!! Theology Segment !! Independent Research & Fiction Writing as a Ministry !
In this post I want to talk about an exciting new chapter in my life, in what I think I’m being called to do as a ministry now that I’ve finished my schooling.
Since I started volunteering and completing post-graduate courses at a Christian Institute, and because of their ministry focused curriculum, I’ve been increasingly feeling as if my calling and election may be as an Independent Researcher.
So, let’s jump in and see why I feel moved in this direction, how I might be perfectly made for it, and if Independent Research could actually even be a ministry within and for the church in the first place….
Why I Feel Called to Independent Research as a Ministry
Since finishing my ThD I’ve settled into post-doctoral studies at a Christian Institute where I do independent research and also volunteer as a mentor for students in their various programs. But, this is not an academic position or paid appointment. In fact, those kinds of “jobs” are really not available to many people, especially to someone like me from my socio-economic, cultural, ethnic, and gendered background. Luckily, I knew this going into graduate studies. It was not the driving force behind finishing my degrees.
Rather, for a long time I’ve felt driven or called (however you might want to describe it) toward academic research. It’s more than simply biblical studies or devotional studies. It’s more than vocational ministry studies (i.e. that a pastor does in preparing a sermon, etc).
For several years now there are a multitude of questions that have been basically piling up at the feet of academia that go unanswered. Questions pertaining to God, to death, to the afterlife, about angels, fallen and otherwise, about demons, about what happens after the end of the Bible, what it means to become Sons of God, and on the list goes. These questions often don’t get answered either because they are in a gray area within theology that has little interest, or because there is little actual information on it and thus could not help the theologian or academic make a “name” for themselves, or these subjects are too speculative and thus considered too heterodox to be considered.
Considering the hostile environment found in most if not all professional (i.e. paid) positions in academia currently, such research really could not be done anyway, certainly not within evangelical Christianity without raising the ire of orthodox gatekeepers and career makers. I personally have no taste for the sorted affairs of academic political life, so it’s all the better it’s not really an option from the outset.
But, in my post-doctoral studies I have been presented with the question, “What work is God calling you to do?” In fact, it is argued that we each have a unique set of talents and abilities and special gifting that God has integrated in such a way that only I can perform this particular work for the body of Christ. Unfortunately, though the years, I’ve been proverbially been beaten bloody by the visible church, the local church, the individual Christian leader, all because I do not ascribe or conform to the modern status quo. Many of my questions are too risky, too confusing, too confounding, or too uncontrollable (as the modern, organized church loves to have control on their congregants and push their agenda and their programs). But this contemplation concerning my call, I’ve come to understand that I think God may have put me in a precarious situation simply so I will not be submitted under the authority of any human institution so that I can pursue the knowledge for it’s own sake. As example, I recall a Christian academic make a comment on a podcast one day and then almost immediately backtracks his statement and says, “I have to provide a caveat here to what I just said because I do want to be employable in the future.”
This is the problem with academia in and out of the church. Truth cannot be ascertained when individual researchers are compromised by their wage, by their following, or by their culture. Researchers would not be afraid of losing their jobs, losing their faith, their standing, or their lives because they have discovered or uncovered an uncomfortable truth. This is one reason why becoming an independent researcher is so attractive to me at the moment.
Additionally, as I’ve written frequently on this blog and talked about on this podcast, since I was a very young child, I’ve not only be predisposed to writing and storytelling, but I’ve also been drawn to solitude, to nature, to wild and unkept and secretive places. There is something about the mysteries and forlorn hermit living out in the woods, foraging off the land, living simply, huddled close to a crackling fire in his tiny cabin as a winter storm rages outside, no other living soul for miles around.
It’s not a passion of someone who lives in the modern world, as the death of monasticism in the west can attest. But, it is where I feel most at home: solitude, simplicity, conducting independent research, and pursuing my own sanctification for what is to come next.
So a significant part of this calling would include narrative or storytelling, the writing of fiction books, which I have already begun. I certainly do not feel called to be an evangelist or a shepherd over a church (though at times it does seem inviting – that is until I apply – then it is terrifying). I do not feel as if I’m called to be a prophet or a teacher (though for many years I thought I was called to do so). I really do not feel called to the local church (it seems today’s local church, at least in America, is an artificial fabrication and not the church Jesus is building), but to the church universal, to the individuals within and outside of the modern expression of Christianity. I also possibly have a distinctive call, I think, to reaching those currently immersed in the new age, in Satanism, in the occult, in eastern mysticism, in Buddhism, though I am not yet certain this is how God will use me in the future.
