"Freedom for Ministry" by Richard John Neuhaus. A Review
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
There's a deep refreshment in revisiting books read years before, specifically books that have claimed space in, and scribbled concepts on, one's heart. And so it has been a pleasure to revisit, after 10 year, the 271 page paperback, "Freedom for Ministry" authored by Richard John Neuhaus, who was at the time of the original edition a Lutheran pastor and later became a Roman Catholic priest, who was also founder and editor of the journal "First Things" and founder of the Institute of Religion and Democracy. First published in 1979, it was reproduced for print with only a new "Preface". The dog-eared, etched, annotated pages became familiar again, to remind and add renewed clarity. It is a book that was written for ministers across the Christian family, but holds a high regard for word, sacrament and ecclesiology.
The primary theme throughout the volume is that for ministers, pastors and priests "there is a necessary awkwardness about Christian ministry because we are ambassadors of a "disputed sovereignty." (x). This motif molds the whole manuscript. The author walks ministers through this ministerial awkwardness reminding clerical readers that "we are justified by grace in this situation; we do not need to justify this situation" (22). He addresses ecclesiology, minster models, authority, sacraments and liturgy, community, preaching, and pursuing holiness. And from front to back, over and around each classification covered, Neuhaus points out how in every aspect of our service we are people of faith that Jesus is Lord no matter how much this is disputed in our denominations or our democracy.
As the author works this overarching subject out through different aspects of Christian ministry, there are valuable insights on various topics that surface in surprising places and ways. It must be remembered that Neuhaus walked with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, pastored a predominately black and Hispanic Lutheran congregation in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; and was arrested as part of a sit-in at the New York Board of Education headquarters, where he was demanding integration of the public schools. This is the man who then wisely observes that it "is much easier to call for social transformation than to be personally transformed. Critics who rail against the dishonesties of government or corporations may be tempted to cheat on the love and justice owed to their families and the People of God" (242).
"Freedom for Ministry" is a sensible, sane and shrewd approach to Christian ministry, written by a man who had walked the path for many years in inner-city work. Instead of younger and older ministers snatching up "How-to" manuals on church growth and effectiveness, this volume should be the first thing they read. And it needs to be a companion that they return to often to help reorient and restabilize, especially in this time of cultural vertigo. Take heart, fellow ministers, for in "declaring the sovereignty of Christ, now disputed, we declare the future of the whole world" (132).
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