The Commission to Minister
Rev. Meredith J. Sprunger
- "If you are not a positive and missionary evangel of your religion, you are self-deceived in that what you call religion is only a traditional belief or a mere system of intellectual philosophy." [ 160:5.3 ]
- "Service more service, increased service, difficult service, adventurous service, and at last divine and perfect service is the goal of time and the destination of space." [ 28:6.16 ]
The distinctive characteristic of the religion of the Spirit is the centrality of service and evangelism. Both Jesus and the authors of The Urantia Book point out that anyone who has experienced a dynamic personal relationship with God and has dedicated themselves to the demands of this relationship must do something about it. Genuine religion always motivates action and changes lives.
Many of us have received just enough of an inoculation of religion to have developed an immunity to the real thing. We can comfortably intellectualize and emote about it endlessly and thereby escape the fruit-bearing demands of action. Neither high sounding words, grandiose plans, nor good intentions are substitutes for service and ministry, for actually doing the Father's will.
The Centrality of Service
Jesus constantly emphasized the centrality of service and fruit-bearing in our relationship with the Father. Religionists have often side-stepped the demanding discipline of spiritual ministry by engaging in religious substitutes such as theologizing, in-group rule-making, legalism, defensive power struggles, dogmatic proclamation, and mystic contemplation. The basic teaching of Jesus can be summarized by three words: attitude, action, and outreach. We are to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind, and our neighbor as our self.
We actualize this love in the concrete action of creative service; and this ministry is to be directed in an outreach to the ends of the earth.
Let us recall in more detail what Jesus has to say about this life of ministering to our fellows. In the parable of the Sower he illustrates the importance of sowing the seeds of truth. This seed will obviously fall on different types of soil. The sowing is our responsibility, but the results, to a large extent, are in greater hands. We are reminded in Paper 48, section 7 of The Urantia Book that "The evolving soul is not made divine by what it does, but by what it strives to do." We ought to strive to whet the appetites of our associates for truth, but not be overly concerned about results.
The parable of the Two Sons points out that good intentions are not enough; actually doing the Father's will is required of all true sons and daughters of the heavenly Father. Or as Matthew phrases it, "Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." (Matt. 7:21) To Peter he said, "Feed my sheep." [192:2.4]
The parables of the Good Samaritan, the Lost Sheep, and the Lost Coin all emphasize the importance of reaching out to others. Cults and Study Groups tend to be centripetal, inward; their primary relationships and focus is with insiders. Knowledge is shared with in-group members and special guidance is often claimed by the select few. A mature religion or religionist is open and outgoing and seeks to bring ministry to all humankind. When we turn from our in-group preoccupations, we see that, indeed, the "fields are white for the harvest but the laborers are few." The world hungers for a vision of a larger understanding of the universe and of God. Our world is desperately in need of the enlarged reality paradigm of the Fifth Epochal Revelation.
Jesus admonishes us that we are responsible for amplifying and sharing the truth that has been given to us. At 176:3.7 we read, "Truth is living; the Spirit of Truth is ever leading the children of light into new realms of spiritual reality and divine service. You are not given truth to crystallize into settled, safe, and honored forms. Your revelation of truth must be so enhanced by passing through your personal experience that new beauty and actual spiritual gains will be disclosed to all who behold your spiritual fruits and in consequence thereof are led to glorify the Father who is in heaven. Only those faithful servants who thus grow in the knowledge of the truth, and who thereby develop the capacity for divine appreciation of spiritual realities, can ever hope to enter fully into the joy of their lord.' What a sorry sight for successive generations of the professed followers of Jesus to say regarding their stewardship of divine truth: Here, Master, is the truth you committed to us a hundred or a thousand years ago. We have lost nothing; we have faithfully preserved all you gave us; we have allowed no changes to be made in that which you taught us; here is the truth you gave us.' But such a plea concerning spiritual indolence will not justify the barren steward of truth in the presence of the Master. In accordance with the truth committed to your hands will the Master of truth require reckoning."
