In the class I am currently taking at Luther, we are studying the theology of ministry. More specifically, we are studying the “theology of the cross” as a foundation for ministry. To put it way too simplistically, the theology of the cross is essentially the understanding that the place where God breaks into the world and acts is in the midst of human suffering (the point of ex nihilo). Perhaps this theology may not be sufficient to be the only lens through which we understand God and the world, but it is certainly a lens.
If this theology is foundational to ministry, and I believe it is, then our churches are in for a rude awakening. It seems to me that the normative virtue in many churches today is that of comfort. Decisions are often made in such a way that the congregation is inconvenienced in the least possible way. Comfort is our normative theological virtue.
However, the theology of the cross states the act of God breaking into our world occurs not when we are joyful and comfortable, but when we are downtrodden, despaired, ex nihilo. This is not to say that churches should seek out suffering, but that churches should not fear it. To face suffering will require inconvenience upon a church. When a wife loses a husband, the children might need to be picked up from school. When someone loses a job, what true inconvenience would it be for the church to forego the usual Sunday morning treats (which are always claimed to be for the visitors, but the visitors are often too afraid to wade through the sea of members already eating the food) for a few weeks in order to free up some cash to help this family in transition? Or what if the church decided, instead of a capital campaign for building improvements, to keep the dirty walls and to hold a capital campaign in order to be able to assist members of the community when needs arise? All of these things allow the church to participate in and speak to the suffering of our brothers and sisters, but they would also require inconvenience.
Perhaps we should look to the difficult, odd, and uncomfortable as the starting place of action in the church rather than the way of the tried-and-true, path-of-least-resistance, or way-we’ve-always-done-things. Perhaps we would find ourselves closer to the ministry of God.