Against Duplicitous Ministry and for “Holy Tinkering”

A passage that has always moved me…

 6 this Ezra came up from Babylon. He was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the LORD, the God of Israel, had given. The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was on him…

8 …Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in the fifth month of the seventh year of the king. 9 He had begun his journey from Babylon on the first day of the first month, and he arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month, for the gracious hand of his God was on him. 10 For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel. (Ez 7)

I am impressed by several things:

  • Ezra’s life is characterized first by a devotion to “seeking out the Torah of Yahweh” (literally) and to “doing it”…
  • His life is then, only derivatively, characterized by “teaching its decrees and laws in Israel”
  • There seems to be a connection between these things and “the gracious hand of his God” being upon him
  • And all of this uniquely qualifies him for the work of leading this returned-from-exile people of God, back again in Jerusalem and trying to figure out how to be faithful

Ezra, it seems to me, is a sort of “holy tinkerer”, poring over the sacred text of Scripture and trying to figure out how to make it work, how to “do” it.  God’s hand is on him in this, and from there, he is able to speak meaningfully to Israel’s situation, guiding her into faithfulness.  He can do this because he is already leading a life of faithful devotion.  He tinkers; then he shows Israel what he’s learned.

When I reflect on my own life, the teachers who have been most influential to me have had this “Ezra-like” quality… where you got the impression that the “main stuff” of their life was figuring out who God was and what it meant to live in a world that was “haunted” by the Divine Presence, a world saturated with tales of fire and judgment, miracles and manna, death and resurrection.  They tinkered.  And then they taught.  And when they taught, you got caught up in the wonder of it all, and thirsted to go places you hadn’t been before.  And when they lead, they lead with vision and imagination (to be distinguished from raw ambition).

Most modern ministry lacks this, in my opinion.  It has been stripped to the bone and all that is left is naked, raw ambition for “more” and “bigger” and “better”.  We are bereft of holy imagination, it would seem, largely because we are bereft of teachers who are endlessly fascinated with God, what He’s doing, and “how” to live meaningfully in a world packed full of his Presence.

And that is precisely where ministry becomes duplicitous and morally hazardous.  As soon as ministry becomes a “something else” rather than the inevitable consequence of our “tinkering” and then “teaching”, a fissure has opened up that will likely prove fatal.

A friend of mine said one time, “I want church to feel like life, and life to feel like church.”

I do too.

So this is what I’m going to do: I’m going to keep trying to open my eyes wider to the mystery and beauty of God.  I’m going to keep trying to figure out what it means to live in a world saturated by the announcement that Someone has raised Jesus from the dead.  And then I’m going to show other people what I know about that.

I hope you will too.

3 thoughts on “Against Duplicitous Ministry and for “Holy Tinkering”

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