Purves, The Crucifixion of Ministry


Purves, Andrew, The Crucifixion of Ministry. IVP Books, 2007.

Sequel: Purves, The Resurrection of Ministry

Referenced in: Pastoral Theology Summary

Andrew Purves is one of the most widely read pastoral theologians today. Much of this volume is a repackaging of an earlier text by Purves’ Reconstructing Pastoral Theology: A Christological Foundation, and is a much more readable version designed for “busy, tired, somewhat depressed, midcareer and fed-up ministers who can’t carry the load of ministry any longer.” (11) This is not to minimize the earlier work, which may still be the preferred volume for trained theologians.

Also, this text should be read as the first in a series that is followed by The Resurrection of Ministry (2007). It would be hard to find a more powerful combination for anyone wanting to revive their ministry by deepening it.

There are two ways to look at this text. One is through the lens of content. In that respect, Purves provides a summary/introduction that foreshadows the essential message:

  1. The ministry of Jesus is the ministry of God. That is what most of our creedal and confessional language concerning Jesus Christ is about.
  2. Jesus’ ministry is not merely a past influence that reaches into the present. It is at once historical, present and future.
  3. Wherever Christ is, there is the church. By sharing in the life of Jesus, we thereby share in God’s continuing ministry. This is the doctrine of our union with Christ, which is the principal work of the Holy Spirit. It is Christ, not we, who does the ministry.
    In what follows I will develop the doctrines of the vicarious humanity and ministry of Jesus and show their significance for us as ministers of the gospel. Then I will look at an approach to ministry characterized as participation in Christ. When we understand ministry in this ancient way, we will find Jesus’ words true, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30) (20)

Another way to look at this text is through the lens of meaning and inspiration. Purves does this better than any other academic pastoral theologian, a close second to Eugene Peterson as a practitioner-theologian. Referencing the content summary above, what does it mean to engage in ministry as participation in Christ? He says it makes the yoke easy and the burden light, which is true. But Purves conveyance of this through the crucifixion metaphor is rich. It is hard to summarize it without a long string of quotes, as his words are so spot on, but to summarize a few pieces may suffice.

One piece is Purves’ discussion of two seasons of dying, the first and second crucifixions as experienced by most ministers. In each crucifixion we are struck with the reality that we cannot do ministry. The first one comes early in one’s ministry, perhaps in the late twenties or early thirties. The tasks become so overwhelming and one feels ill-equipped.

It does not take long for us to discover that we cannot heal the sick, raise the dead, calm the demonized, guide the morally afflicted, sober up the alcoholic, make the wife beater loving, calm the anxious, pacify the conflicted, control the intemperate, have answers to all the “Why?” questions, give the teenagers a moral compass and preach magnificent sermons every week, all the while growing the congregation and keeping the members happy. We preach and teach, do the round of pastoral visitations and administer the congregation’s life, while the soreheads more often than not remain soreheaded, the stubborn remain stubborn, the quarrelsome remain quarrelsome and the stupid seem to get no wiser. Meanwhile people continue to get sick and die, argue and get divorced, lose their jobs and get depressed. (21)

More than one third leave as a result of this malaise. For others it leads to a period of retooling and reeducating, perhaps even a Doctor of Ministry degree. This ushers a new era of strong skills and full tool belts, only to be followed perhaps many years later by the second death that is more subtle and less dramatic but even more dark than the other, another stark realization that ministry is something we cannot do. Many leave at this point, but others simply learn how to fake it. Some, however, enter the period of death more redemptively, as he describes:

It takes great spiritual, theological and professional courage to look this second crucifixion in the eye and name it for what it is. This is the death of my ministry. From now on faithful ministry – God-glorifying, Spirit-empowered, world-transforming and kingdom-announcing ministry – will be possible only on some other basis. (24)

Purves says these experiences are Christ’s way of bumping us aside, often firmly, perhaps mortifyingly, to where we let go of our grip of our ministries. (13) This is the displacement of our ministries. He says,

Displacement literally means the death of our ministries. All that we think we should do and can do and are doing in ministry must be put to death. Why? Because too often our ministries are in the way. Even when we conduct them from the best spiritual, therapeutic and moral motives, they are not redemptive. Only the ministry of Jesus is redemptive. …I call the process of displacement ‘the crucifixion of ministry” because in Christian thought crucifixion carries the concept of redemption. (13)

The Crucifixion of Ministry is pastoral theology at its best.

**For a summary, click here for the Kindle Version, go to right column, and download the free sample. If you don’t have a free Kindle Reader on your computer, there’s a link for that too.

From the Publisher

As a pastor, do you ever get the feeling that no matter what you try, nothing much seems to change? That is because the ministries themselves are not redemptive—they are not up to you. Only Jesus’ ministry is redemptive. Jesus has to “show up.” Theologian Andrew Purves explores at the deepest level the true and essential nature of Christian ministry. He says that the attempt to be an effective minister is a major problem. Ministers are “in the way.” He radically claims that ministries need to be crucified. They need to be killed off so that Christ can make them live. Rooting church service in Christ’s own continuing ministry, Purves provides a vision for students and practicing clergy to reclaim the vital connection between Christ and participation in his ministry today, even if it means letting Christ put to death the ministries to which pastors cling so closely. A radical appraisal for a critical malady affecting the life of the Christian church written in plain, down-to-earth language.

About the Author

Andrew Purves is the Hugh Thomson Kerr Professor of Pastoral Theology at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

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