If there has been one book that has been helpful to me in understanding service and ministry in the church community, it has been Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book Life Together. Though the entire book is worth the read, I have found that his chapter on ministry (chapter 4) to be one that I continue to reread from time to time. It is in this chapter that Bonhoeffer highlights four acts of service that believers owe to each other and to which I would like to expand on for the next few posts.
A Quick Look At Bonhoeffer
Before we look at Bonhoeffer’s list of services we owe each other, it’s important to know a bit about Bonhoeffer himself. He was born in Berlin in 1906 and was a theologian, a churchman, and led an underground seminary during the Nazi regime. Most importantly, Bonhoeffer took up the pen of which his work, The Cost of Discipleship, has been widely read. Bonhoeffer was hanged in 1945 by the Gestapo on charges of conspiracy to kill Hitler.
A key to understanding Bonhoeffer is his Christology. For Bonhoeffer, Christ and the cross were central in his thought and dictated his understanding of the church and its ministry to others. Therefore, Life Together is Bonhoeffer’s understanding of Christian community in which Christ is at the center.
For more biographical information on Bonhoeffer I suggest Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas. For a good understanding of his theology and thought, Bonhoeffer on the Christian Life by Stephen J. Nichols is valuable.
The Ministries We Owe Each Other
As Bonhoeffer begins to write of the ministries we are to perform for each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, he is aware that there is no greater service than to proclaim God’s word to one another. However, he writes that “a Christian community does not consist solely of preachers of the Word.” Other ministry must not be overlooked for if they are, “we can go monstrously wrong.”
The services that Bonhoeffer writes that we owe each other, and of which we will examine a bit more closely, are: the ministry of listening, the ministry of helpfulness, the ministry of bearing, and the ministry of proclaiming.
The First Service
The first service that Bonhoeffer writes of is the ministry of listening. He writes that “just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them.” We are often quick to want to contribute a word (especially preacher-types), but we must not “forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.”
We must realize that there are many people who are in need of a listening ear. This is especially true in the busy and hurried culture in which we live. But because we also are caught up in living such fast-paced lives, we don’t have time to listen to those in need. But Bonhoeffer writes that “anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet [listening to others] will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and for his own follies.”
I feel that listening however, is not just a ministry to our Christian community. It is something that we as Christ-followers should give to the world around us. Consider sharing the gospel with others. Is not listening a vital ingredient? Jonathan Dodson writes:
The work or calling of an evangelist isn’t to drop names, recite presentations, or campaign politics. Rather, the work of the evangelist is to listen patiently for minutes, hours, days, weeks, and years in order to wisely show others how the gospel is actually worth believing.
Let us remember the need to listen. “Christians have forgotten,” writes Bonhoeffer, “that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by Him who is Himself the great listener and whose work they should share.” We must therefore, practice the ministry of listening for as we do, we “listen with the ears of God in order that we may speak the Word of God.”