CALL TO WORK AS A PRIEST by Bishop Dr. J. Akin Atere

A PAPER DELIVERED AT THE WORKSHOP PROGRAMME FOR THE CONTINUING EDUCATION OF THE CLERGY OF DIOCESES OF LAGOS, LAGOS WEST, BADAGRY, LAGOS MAINLAND AND AWORI

MAIN THEME: THE FOURSQUARE MINISTRY OF AN ANGLICAN CLERGY: A REVISIT

SUB THEME: CALL TO WORK AS A PRIEST

“Now you are called to work as Pastors, Priests, Prophets and Teachers, together with your Bishop and fellow Clergy, and to take your share in the councils of the church” (BCPN Page 278, Item 17, Lines 4-6).

Jesus as the good Shepherd (John 10:11) does three things for His sheep

1. SEARCHES:

Notice that the shepherd is anxious to recover the lost sheep. He leaves the ninety-nine immediately to go after the one who is lost, the shepherd doesn’t give up until the sheep is found. He goes after the sheep, he was not angry at the sheep. He was highly joyful when he found the sheep. Like Jesus, the primary assignment of a clergy is to lead people to Jesus for their salvation Matt 1:21 “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” He came to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:10)

2. FINDS:

He carries the sheep no matter the weight on his shoulders, keep the sheep safe by holding it firmly in his grip. In the same way, Jesus carries the weight of sin for us “Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened and will give you rest.” (Matt.11:28) He hold our salvation safe and sure He says “I give them eternal life and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of my hands.” John 10:28.

3. BRINGS HOME:

After the good shepherd shares his joy of finding the sheep with friends, he brought the sheep all away from a distance home. He shouted “I have found my lost sheep.” In the same way when a person comes to Christ “there is rejoicing in heaven.”

It should be understood that Jesus is “the” Good shepherd and not just a good shepherd, He is unique in character Psalm 23, Zechariah 13:7, Heb. 13:20. Jesus was making a contrast between Himself and the religious leaders, the Pharisees [ John 10:12-13]. He compares them to a “hireling” or “a hired hand” who does not really care about the sheep. In John 10:9, Jesus speaks of thieves and robbers who sought to enter the sheepfold stealthily. He who is a hireling works for wages, which are his main consideration. His consideration was not for the sheep but for himself. Interestingly, the shepherd of Ancient times were not usually the owners of the flocks. Nevertheless, they were expected to exercise the same care and concern the owners would.

To better understand the purpose of a shepherd during the ancient times, it is helpful to realize that sheep are utterly defenseless and totally dependent upon the shepherd. Sheep are always subject to danger and must always be under the watchful eye of the shepherd as they gaze. Rushing walls of water down the valleys from sudden rainfalls may sweep them away, robbers may steal them and wolves may attack the flock (1 Sam 17:36) Jesus gave His life on the cross as “The Good Shepherd” for His own. Through His willing sacrifice, the Lord made salvation possible for all who come to Him in faith. In proclaiming that He is the good shepherd. Jesus speaks on “laying down” His life for His sheep (John 10:15, 17-18).

These areas of shepherding are transferred to the clergy. In discussing this, I will centre on Anglican Clergy,[As the theme suggest] those who are episcopally ordained and given Episcopal license to exercise the ministry of the Church. The implication of this is that Anglican Priests exercise that ministry by delegation from Bishops. Therefore, they are theologically responsible and accountable to bishops. Like what operates in the Old Testament, the Episcopal ordination makes an Anglican Priest a Symbol of God’s presence and power in the world. He is connected to Aaronic priesthood forever.