The Preliminary Plan
So, at this point in the process, as I’ve already stated, I have enrolled in post-doctrinal work at a Christian Institute where I also volunteer as a mentor to students. I will remain in this position for the next two years while I complete their program (a systematic and in-depth study in the 66 books of the Bible). This would fill the gaps left from formal seminary education. This will also provide experience in academia for my CV (not that I think it will help in the future to secure a paid position).
I will simultaneously be starting the process of formulating my independent research questions.
I will simultaneously be continuing my fiction writing development. I currently have a number of novels I’m working on at various stages.
I will also simultaneously be developing workbook courses to be released in the future.
I will also simultaneously be developing a possible discipleship or mentorship program.
I will also simultaneously continue the development, production, and release of the Isaac Hunter Podcast and various blog posts.
I will also simultaneously continue my uThM studies until the study plan has been completed.
Currently, the topics I plan to explore are:
1. Personal Eschatology – death and the intermediate state.
2. General Eschatology – End Times, Rapture, Resurrection.
3. Nature of the Afterlife – who we will be, supernatural beings, what will be expected, what we will experience.
4. Krypta – What is hidden, that which remains unclear, unknown, unexplained in the Bible, especially that which pertains to the end times, to after the new heaven and earth, etc.
What Is a Ministry?
Ministry is a very misused term in modern Christianity, especially in western cultures. It is often defined as paid, vocational operations most predominately from a religious non-profit organization, but also some for-profit corporations or individuals. Despite the nomenclature, these organizations are much less biblical “ministry” and are more so modeled and run after worldly for-profit corporations. Most are simply teaching or publishing “ministries,” typically centered around one or a handful of personalities, often times to a near cultic degree. These typical for-profit operated businesses are more inline with capitalism than the Christian faith or biblical doctrine and really have nothing to do with the biblical definition of ministry that can be found in Ephesians 4:11-16.
Genuine Christian ministry does not necessarily include financial payment and, in practicality, should most often be volunteer, sacrificial in nature. It does not necessitate conventional roles, but is often unique to the individual in question. It likewise does not require or indicate success through the presence of external or worldly indicators of success, ie. financial gain, fame, influence, or increase of spectators or participants.
There are described in Ephesians 4:11-16, five specific “equipping” gifts within the church (not necessarily directly affiliated with any particular local church). These are: apostles, prophets, evangelists, elders, and teachers. The expressed purpose of these five gifts are for the “equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body.”
The largest percentage of ministry within the church is included in the generic description of “work of ministry.” This word “ministry” is actually διακονίας or “service.” Nowhere in this description is it indicated that this service is professional or paid. Nowhere in the equipping gifts are there any indication of a professional, paid clergy or a professional clergy distinct from the congregants.
Ministry is the equivalent of service and service is equal to sacrifice. The true leader or leaders of a particular church are its servants, regardless of the name on its door. To be build up, equipped for “works of service” do not automatically constrict the worker to the visible church program or the whims of the leadership. He is under the guidance of Christ and moved by the Holy Spirit to walk in those works predestined for him to walk in.
Ministry, in a nutshell, is anything one does to further the cause of Christ and, as Paul states, “edifies the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (Eph 4:12-13). It is expressly to get us to a point where the whole body is no longer, “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (we certainly haven’t reached anywhere close to this point yet).
It is, in actuality, the purpose of ministry to fight against the “trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting.” Ministry is not about money. It’s not about establishing a church or about propagating a following or establishing a “campus” or mini vacations that are masqueraded as “mission trips.” We, instead are tasked with the helping each other “speak the truth in love, that we may grow up in all things into Him who is the head…the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share.”
This is not about modeling the world of commerce or capitalism, or becoming successful. It is about “causing the growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”
This is the singular purpose of ministry, which is simply sacrificial service in the agape spirit of committed and vowed love (the seeking what is best for the other over the self). In this vein, Ministry can be anything and is anything that does provide its part for the good of the whole.
There are ministries today that have no earthly benefit, make no tangible or measurable difference, or gather or produce any signs of worldly success. But, Paul’s ministry and Peter’s ministry could be viewed similarly in it’s own time. He was converted, abandoned a certainly prominent position in the Jewish religion, was beaten, shipwrecked, was starved, and eventually was presented before Casear and then executed. At the time certainly his life (if anyone had recollection of it) was a waste in the eyes of the world. To the Jews he was that troublemaker who was sturring up trouble in the synagogues and among the gentiles. But, in future generations, and to us today, Paul’s ministry work proved critically important for the Christian faith, instrumental in solidifying through his writing the fundamental doctrines of the faith.
This is the same result for countless ministries throughout the span of Church History, who labored in near complete obscurity (then and now) in monasteries, in villages, possibly in hermit huts, copying scrolls over and over, simply out of a conviction to preserve the written record or to produce copies for others in the community. But, the true impact of their work was not known for hundreds if not thousands of years. We believers today would not have the Bible as we do if it were not for these countless, often unnamed, ministry workers.
