Rev. Dr. Jaime Clark-Soles on Radical Ministry

Rev. Dr. Jaime Clark-Soles on Radical Ministry March 29, 2014

And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” (Mat 13:52 NRS)

I’m a scribe. In modern lingo, I’m a New Testament scholar who teaches seminary students. I’m also a disciple of Jesus Christ trying my best to honor treasures both old and new.

I teach and learn with students who are passionate, faithful, creative and visionary. God has given them big dreams for new ministries and new ways of doing ministry.

No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made. 17 Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved” (Matt. 9:16-17)

New wine; new wineskins.

My students long to do ministry that:

  • is ministry with, not ministry for;
  • is ministry not just in, but also beyond the walls of the church (many serve in communities that own no building, in fact);
  • involves RADICAL hospitality and inclusivity (as radical as Jesus’ own), with special attention to the gifts and needs of those on the margins or those who are especially vulnerable;
  • gladly crosses boundaries of all kinds and is wildly ecumenical;
  • values shared power;
  • cares about creating spaces for authentic community and transformative friendships, not playing the numbers game of “butts in pews;”
  • operates with a “both/and” mentality rather than a strict “either/or”; both old and new; not either old or new
  • makes this the important question: “Is the community where your church is located any better off or not because your church is here?” (You will know if you’ve first taken the time to actively and humbly LISTEN to said community before deciding on any plan of action).

Let me introduce you to a few of these inspiring students.

1. [Quoted by permission] “Dr. Clark-Soles,
I have an idea for a future ministry that I am using as a research topic for a music course. I would like to begin a choir with the women of the church I am serving at that time and the women in a battered women’s home. I feel that creating something beautiful with these women would be a healing ministry for all involved, as well as building community with and around them. I hope for this to be more than a service for the other, but building together.
I would love to find resources that give models of Christian ministries in this context, and resources that make me aware of the special needs of such groups. Any ideas? Comments? Suggestions?

I also am thinking of doing similar things in and with homeless shelters, orphanages, and possibly with returning veterans (with the rampant PTSD, music could certainly offer some aid). Obviously I can’t do all of these at once, but time will tell if these will be possible also.”

2. Then there’s Hannah, a student who has a call related to teens and children with impairments and/or disabilities. I wish you could have been there to feel her energy and vision and devotion to Christ. We talked at length about creative, innovative ways to help the church tap the giftedness and leadership potential of persons with disabilities.

3. And what about Perkins student Lyanna Smith who won a spot on the TEDxSMU stage last year to share her vision for foster care reform? This is a vision with teeth as she and her partner Whet (who is a lawyer) have served as foster parents and have grave concerns about the deficiencies in the system. The same student has recently established a Justice for Our Neighbors legal clinic in Houston. “JFON provides professional legal services to immigrants for free. JFON helps immigrants to reunite their families, secure immigration status, and enjoy the right to work. It also encourages churches to extend radical hospitality by providing places for community gathering and table fellowship. JFON volunteers network with advocacy groups to work towards just and compassionate immigration laws and public policy. When parishioners and newcomers come together, they create safe havens of peace and transformation in a troubled world.”

And I could go on ad infinitum.

What is a prof to do with students like this? I want to be able to connect them to others who share these values and can help my students’ dreams and vocations come to fruition. CANA is helping me do that.

To me, CANA is about putting new wine into new wineskins.

The CANA gathering in November was rich beyond measure for so many reasons spiritually, intellectually, socially and vocationally. Of course I’m excited about the ways I can help my students connect and flourish through CANA. But honestly, CANA is a gift to me personally. For too long those of us who identify with generous Christianity have sat on the sidelines in our little enclaves or siloes, wringing our hands over the state of Christianity in America. With CANA, we have the opportunity to mobilize around shared values to make a concrete difference in the public realm. Instead of just dreaming big, we can ACT big. We can “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.”

Our gathering blasted the typical categories out of the water. I made a new friend from a tradition I’d never really engaged; we had wonderfully honest, gracious conversations. He has now invited me to come and spend time with his community studying Scripture together. I have already been deepened by this new friendship. There was unity in the midst of great diversity. There were issues we would have never all agreed upon, from the doctrinal to the social. But there were issues that resonated with us all; those are the ones we can join forces on in the days ahead to enact en masse a Christianity that assumes at any moment that we might be entertaining angels unawares; a Christianity that hungers for justice’s sake; a kenotic Christianity that knows how to laugh and play and exult and risk and live with intention.

This seems like a good model: treasure the old but be open to the new. The new may not be familiar or convenient, but boldly following Jesus rarely is! Come to CANA and taste the abundant new wine!!

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