The Triangular Theory of Love (Robert J. Sternberg, 1986) is a comprehensive hypothesis of love, and not just romantic love. We can apply it truly anywhere that love might come into its own through transactions between people that potentially transform them.
Let’s try this theory in the midst of Christian ministry.
It may be helpful to hold this premise in mind: just as many pastors may leave the ministry in retirement than those who leave disenfranchised; through burnout, resentment or schism, etc. There are some, also, who will leave of their own volition—because their calling has changed, or better offers and opportunities arise. Many, many pastors love their work; the work Christ has called them to.
Could it be that pastors and ministers either stay in ministry or leave due to love—a personal love, via the passion in their hearts to minister and how they are fulfilled in their ministry, and an interpersonal love, via the meaning extracted from their pastoral relationships?
The Roles of Passion, Intimacy, and Commitment In Ministry
What I suggest, in the fitting of this triangular theory of love to Christian ministry, is that with passion, intimacy, and commitment a pastor (or generically, a servant of God) might be genuinely fulfilled. Just as much without these, or an imbalance, there may be a lack of fulfilment.
What are these to look like: passion, intimacy, and commitment in ministry?
A servant of God is passionate about service. They love to serve. They are prepared to shun the limelight, not through false humility, but because the limelight lessens their direct blessing from God in serving. But it isn’t just serving that they are passionate about. They will be passionate about life; about love; about relationships; about forgiveness and reconciliation; about activity for the Kingdom; about rest for recuperation, etc. They are not ambivalent people.
A servant of God has the capacity to develop intimate relationships. There is a whole realm of possibility within the concept of intimacy; romantic intimacy is only one aspect. The servant of God is able to be vulnerable, and to be trusted with others’ vulnerabilities. They honour others’ weaknesses as well of their own in the sight of God. They value fellowship and are prepared to invest in relationships, being real and encouraging others to be real, also. They don’t take others’ vulnerabilities for granted or manipulate them.
A servant of God is committed. Their loyalty to the Lord is beyond question, and what they say they’ll do, they’ll do, so long as it’s possible within their ability to do. Resilience, persistence, and perseverance are values they live. They are dependable, responsible, willing and able. They are not the sort of people who willingly let people down. They are committed to God, and to love all those God puts in their path.
The key to ministry longevity is love—loving the work. When passion for service, trusting intimacy within relationships, and wholehearted commitment are joined together, a threefold cord is created—a dynamic force for God—which is not easily broken.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.