We can see, then, that ministry is not a job. It is not a profession. It is a calling. It is a mission. It is the work of the fivefold as well as the work of the body in their works of service. It is effectively the building up of the body of Christ. This is the only litmus test, and the true test of a ministry rests solely in the hands of Jesus.
No one can judge the validity of your ministry or work. Even ministries that seemingly exhibit no outward or external signs of success cannot be written off as long as there is a genuine, heart-felt conviction to continue.
As Peter states, “make your call and election sure” (2 Pe 1:10). Whatever you might feel is your work of service do it with your whole heart in service to the Lord (Co 3:23-24), regardless of the critics you may encounter.
Until my next post…
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Excerpt from Ashen Monk Mountain:
There was an old elm tree near the end of the lawn, with a circular picnic table and several short benches.
“This looks like a lovely spot,” Mr. Eckey said, taking a seat.
He set his briefcase on the picnic table and flipped the latches, opening the lid.
Christopher took a seat opposite him and removed his hood, folding his arms in front of him.
“I have a tablet and a pen here somewhere,” Mr. Eckey said. “I had it when I left, that is. Not sure if I can find it in this disorganized briefcase of mine…”
He chuckled at himself.
“So – ”
Christopher ran a hand over his short cropped scalp.
“I’m confused about all this. I’m not sure I understand why exactly you wanted to meet with me.”
Mr. Eckey nodded.
“How long have you been a novitiate here?”
“Going on seven months now.”
He glanced up at Christopher as he fetched his notebook and ink pen.
“How are you liking it at Saint Joseph’s?”
“It has been – ”
Christopher thought about the question for a moment.
“ – wonderful.”
“I would assume it much different than – ”
Mr. Eckey flipped the first page over, scanned handwritten notes he had on the second page.
“I received some background from the Precept’s office, as well as from Abbot Greenly. You grew up in – North Platte, Nebraska? Is that correct?”
“I’m native of the Boston area myself,” Mr. Eckey said. “Tell me a little about how you came to the decision.”
Mr. Eckey smiled.
“To become a monk. It must have been quite a journey from Nebraska.”
“Not really. I guess. I just – ”
Unwanted images flashed through his mind.
Mr. Eckey took a deep breath before speaking again.
“Mr. Ward, I don’t actually know a whole lot about this request, to be perfectly honest. As you know, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Apostolic Life – that’s quite a mouthful, isn’t it – we are entrusted with monitoring abnormal behavior among those called to the consecrated vocation.”
He tapped his pen on the tablet.
“Tell me, what do you like about Saint Joseph’s exactly?”
“It’s the – well – I feel at home here. Like I belong. I very much enjoy the silence.”
“Yes, I know the Trappists to be quite ardent in their devotion.”
Christopher nodded in agreement as Mr. Eckey took a few notes.
“I enjoy the early mornings, the worship, the offices. The undivided devotion.”
“To God?” Mr. Eckey asked.
“Yes,” Christopher said. “Exactly.”
The stranger focused on his notes for several seconds, silently mouthing the words he wrote.
“Tell me, how does your life now differ from your previous one?”
Mr. Eckey stopped writing.
“Your military career.”
“Oh,” Christopher said, looking down. “I guess – I – I don’t know. There are lots of differences. I’m not – sure I – what is this inquiry about exactly?”
Mr. Eckey put his pen down.
“Mr. Ward,” he said. “The Vatican apparently has interest in your particular gifts and abilities for a – call it – a special appointment. I guess that’s the best way to put it.”
He shifted his weight on the hard bench.
“Normally, the Congregation does not get involved in appointments or a particular monk’s vocational choices. But, sometimes, when the need arises, special arrangements can be made.”
“Are you talking about another monastery?”
“Actually – ”
Mr. Eckey picked his pen back up.
“It’s an entirely different Order.”
Christopher leaned forward as a gust of wind billowed the long sleeves of his tunic.
“I don’t really understand,” he said. “Are you saying the Vatican wants me to move to a different monastery – to a different Order? But…I…”
Mr. Eckey waited a moment.
“Tell me, Mr. Ward, about your military training.”
“What about it?”
“Your experiences. You were a special operator, is that correct?”
Christopher shot him a quizzical look.
“How do you know that?”
“You were part of the 7th SFG? Assigned to operations in Afghanistan for the majority of your enlistment, surrendering your commission as a Captain. Is that correct? What did you like or dislike about your military career? Why was it you left?”
Christopher looked out over the cornfields in the distance.