A Clarion Call for Action
These ringing words of the authors of The Urantia Book are a clarion call for action and growth! Are we becoming missionary evangels or in-group comfort seekers? We are told at 25:4.12, "In the universal regime you are not reckoned as having possessed yourself of knowledge and truth until you have demonstrated your ability and your willingness to impart this knowledge to others."
The latest and greatest truth which the Master has committed into our hands is the Fifth Epochal Revelation. What fruits of the spirit show that you have done something creative in spreading this enlarged vision of truth in your community and in the world Where have you sown this improved seed of truth Are you cultivating personal and social soil and planting seeds with care; or, are you merely letting nature take its course and busying yourself with other things while the winds of chance broadcast the seeds at random Are you content to admire this beautiful treasure of wisdom, drinking in its great truths, and circumspectly sharing them with a few initiates of your in-group and then returning the treasure again to its closet Or are you putting this treasure to work in the world where it can enrich all of the peoples of the earth
A mere handful of apostles and disciples of the Fourth Epochal Revelation turned the Roman world up-side-down. Although thousands of people are students of The Urantia Book most of them are "closet" followers of the Fifth Epochal Revelation. After decades of preparing for the time when we will have an organized outreach program, the world, generally, is oblivious of its existence. I think the time has come to initiate a wise, but open, outreach ministry to the world. Obviously, this will not be easy. "The religion of the spirit means effort, struggle, conflict, faith, determination, love, loyalty, and progress." [155:5.11]
The Key Function of Laypersons
I would remind you that virtually all of the major spiritual advances of history were spearheaded by laypersons. The religious professionals not only are the stewards of vested interests, but their spiritual vision has been shaped and circumscribed by institutional forms and theological structures. After forty years of trying to interest the most progressive mainline ministers in The Urantia Book, I have regrettably come to realize that the paradigm shift to a new revelation is just too great for them. It was perfectly natural for the priests living in Jerusalem to doubt that anything of real value could originate in Nazareth. This places an extraordinary responsibility in the hands of lay people for the initiation of a spiritual renaissance powered by the Fifth Epochal Revelation.
It is easy for new spiritual movements to be captured by cult dynamics. The only escape from this cultocentric trap is to follow the ministry Jesus taught his apostles that of engaging in an active outgoing proclamation of the good news. We can transcend the cultocentric predicament through a courageous attempt to share these great truths with all humankind. I am convinced that the base for such evangelistic activities must be religious institutions dedicated to outreach ministry. I would invite all serious students of the Fifth Epochal Revelation to become missionary evangels in some form of active outreach ministry.
This ministry can take many forms and each of us must discover which function or channel we find creative. We can serve the Universal Father in every vocation and through all of the arts and sciences. We need to seek the Father's guidance and direction in our service. All of us are not called to the same ministry. Courageously keep step with the music that you hear. Whether it be the call of the trumpets, the cadence of the drums, the melody of the woodwinds, the exquisite strains of the violins, or the quieting harmony of the harp follow your own inner leading and so will the Father's symphony of service benefit all humankind.
There are three basic forms of service in which each of us is challenged to participate. First, we should strive to live the great truths given to us. This is elemental. Second, we ought to engage in various kinds of material service. We should aid the needy, work for social, economic, and legal justice, and foster the actualization of human well-being. Finally, and most importantly, we are called to engage in a spiritual ministry to the minds and souls of our fellows. This sharing and proclamation of the good news has, historically, effected the greatest transformation of human life and society of all of the forms of ministry. Spiritual ministry is the most vital and far-reaching way to share the great truths of revelation and experience.
