Ministry in a culture of productivity

This reflection was written by Principal Jesse Zink for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a weekly news digest distributed to the college community. You will find reflections from previous weeks here.

Dear colleagues,

Last Friday in the Ministry Seminar, we had a good discussion about Christian ministry in a world oriented around the goods of productivity, efficiency, “life hacks,” and “side hustles.” The prompt was a reading from Oliver Burkeman’s 2021 book, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals in which he describes the feeling that many of us have of constantly being time-stressed and yet also not sure we are focusing on the things that really matter. The Ministry Seminar focused on two questions. First, does Burkeman’s description of the problem ring true for you? Second, what does the good news of Jesus Christ have to say to a world shaped by the forces Burkeman describes?

Our collective answer to the first question was a resounding yes! Our conversation about the second question ranged across a wide theological terrain, including abundant life and the kingdom of God; peace, freedom, and joy; law and gospel; finitude; and the nature of sin and the reality of grace. We asked ourselves if, in a world shaped by the demands of achievement and productivity, our churches were communities that countered these demands or mirrored them.

Last Friday was the last Ministry Seminar of the year and I like to use this last session each year to ask some variation of that second question: what does the good news of Jesus Christ have to say to situation x? This, more or less, is at the core of what I think ministry is about and what we are doing in this college. All of us live in the real world and encounter its problems and pains and hurts. All of us are constantly learning more about the Christian tradition and the deposit of faith we inherit. Ministry is about putting those two together and speaking a word to the world that is both good and new. As we learned on Friday, this is not always easy to do. Sometimes we can sense something before we can put it into words. Sometimes we find that our usual formulas don’t apply any longer. But at our best we can find faithful and creative ways of translating the Christian faith into ever-changing contexts so that the unchanging gospel can be heard afresh.

Wherever you are called, I hope you can keep this question before you in the many and varied situations you will encounter this summer and beyond: what is good and new about the gospel of Jesus Christ that speaks to this world right now and leads to abundant life?

Faithfully yours in Christ,

Jesse Zink