Like the Good Shepherd Anglican Priests assist Christian Community in defining its mission, he motivates them in the desire to accomplish the gospel mission, he impacts through deliberate teaching of the Christian faith and doctrine. He leads the Eucharistic services, he initiates members into the fold of Christ through the sacrament of Baptism. Like the Old Testament, he exercises pastoral care through shepherding the flock and administering the parish in accordance with the approved rules and regulation in force. In the examination of priest at ordination, the bishop says:
“As priest, it will be your task to proclaim by word and deed, the gospel of Jesus Christ, and to fashion your life in accordance with its prospects. You are to love and serve the people among whom you work, caring alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor. You are to preach, to declare God’s forgiveness to penitent sinners, to pronounce God’s blessing, to preside at the administration of Holy Baptism and at the Celebration of the mysteries of Christ body and blood and to perform the other ministrations entrusted to you. You are to nourish Christ people… and strengthen them to glorify God in this life and in the life to come…pray earnestly for His Holy Spirit, pray that He will each day enlarge and enlighten your understanding of the scripture so that you may grow stronger and more mature in your ministry.”

Just as the High Priest and Priest of Old played a unifying role in the life of the temple worshippers so also is the bishop and clergy to the Anglican Church. They are the symbols of unity in the wider church and local church. For this reason, he presided at the Eucharist and Baptized people. He also, in conjunction with the teaching role of the Old Testament, priests present Christ to the congregation through teaching and preaching. He has the work of enabling members to attain set objective, he has the duty to galvanize the energies of members in order to attain the objective set. He is a witness to the moral and imperative of the gospel, testify to the truth of God as has been revealed, so that through the truth, all mankind may live eternally.

Clergy in Anglican Church must acquire formal training through a theological institution and possess the idea, belief, attributes and standard of morality accepted of a believer/Christian. He is to make the learning available to his congregation.

There are many indications of graduation/ranks/hierarchy in the priesthood in the earlier stage of priesthood in the early temple. 1 Sam 1:3, 1 Sam.22:11-20, II Kings 25:18; Jer. 52:24; II Kings 19:2; Isa. 37:2 and jer. 19:1). In Solomon’s Temple there appeared to have been a college of priests at the heads of which was one who is generally referred to as “the priest” e.g. Zadok (1 King 2:33) Jehoiada (II Kings 11:9; 12:9). The role of High Priest are clearly stated in the Torah.

Today in an environment where misfortunes are attributed to witchcraft, demons, etc. the priest performs the role of interpreting such problems in the light of spiritual realities. His life reflects a life of praise, prayer, adoration, petition and thanksgiving. He constantly meditates or reflects on who he is and what he is called to be. As shepherd, he has the overall responsibility to care for his members. He is to care for the sick, visit those in prison, comfort the bereaved and encourage the faint hearted. He is to rebuke, reprove and exhort, ready also to give his life for the flock in self-denying service to the members.

The witness role of Anglican Priest touches on the political, social, cultural and economic spheres, he makes clear in his message the moral imperative contained in the gospel that relates to the social order. They have in the past and present challenges injustices in the social, economic and political life of the people. Evidences of these abound in liberation theology where priest especially in Latin America denounced oppression of an injustice that characterized military regime. In Nigeria, for example, the retired Archbishops and Primate of All Nigeria, Most Revd. Joseph Abiodun Adetiloye (of blessed memory) and Most Revd. Peter Jasper Akinola on several occasions denounced oppressive regime in Nigeria. Anglican priesthood is a pastoral one, it has authoritative, sacramental and mediatory functions. It is a Priesthood that involves all the gentleness, attention to human needs, a listening ear and the solidarity in our human condition of a true clergy. Let me come out fully as I explain what are the duties of Priests in relation to Shepherding.

THE WORK OF A CLERGY AS A SHEPHERD
1. Shepherd – Under Authority:
The Clergy is an under-shepherd, submitting to the authority of Jesus Christ the Chief Shepherd. Jesus himself lived a life of absolute obedience to the will of His Father. This was his supreme aim. ‘I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me’ (John 6:38). It was in His complete submission that Jesus found His own spiritual authority and power. This was why He was enormously impressed by the faith of the Centurion who came to Him about his sick servant. As the soldier explained, ‘I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, “Go”, and he goes; and that one, “Come”, and he comes. I say to my servant, “Do this” and he does it (Luke 7:8)

I believe it is profoundly true that only those who have learnt to obey and come under the authority of God, and of others, can exercise priestly authority. Priesthood is abused when it is in the hands of headstrong and the ‘know it all’. Unless we have first accepted the yoke of Christ and learnt to be led, we can never be fit to lead others.

