The last thing we need is another Church, Inc. book. Today’s bestselling books on church growth, preaching, and pastoral leadership promise to improve our ministries by promoting popular business models. Pastoral success, we are told, is only one strategy away. Apparently, all the twenty-first century shepherd needs is savvy.
The remnant that resists the professional approach to ministry will be encouraged by Doug Webster’s two-volume work, Living in Tension: A Theology of Ministry. Webster currently teaches pastoral theology and preaching at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama. He served as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of San Diego for fourteen years, and has also served churches in Colorado, Indiana, and Canada. In Webster’s own words, ministry is not his profession; it is his passion. Webster is not interested in turning to Krispy Kreme to find a marketing plan for the church. His is a glaze-free approach. He opens the Bible and explores the nature and practice of ministry, and he trusts that the Word and the Spirit will produce resilient servants who are faithful to the very end. This sets Webster’s work apart from the fluffy ministry books that mar our bookshelves. But Living in Tension is just as different from the meaty pastoral theologies on the market, such as Thomas Oden’s work, Pastoral Theology and T.F. Torrance’s work, Royal Priesthood. Where pastoral theologies tend to focus on the pastor and his office, Webster widens his gaze to the entire congregation. In essence, Webster’s book is a sustained argument for the priesthood of all believers. He insists: “Books on pastoral theology that target the pastor inevitably and unfortunately split up the ministry into clergy and laity categories. We need to hold the ministry of the church together and resist the clergy-laity divide” (xi). Webster’s goal is to develop a theology of ministry that strengthens the authority of the pastor without diminishing the responsibilities of the congregation.
Webster is not afraid to go after the Christian leadership gurus, and those in the entrepreneurial camp may find him too harsh on some points. In my view, however, his criticism of the corporate approach to ministry is warranted. Though I do not agree with Webster on every point, this important work helps balance the scales that have been tipped to the clergy-do-it-all side for far too long. Webster’s work is a wonderful reminder that every member of the church is called to salvation, service, sacrifice, and simplicity.