Christian ministry isn’t ever purposed or achieved in hurting or betraying people. It is always — and can only ever be — a process by which people are built up, encouraged, inspired, grown, and, principally, kept safe. Safety in every concept of the word. Safety as determined by how the vulnerable person feels — in their realness of honesty as God would see them.
There is a power dynamic in the relationship that must be recognised and respected — by the minister! He or she is responsible and accountable for the relationship and everything done and discussed. Only in humility can a minister bear such a burden.
The minister interacts in appropriate fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13). As the minister “works out their salvation” — given their special role as a teacher, leader, counsellor, spiritual guide, pastoral carer, and friend — they must know that one slip can potentially spell the end of their work, no matter how ‘brilliant’ they are. Of course, most ‘slips’ involve a priory of foolish steps, but sometimes it’s just an accusation that sticks — once!
The good minister thanks God every day for the privilege in his or her work; not because they are privileged — but that the work is privileged; it is divine work. They have been gifted, and they have at the forefront of their minds that their gifts are nothing to be proud of. Their gifts have been given by God — so they cannot boast — and they are for use, solely, in the building of God’s kingdom to the extension of his borders for the minister.
So, what are some of the premises of engagement in the formation of a theology for safe ministry for a minister to provide with a vulnerable person — a helping relationship?
1. Everything Thought, Said and Done is Before God: An ever present awareness of God’s searching is necessary. As is stated in Psalm 139 (especially verses 1-4, 7, 11-12, 23-24) we cannot hope to ever be out of God’s sight. No sin goes unseen. And even if we justify our sin — which we very often attempt to do — it won’t change the fact that sin is sin. It is so important to have this knowledge so well entrenched that it becomes part of our ministry persona. We are careful what we use our eyes for, where our hands are and what they are doing, and the positioning of our body and how our body language may be read. It’s as if God himself were in the person we are ministering with; which, if they are a believer, is an actual fact because of the Holy Spirit in them. We are under scrutiny everywhere, all the time. We cannot hope to get away with a single thing. We will account one day for every good and not-so-good thing we have done. We are cosmically alone with God, eternally! (With for a believer, without for someone profaning Christ.)
2. Mothers, Sisters, Daughters: God revealed to me, a long time ago now, that, even though there are thousands of very attractive women that I would be (and have been and will be) personally attracted to, they are my mothers, sisters, and daughters — and, not least daughters of the Lord Almighty. Would I think about my mother the way I do about this cultured older woman before me? Or, if she were closer to my age, how would I feel if she were my sister and my thoughts should be led carnally astray? Having three daughters I know quite intimately how I would feel if one of them were infracted. A peaceable person am I, but for a time when that should happen. It is not unusual, however, that I’m struck by a women’s beauty. Better to thank God for how wonderfully adorned she is than go somewhere irretrievably immoral. But, just the same, there are the males who are also vulnerable — elderly men through to little boys. I have nothing for males, but I must equally be on guard for any misuse of power.
3. Accountability Relationships: I have a wife and she is my confidant in matters of tenuous ministry. She deserves to be in concert with God — to know all the ‘hidden’ things in all potentially fraught relationships. When it comes to sharing important issues, my awareness through God’s distinctive revelation is key. I have learned to trust her and tell her especially those secret agreements I might begin to keep with myself. Not every male minister has a wife so mature. Not every female minister has a husband so wise. This is why pastoral supervisors — who we spend time with, who have permission to ask hard questions of us, and who are answered honestly — are crucial. I also have several mentors and one supervisor. But my wife is the best person in the present context. If she is, at any time, uncomfortable, God is telling me to listen up and heed what she is either saying or not saying. It is up to me, not her, to reconcile the situation.
4. Humility of Service: this qualifies us or it disqualifies us. C.S. Lewis says in his sermon Weight of Glory, “The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.” Any sign of pride in us, the minister, has to be swiftly dealt with; contempt poured over it to smother its noxious effect. It will harm others and it will harm our work for God. But a humble person sees no particular delight in helping people. Instead, they just praise God for the gifts and transference of insight that enable that help to be made manifest.
5. One Day At A Time: says the Apostle Paul, “… continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12b-13) Ministry is the will of God; an act fulfilling his good purpose. Anything that doesn’t achieve this goal is not ministry. And some things done in the name of ministry have been abominations. Only can we achieve this one day at a time, with diligence, reviewing our performance as we go, staying accountable to God’s Spirit in our work, and repenting regularly. One day at a time we can obey God; no more. One day, each day as it comes, is enough of a challenge of us to trust him implicitly (Matthew 6:34). When we put the Kingdom and his righteousness first, one day at a time, everything we need is ours (Matthew 6:33). And when the Kingdom is first, everything we need to be for others is ours, also.
In sum, these considerations help the minister and the person they are helping:
1. God is ever before me/us — nothing is felt, thought, said or done without him knowing. Equally, he knows and accepts how broken we are.
2. We need to see how other people connect to other people. If we see the roles people play in their lives, and we wish to uphold them for God’s best in and for their roles, we will be helped in helping them.
3. Having accountability relationships based on transparency, and to prompt the subjugation of temptations, is vital. Ministry can only stay healthy and holy where we have no qualms in sharing the journey.
4. Remember, only the humble will be able to bear the strain of ministry long-term.
5. The wisest way to live life is one-day-at-a-time.
Let’s face it, we are all vulnerable, and occasionally the one in the helping profession is most vulnerable than all. That’s humbling!
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.