When he was enthroned as Bishop of Manchester, William Temple – later to become Archbishop of Canterbury – spoke these simple and memorable words:

I come as a learner, with no policy to advocate, no plan already formed to follow. But I come with one burning desire; it is that in all our activities, sacred and secular, ecclesiastical and social, we should help each other to fix our eye on Jesus, making him our only guide… Pray for me, I ask you, not chiefly that I may be wise and strong, on any such thing, though for these things I need your prayers. But pray for me chiefly that I may never let go of the unseen hand of the Lord Jesus and may live in daily fellowship with him. It is so that you will most of all help me to help you.

WHAT CAN THE CLERGY, AS AN UNDER-SHEPHERD, LEARN FROM JESUS?

1. Knowing the Congregation – John 10:3,14-15
Jesus said, ‘I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father…” (John 10:14). If we saw a flock of sheep in the Middle and East, all the sheep would look the same. In contrast, if their shepherd was a good one, he would know each one individually and would have his own special name for every one of them. The sheep would know their shepherd and would know that he cared for them twenty-four hours a day. They would trust him implicitly. They would respond to his voice and follow his lead.
This is the example Jesus choose to describe his relationship with his followers. In the same way, a Clergy must know those he leads, not only know about them, but know them personally – their strengths and weaknesses, their hopes and fears.

An increasing number of people in society today feel that their lives are of little significance, whether in the place they work or in their local community. They have lost sense of ‘belonging’. It is to this deep human longing to be known, loved and wanted that the church of Jesus Christ can gladly and confidently respond. In the eyes of God everyone matters and the local church has an unparalleled opportunity to show this.

When Pope John Paul II was a Cardinal, he spoke at a conference in Rome on the ever-growing depersonalize of man.
“I don’t mean only the danger of considering man as a mere instrument of production. I mean even greater danger that man himself, more or less consciously, is beginning to see himself as a passive element on a production line, subject to any or every kind of manipulation. If contemporary human progress is to have a truly face, then it must seek to provide man not only with a means of obtaining the material necessities of life but also with the opportunity of becoming more human. Unless it can achieve that, progress can only increase the feeling of alienation.”

At the heart of true pastoral caring therefore, is the conviction that every human being is unique and gracious to God. I think of those whom I have known and worked with who have given themselves tirelessly as Sunday School teachers or youth leaders, they would spend long hours visiting their youngsters in their homes or preparing events that would add extra bite the adventure of following Christ. They went after those who had got out of touch and sought to encourage them back. They loved and prayed for each boy and girl in their care. Nothing was too much trouble; no sacrifice was too great. Like Jesus, they knew their sheep and their sheep knew them. Some of us Clergy are guilty of many atrocities, so many things we do, practiced or allowed today were not like that in the past. Even those who manage to keep the faith of our fore fathers today some are not genuine or with good intention

2. Feeding the Congregation
The good shepherd will ensure that his sheep are well fed and watered. Jesus had compassion on the crowds they were like sheep without shepherds who knew and fed them. Unlike the Pharisees, Jesus taught with authority and his words were received hungrily. They were words of life and of hope. Yet they were not always palatable. On one occasion, Jesus spelt out the costliness of discipleship and many turned away. Rather wearily, Jesus turned to the disciples. ‘Do you want to leave too, do you?’ Simon Peter answered for them all. ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God’ (John 6:7-9).

The under-shepherd has the priviledge and responsibility of feeding the flock of Christ. Yet I see overwhelming evidence that many congregations are on minimum rations,some of us don’t even have food to feed the flock. Have you noticed that some of are feeding are members with snacks of the word. Snacks are the diet of many of the local church today, no wonder no too much strength no growth. Instead of growing up strong and mature in Christ, far too many Christians, young and old, are spiritually weak and emaciated. Untaught, they are unsure of their spiritual foundations. It is little wonder that they lack the confidence or even the desire to share their faith with others.

