ministry flows from the Pauline ideal in the New Testament of “the priesthood of all believers.” Following Paul’s portrayal of church leadership, Cross emphasizes that there is still room for leadership among equals, but all believers are intended to be ministers of the Gospel in some concrete way in the church and in the world. You may call a church’s pastor a servant leader who helps to encourage the congregants to use their gifts in ministry
The book would have benefited from a little historical background on the concept of “priesthood of all believers.” For instance, Cross does not mention that the Radical Reformation, including the Anabaptists/Mennonites, have constructed a theology of ministry around this concept. In his bibliography, Cross mentions Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin many times but has no books by 16th century Anabaptist authors or contemporary Anabaptists. I am in this tradition, and we do not always do leadership well. This seems to be a glaring omission of an important part of the history of Christian pastoral care. Anabaptists/ Mennonites for many years had lay ministry, but in the last 75 years we have gone professional and we, and I include myself, are too often pastors that do too much because we are being paid. Our experience seems to indicate that Cross’s concern about the professionalization of ministry is valid.
Cross’s final metaphor in Serving the People of God’s Presence for leadership is that of a jazz musician. I do not get jazz. It often seems to go around and around and get nowhere. Cross says that a jazz quartet leans on everybody, and everyone has a role to play. That is a good metaphor for ministry. But going around and around often explains the way I do ministry. I am going to try and jazz up my ministry in the way that Cross describes it.
I am grateful to Professor Cross for this important book for the ministry of all Christians.
Fred Redekop has been a pastor for over 30 years in the US and Canada. At present he serves a rural congregation in Ontario.