In Memory of the 100th anniversary of the death of P. T. Forsyth this year (2021), I will outline his eleven points in the chapter entitled ‘The Ideal Ministry’ (as printed in The British Congregationalist, 18th October, 1906), in the book Revelation Old and New.
2. The Ideal Ministry: MINISTRY
“The ideal ministry must be an office in a Church quite as much as a vocation in an individual. That is to say, if we have a Church. If we have no Church, nothing which essentially distinguishes our Christian gatherings from any religious company, humane fraternity, or social group, the question falls to the ground. But then so will Christianity. The question of ministry is the crucial question of the Church. The greatest division among Churches, between Catholic and non-Catholic, turns on the position of ministry.
The ministry is not simply the talking section of the Church. The minister is not simply the member detailed to speak. He is not a mere individual appointed to a certain function of a division of labour. He is not simply the brother of these dear young people who admonish him. He has a corporate and responsible position. He stands for the Church, and also for the Gospel, as no private member does. To impugn him as minister is more serious than a challenge to a private member. There are lawful things which he may not properly do because of the representative position. There are things which he alone is entitled to do for the same reason. The ministry does not constitute an order, but, for the sake of order, the ministry in any effective Church must be an office regularised by the Church. It is not a galaxy of stars, a company of preaching friars, or religious freelancers. It is composed of people who are detailed for life to this service, empowered and controlled by the Church, not by subjective choice or charismatic gusts of impulse. The ideal Church must always have such an office with due regulation as to entry and recognition. And such an office in an ideal Church is an ideal ministry.
The condition of the ministry requires the attention of the Church quite as truly as the condition of the poor does. To provide a ministry equal to its own work is at least as much a concern of the Church as to provide work or play for the people. A Church that was keenly interested in technical or elementary education to the neglect of an education for its own ministry, elementary in the Bible and technical in theology, would be dying out as a church. Many churches are proud of their minister; and there are many ministers of whom all the Churches are proud; but one hesitates to say that the Churches are proud of the ministry, or treat it, as an office, with due respect. But with an elective ministry does that not mean in the Church a lack of self-respect?
The ideal ministry is a part of the Church’s organisation and not a fruit of its inspiration alone. It is easy and captivating from a platform to talk with a vague idealism about the true ministry being a great lay host suffusing all the Churches with the spirit of Christian service, each going his several way and dropping help and blessing as he goes. God multiply their business. But so to talk is not Christian business. It is not taking a Church in earnest. The Church may be a great mistake, or now an anachronism. Christianity may be something more Tolstoian. But if so, let us be clear and explicit about it. Let us not claim to be churches, and let us not juggle with notions that belong, as distinct from a mere sympathetic fraternity.
If the Church idea is obsolete let us go to the world and say so. Let us discard the notion of a ministry, in favour of stray individual prophetism. But if we take the Church idea in earnest still, let us not play pranks of spiritual interpretation with the idea of its ministry. Let us not say sweetly that it includes service of every Christian form. Let us not explain it away as no office, but a mere koinonia of professionals (which is trades union) or a mere gathering of charismatics (which is coterie).
Where you have a real Church you must have a ministry as a real office, with a real preparation, a real devotion, and a real status, and a real respect for it.