The onus to take preaching and teaching far more seriously is not only upon the clergy but upon all who have any part in teaching the Christian faith to others. In the past the majority of young people grew up with some kind of ‘God-framework’ because of Christian teaching received in school and at home. This is no longer the case. There is widespread ignorance of the basic facts of Christianity and its application to daily living. How important, therefore, that young people who are in touch with the local church receive the quality of teaching and help that they need. The situation is urgent.

Whether it be teaching a group of children or young people, leading a home group, or preaching from a pulpit, the question to answer is, ‘Am I preparing and offering a meal or a snack?’ The meal must match the capacity and the circumstances, but the food must be good and be imaginatively presented.

The Great Shepherd also feeds through sacrament as well as by word. When we stretch out empty hand to receive the tokens of Christ love in the sacrament his body and blood, he feeds and nourishes us. John 21:15.

3. Tending the Congregation
The caring shepherd would be concerned about the bumps and bruises of his sheep. He would search for the sheep that had got caught up in a thicket, or was stranded on a rock, and would carry it home tenderly on his shoulders so that the process of healing could begin. Peter had seen the tender compassion of Jesus in his care for others – the lepers and the lame, the blind and the bereaved, the sinners and the sinned-against. What is more, he himself had experienced his Mater’s tender love, mercy and forgiveness in the abyss of failure. When writing letter to others who had the responsibilities of leadership, he encourages them, ‘Tend the flock of God that is in your charge, not by constraint but willingly. Not for shameful gain but eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock’ (1 Peter 5:2-3, RSV).

Clergy who were concerned for their own ease than for the welfare of their people often came under the forthright condemnation of Old Testament prophets.
‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the cruds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally’ (Ezek. 34:2-4).

Within every church and local community there are increasing numbers of people for whom caring clergy can bring hope and healing in the name of Good Shepherd. The fractured family, clergy can in turn help those they lead to express the tending love of Jesus to others. In fact the needs are often so great that unless clergy encourages others to take full share in the caring ministry, he will soon run himself into the ground.

In sharing the ministry of tending, the clergy will want to maximize the different experiences of life that are represented within any congregation. Frequently, those who have suffered most and have discovered Christ’s unconditional love and healing for their pain and brokenness are the best able to empathize with others in need. The church that attempts to present a correct, untroubled exterior, lacks genuine compassion and has nothing to offer to the many who are bruised and broken in our society. As Lesslie Newbigin has written, ‘The Church is not an organization of spiritual giants. It is broken men and women who can lead others to the Cross.’ John 21:16-17.

4. Caring for the Congregation
Fellowship has sometimes been caricatured as cheerful back-slapping. In contrast, the New Testament Greek word for fellowship (koinnonia) is derived from koinnonos, which is translated partner, companion, partaker, sharer. True biblical fellowship is a full, open, warm sharing of one’s life and spirit with others.

The greatest need of our time is for koinnonia, the call simply to build the church, to love one another, and to offer our lives for the sake of the world. The creation of living, breathing, loving communities of faith at the local church level is the foundation of all the other answers. The community of faith incarnates a whole new order, offers a visible and concrete alternative, and issues a basic challenge to the world as it is.

It is through the local congregation that the true meaning of fellowship, as a partnership of giving and receiving, can be more deeply explored and enjoyed. The clergy should lead his people to learn and develop a corporate sense of identity – a sense of belonging and caring for one another, and a growing openness to each other and to the Holy Spirit.

The local church is a gathering of people who would not necessarily choose one another as friends. This is perhaps one of the greatest strengths. From the rubbing together of dissimilar personalities some of the greatest discoveries can emerge and bridges can be built that help individuals and enhance their relationships. It is in a caring atmosphere of a church group that the free flow of Christian love can be experienced as members learn to accept one another, support one another and share one another’s joys and sorrows.

