What is the Heart of Ministry?

Ministering to the Beat of "Truth Love" in Today's Church

It’s easy to make February about a certain kind of love—the sweet, sentimental, Valentines’ Day kind, all wrapped in pretty paper and offered up with chocolates and and a saccharine greeting cards with lacy hearts and ribbons. Maybe there’s a place for that. I’m as much of a fan of a bouquet of freshly cut flowers as the next person, I guess.

But of course, that kind of love is of little use in the church as we find it these days—thinning out noticeably, wobbling more and more regularly as it moves in the world, struggling to stay on top of what the kids are about these days. Maybe “tough love” is a bridge too far in terms of what’s needed in the church today. Maybe what’s needed is something we might call “truth love”—love grounded in an honest assessment of the reality of our common lives and the concrete demands they make on ministries of all stripes. “Truth love,” the insights of our contributors in this issue insist, takes us to the decidedly unromantic heart of ministry.

For Heber Brown, pastor of Pleasant Hope Baptist Church in Baltimore, Maryland, the heart of ministry is in renewed courage and imagination, a willingness to take creative risks even when the walls seem to be falling down all around. But we only get there, he says, if we “face the ugly” that confronts us.

For Robin Denney, Associate for Christian Formation at St. Cross Episcopal Church, in Hermosa Beach, California, finding “truth love” at the heart of ministry depends on engaging the incarnational challenge of Christ. “There is no way to follow Jesus without being present,” she insists—present to migrants, refugees, those on the streets for whatever reason. The God we meet in Jesus “was a refugee,” Robin argues, and this calls us into the heart of ministries of love expressed in compassion and justice.

Our Commentary contributor for the issue, professor and bible scholar Corinna Guerrero, is regularly led (pushed?) in the direction of “truth love” by her 10-year-old daughter. “Kiddo’s” questions about the virgin birth are inflected by her life as a child of the Me-Too era, raising a web of concerns about what religious education is in these times, where it (ought to?) happen, and what it means in a world in which, as Corinna observes, “the distance between the religious and the non-religious is collapsing.”

Our Creative Insights offering this issue, from artist and activist Angela Yarber doesn’t move away from this “truth love” either. A series of icons celebrating the lives and ministries of queer women of color who have been “overlooked, strategically erased, and missing” from iconography and narrative across the religious spectrum. For Angela, the heart of ministry today is in celebrating the wonders of these lively, prophetic, folk-feminist exemplars.

Finally, we’ve pulled a couple pieces into the issue from our archives to round out an already robust discussion of what might count as the “heart of ministry” today. For her part, back in 2017, Rebecca Schlatter Liberty was trying to balance the still urgent call for resistance to presidentially institutionalized evil with a sustaining joy. “One might say that,” she suggests, that “like chicken and egg, joy is both required for resistance and emerges from it.” Later the same year, G. Jeffrey MacDonald (now editor-in-chief of Religion News Service) reflected on gratitude as a practice of healing that emerges from service. He argues that “gratitude is an attitude, but more than that, it’s an active process of transformation”—one that surely depends on “truth love” to cultivate resilient and hope-filled hearts the church—and the world—cry out for today.

We trust you’ll enjoy the rich, heartening insights from all of our contributors to our “What is the Heart of Ministry?” issue.

Angela Yarber, Corinna Guerrero, Elizabeth Drescher, heart, Heber Brown, Ministry, Robin Denney

Featured image: Matthew LeJune, Untitled (January 16, 2019). Via Unsplash. CC2.0 license.