“Sir,” he said, wringing his hands together. “I don’t really understand why you’re asking these kinds of questions. To be honest, they’re making me a little uncomfortable. I think I – ”
“Please, Brother Christopher,” Mr. Eckey said, putting up a hand. “I don’t mean to pry. As I said, this is a peculiar and rather sensitive situation, not at all normal procedure. So, I do apologize for my rather tactless approach. Let me explain a little, if I can – ”
Christopher tried to relax.
He struggled to repress the memories rising in the back of his mind, the bloody and gruesome images of dead bodies, a horrible, yet all too familiar wave of fear and dread washing over him.
A wave of putrid death enveloped and permeated everything.
He took a deep breath, tried to ignore it.
Mr. Eckey put down his pen again.
“There is a remote monastery in British Colombia. It is of a separate Order, not Cistercian, but similar. It’s rather distinctive, as I am led to believe.”
“What is the Order?” Christopher asked.
Mr. Eckey shook his head.
“You would not be familiar with it,” he said. “There is actually only one monastery in the Order. But it has had a long, and quite fascinating history, to say the least. And, somewhat of a fantastic service.”
“So, why me, then?” Christopher asked. “I’m a novitiate. I don’t have much to offer. I’m not sure what you are asking of me.”
“The Vatican is asking a favor of you, Brother Ward. They are requesting that you take a leave of absence from Saint Joseph’s and visit this other monastery for a time.”
“I’m – I don’t – ”
“I’m honored that the Vatican has called on me,” he said. “I really do feel settled here, though. I would not wish to – ”
Mr. Eckey interrupted.
“Consider it simply a sabbatical of sorts. Without strings attached. We are interested solely in God’s working here in this matter.”
“Are you wanting me to relocate?” Christopher asked.
Mr. Eckey smiled.
“How about we say the Vatican is open and interested in the Father’s call on your life. We simply wish to – test the waters – see if this would or would not be a good fit.”
“So, if I go, and it is not a good fit?”
“Your place here at Saint Joseph’s would be available to you at any time you see fit. Like I said, no strings attached.”
“I would not feel comfortable going without Abbot Greenly’s blessing,” Christopher said.
“You have it,” Mr. Eckey said, his smile widening.
Christopher said nothing.
“Think of it as a vacation. Though, if I’m hearing you correctly, you really are in no need of one. But, then again…. ”
The man shrugged.
“May I – ”
Christopher pondered his words.
“Is it possible to consider this awhile before I decide?”
“Certainly,” Mr. Eckey said. “Because of the situation, though, we would need you to go sooner than later. Is there anything upcoming that you are thinking about in particular?”
Christopher shook his head.
“No,” he said. “I would just like to sit with this for a day or two. Pray about it. How long would the visit be?”
“As long as you need to decide,” Mr. Eckey said. “Preferably a month to start. Longer is encouraged. Like I said, it is a unique situation, so tradition does not really lend itself easily. But, I would ask – ”
He put his notepad and pen back in his briefcase and closed the lid.
“Because of the sensitive nature, the Vatican has requested that you do not discuss this with anyone except me. Not the other monks here, your family, not even Abbot Greenly.”
“But, how – ”
Mr. Eckey put up a hand.
“I’m heading back to discuss the situation with Abbot Greenly before I leave the grounds. He will certainly not have an objection. Not that I can imagine, anyway.”
He fished out a business card from the inside pocket of his blazer.
“Here is my contact information,” he said, handing him the card. “You can reach me on my cell phone any time. Whenever you decide, one way or the other. There is a great need, though, so I do hope you will consider at least visiting.”
Christopher took the card, looked at it, then looked up at Mr. Eckey.
“What kind of need, exactly?”
The man just smiled.
“All in due time,” he said. “Just let us know as soon as you are able.”
Christopher looked back at the card.
“Thank you, Brother Ward, for your time. I do think I can find my way back to the abbot’s office from here.”
He briefly looked around the grounds.
“I do envy you a little,” he said. “What a majestic space you monks have created here. It’s like a slice of Eden. Really.”
He got up, shook Christopher’s hand, then left him there alone, as the stranger retraced his steps to the abbot’s office.
Christopher took a deep breath, then sighed.
The wave of putrid death still lingered as another wind gust blew across the fields, dredging up memories he would have altogether wished could have remained buried, soaking him again in the blood of the past.
He stayed there for a long time, just watching as the endless sea of cornfields waved in the winds.
Buy my book Ashen Monk Mountain to find out what this cryptic and mysterious appointment is the Vatican is asking Christopher to take on. An unheard of monastery, hidden deep in the Canadian Rockies? A secret mission and call? What in the world could be going on?
Click here and grab your copy today! Whatever you do, don’t let this fantastically epic story get away!
But, trust me when I say, you’re not going to believe the truth even when you discover it for yourself. Find out what secrets lay hidden underfoot at Ashen Monk Mountain!