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The Relationship Between Ministry and Theology

Updated on April 26, 2012


What follows is an edited Part II of my undergrad thesis. While the original whole of the paper dealt with applying eschatology to youth ministry, this specific part can stand on its own merits and presents an important idea that ministry to the Church cannot be separated from the theology of the Church (revelation).

The Question

What is the interaction between theology as an academia and theology as a pastoral practice? The crux of this fusion between “pure and applied theology” lies in the common origin of all theology—God’s revelation.[i] Anderson states that all theology must first begin with ministry, because revelation, in essence, is God’s continual ministry of reconciliation.[ii] Anderson argues that when “pure theology” (academia) is practiced without the ministerial application it becomes “unapplied and irrelevant” and that God’s ministry of revelation “precedes and produces theology” and uses theology as its “handmaid”.[iii]

This argument advocates an essential connection between pure and applied theology, implying that though not identical, they are intrinsically connected—one cannot have good ministry without good theology, and one cannot perform good theology without doing good ministry. As applied to any specific doctrinal paradigm, this assumes that one cannot use this as a ministry without first considering the theological doctrine in itself, but cannot not teach of the doctrine without considering the pastoral and ministerial applications that the doctrine has on the people to which it is taught.

[i] Ray S. Anderson, ed. Theological Foundations for Ministry (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 6.

[ii] Ibid., 7.

[iii] Ibid.

What is Ministry?

For the sake of defining terms, I shall define ministry as “a manifestation of one’s specific gifts of the Holy Spirit, which is given at baptism, lived out in vocation, and practiced in the context of the Wisdom Tradition of the Church.” Much credit must be given to Edward Schillebeeckx who defines ministry as “the specific crystallization of a universal charisma of the Spirit into a gift of the Spirit reserved for certain Christians with a function in the Church”.[i] Upon examination of this definition, one sees that ministry, though individual, is also firmly rooted in the communal and social nature of the Church and the Spirit. One’s “specific crystallization of a universal charisma of the Spirit” simply means that each person manifests the gifts of the Holy Spirit in their own unique way expressed by the specific and unique way in which they minister. He does not say, nor do I, that laity do not possess a place for ministry, because the gifts of the Holy Spirit are poured out to all the faithful who are “Baptized in the Spirit”.[ii]

[i] Edward Schillebeeckx, The Church with a Human Face (New York: Crossroads, 1985), 81.

[ii] Ibid., 83.

Who Does It?

Having defined ministry and its roots in revelation, one must understand who practices ministry. For a large portion of Christian history, ministry was reserved for members outside the laity. However, in the years directly preceding Vatican II and since the council itself, there has begun a strong emphasis on ministry (in its various specific manifestations) as being exercised by laity in addition to the hierarchy of the Church. However, though the laity is called through the Sacraments of Initiation to ministry, it must remain rooted in the Wisdom Tradition of the Church, and thus firmly under the authority of the Episcopate. Because ministry is preceded by revelation, and the Wisdom Tradition is the hermeneutic by which revelation should be interpreted, ministry has its heart there.

The idea that all are called to ministry through the Sacraments of Initiation is set forth in Pope Pius XII’s Encyclical Mistici Coporis Christi . In it he states that the entire body, in its “multiplicity of members” is called to “work in mutual collaboration for the common comfort and for the more perfect building up of the whole Body”.[i] He further states that in addition to Baptism, “by the chrism of Confirmation, the faithful are given added strength to protect and defend the Church, their Mother, and the faith she has given them”,[ii] and that “in the Holy Eucharist the faithful are nourished and strengthened at the same banquet and by a divine, ineffable bond are united with each other and with the Divine Head of the whole Body”.[iii] Thus, since all Catholics receive these Sacraments, all are called by them to minister in a broad way.

[i] Pius XII, Mystici Corporis Christi (Vatican: Holy See, 1943), para 15.

[ii] Ibid., para 18.

[iii] Ibid., para 19.

How does One do It?

While by the Sacraments all are called to ministry in a broad sense, not all are called to ministry as a specific vocation. Ministry is lived out in vocation, and though all have the “universal call to holiness”, which in effect is a ministry to the Church as a whole, not all are called to minister to specific populations within the Body of Christ, or even to those outside the Body. The distinction between ministry as a broad vocation, and ministry as specific occurs when one is called to work with a specific population. Those in specific ministry may work with marginalized populations such as the poor, the wounded, or the oppressed, or they may work with a population that is not marginalized, but is still in need of guidance and strives for greater holiness. This in essence could be any population, for all are continually striving for holiness, but some specific examples are family ministry, youth ministry, to religious education ministry. Therefore, for those called by their vocation to a specific ministry, this may take any form from social-justice ministry to youth ministry. The focus for this paper will be on youth ministry.


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    • rdlang05 profile image

      rdlang05 5 years ago from Minnesota

      Of course, that was suppose to be the implicit flip side of my comment.

    • Dave Mathews profile image

      Dave Mathews 5 years ago from NORTH YORK,ONTARIO,CANADA

      There are also some of us, who know God personally and intimately enough to call Him Father.

    • rdlang05 profile image

      rdlang05 5 years ago from Minnesota


      Thanks for the read, the vote, and the comment. I'm glad you agree.


      Of course the Bible is the most important resource in knowing God. And one does not necessarily need a degree. There are plenty who know about God, but do not know God himself.



    • Dave Mathews profile image

      Dave Mathews 5 years ago from NORTH YORK,ONTARIO,CANADA

      Indeed one cannot teach a good theology without first knowing the God one is teaching about, and without understanding the views of that God and how he works.

      I feel that the Word of God, God's Holy Bible provides that kind of insight, for as a Christian, as I follow God's Word God's teachings, from Genesis to Revelation God reveals his inner self, but not to my human self, to my spiritual self, thus opening up many avenues of experiencing learning about Almighty God, about Christ Jesus his Son and about God's Holy Spirit, freeing up knowledge of my God My Lord and Master, I might never have known.

      I have no master's degree or phd in any ology offered in a university or a seminary, I gust have good old common sense delivered to me by Almighty God my Beloved Father, about Christ Jesus, my Beloved Brother, delivered to me by my other Beloved Brother the Holy Spirit.

    • Jenna Pope profile image

      Jenna Pope 5 years ago from Southern California

      I thought that this was so true: "Anderson argues that when “pure theology” (academia) is practiced without the ministerial application it becomes “unapplied and irrelevant” and that God’s ministry of revelation “precedes and produces theology” and uses theology as its “handmaid”."

      I also agree with you that, no matter what the doctrine, it definitely has ministerial applications on the people to whom it is taught.

      Voted up. Thanks for the Catholic perspective.