Growth in the depth of fellowship in a group does not take place overnight. An attitude of wary superficiality can persist for some time. The breakthrough may come when one of the members shares a deep need and asks for the prayers and advice of the church. Perceptively the dynamics of the group begin to change. The open sharing of a need in this way can also act as a trigger to bring others’ need to the surface from within the group.

It is often the Clergy, however, who influences the quality of fellowship within the Church. Therefore the Clergy has the power to keep relationships at a high level with politeness or he can help open them up in mutual trust and support. The most effective pastor is the one who is prepared to be open about his life and about his own need to be a receiving as well as giving member of the church. Through sacrament as well as through word, Christ made Himself known to us and as the Church fed by faith upon Him, members were not only expressing their joyful dependence on Christ but also their dependence on one another through personal and group interaction motivated by the Clergy.

It is therefore not surprising that not everyone is qualified to be clergy. Concerning priestly qualifications we read in Lev. 21:17-21 “Speak unto Aaron, saying, Whosoever he be of thy seed in their generations that hath any blemish, let him not approach to offer the bread of his God. For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or any thing superfluous, Or a man that is broken-footed, or broken-handed, Or crookbackt, or a dwarf, or that hath a blemish in his eye, or be scurvy, or scabbed, or hath his stones broken; No man that hath a blemish of the seed of Aaron the priest shall come nigh to offer the offerings of the LORD made by fire: he hath a blemish; he shall not come nigh to offer the bread of his God.”

The above named twelve physical blemishes that would prevent someone from performing service in the typical sanctuary suggest spiritual deficiencies that need to be overcome by those who have received the heavenly calling. It also suggests that a physically unstable people is not fit to be under-shepherd (clergy), if the faith of the congregation is not strong, the deformation of the clergy may result to distraction. It is also worth mentioned that at Aaron’s ordination, Moses washed, clothed and anointed Aaron during the consecration ritual to typify the righteousness and perfection of the Master (Lev. 8:6-12). The anointing oil was a precious ointment used on both the high priest and the king of Israel. This seems to indicate divine appointment into office Ex.30:31-33. Jesus the undefiled one, needs no washing (Heb. 7:26) and was anointed with the Holy Spirit, the oil of gladness above his fellows, at the time of His baptism Heb. 1:9. A clergy must then be trustworthy, reliable, undefiled, unblemished.

As Aaron stood, clothed in those beautiful robes so typically significant and was anointed with the holy oil, his head represented Jesus, the head of the priesthood, while his body represented the church, complete in Christ. How impressive and significant for you to be undefiled and clothed with power and authority to fulfill God’s covenant.

Moses also washed and clothed Aaron’s sons (Lev. 8:6,13). They needed to be cleansed before putting on the garment. They wore bonnets that identified them as under-priests who were set apart for holy service. The church is justified and inducted into the priesthood, wearing Christ’s imputed robe of righteousness Isa 61:10. This suggests that you and your household are in the same ministry and carry same anointing like any good shepherd would train his children.

My brother clergy, our members are looking up unto us to lead them to Christ, some of them had entered into the mouth of wolves because we are under feeding them or can I say we don’t seems to care for them. Some of us bother so much on what we can make out of them not what we can offer as sacrifice to keep them save within and give them confidence in the communion, especially the youths. It’s now very urgent that we rise to our responsibilities so that our master and great shepherd will not condemn us. It’s absurd to hear so many wrong doctrines we now preach and teach. The way some of us dress is too bad, it’s unbelievable that some of us engage in adultery, fornication, embezzlement and all sorts that does not give glory to God. Fellow clergy, it’s not too late for us to repent. You can see that judgement had started on some of us, only that we are not too observant. In the Old Testament, the judgement of a priest is equal to the sins of a whole nation. Please be careful.

 

THE RT. REVD. DR. J. AKIN ATERE,
Bishop, Diocese of Awori