The Unique Function of the Urantia Spiritual Paradigm
After more than forty years of experimenting with ways to "bootleg" the teachings of the Fifth Epochal Revelation, I am convinced that only the unique cosmological reality paradigm of The Urantia Book itself has the potential to bring a spiritual renaissance to our planet. Most of the concepts of The Urantia Book are already in the thought patterns of Western Civilization. It is the unique integration of these ideas in a new cosmological setting presented in the Fifth Epochal Revelation that makes them effective. Many theologians, ministers, and educators are currently presenting the essential truths of The Urantia Book in their teaching. This is doing much good but it lacks the integrative spiritual vision and power of the Fifth Epochal Revelation. Only the coherent message of The Urantia Book itself has the dynamic to bring about a transformation of the contemporary human condition.
I recognize that such an open ministry is not for timid souls. It is difficult for people who are balanced, solid citizens in their communities to risk being viewed as "different" or belonging to some strange cult or movement. Pioneers always face difficulty and hardship. Spiritual pioneering is a rigorous and lonely path of service. Do not imagine that opposition and oppression are only aberrations of the past. New and enlarged presentations of truth have always been, and will always be, attack by religious traditionalists and fundamentalists.
Nevertheless, for those who have the courage, guided by wisdom, to bring a knowledge of the Fifth Epochal Revelation to the individuals and the institutions of our world are engaging in one of the most important ministries of our times. Such missionary evangels will open the door to a spiritual dynamic that will transform our planet in the next thousand years. An Archangel of Nebadon reminds us, "The weak indulge in resolutions, but the strong act. Life is but a days work do it well. The act is ours; the consequences Gods." [48:7.13]
Principles of Ministry
Whatever form of outreach ministry you should choose to engage in, let me share some principles of ministry that may help to guide this service. I would invite you to adapt, internalize, and live by the following seven principles of ministry:
- 1. Use wisdom and balance in all of your service. Avoid extremes, exhibitionism, oversell, and the spectacular. Learn to distinguish between artistic good taste and the theatrical. Remember that personal contact is more effective than impersonal mass communication. Understand the wisdom and effectiveness of small groups. These groups form coalitions and networks more open and dynamic than hierarchical bureaucracies and self-serving cults. Such a network is many times greater than the sum of its parts. It has multiple leadership, pluralistic policies, and its center is every where. Start were people are, not where you are. Communicate in their frames of reference and anticipate their natural reactions. Combine the most expert knowledge with the highest values in all of your ministry. Master your mind through the power of the spirit. Be strong in the spirit; know that in liaison with God nothing can defeat the spiritual purposes of your life. Be fearless but act with discretion.
- 2. Let love create the atmosphere of all of your interpersonal relationships. Remember that you cannot communicate effectively with others unless you positively and unconditionally accept them with all of their imperfections. Strive to prevent your own biases and limitations from interfering or distorting your service to them. Support, stimulate, and help people; do not seek to coerce them. See all of your fellows as persons of worth and strive to build their self-confidence and self-respect. Be natural and genuine and enjoy their company. Serve out of love, a thankful heart, and the joy of the act itself. Ministry is an intrinsic activity of the creative mind and the loving soul. Extrinsic motivation in service compromises its spiritual value. Serving God even for good extrinsic purposes such as building your study group or church, or even to bring about a spiritual renaissance limits its spiritual value and personal satisfaction. Minister out of the intrinsic motivation of love, thankfulness, and joy and the extrinsic repercussions or results will largely take care of themselves. Serve with the openness of creative love; but do not try to manipulate people.
- 3.Temper your personal convictions with philosophic objectivity. Always be honest and open. Cultivate freedom of opinion and respect the right of others to disagree with your most deeply held convictions. Honor each person's God-given right to self-determination. Try to establish common ground but do not contend with people. Let your enthusiasm for truth animate your discussions but never knowingly put people down or offend.
- 4. Recognize that evolution is the underlying principle of life. Do not expect immediate results. All growth is unconscious and has mustard seed beginnings. The roots of a new tree of life take decades to penetrate the rocks of tradition on which it is planted. Be patient but do not become the victim of a fearful "do-nothing" psychology and bury your talents and treasure in stagnation or cult obscurities. Be concerned about ministering effectively but relatively unconcerned about results.
- Realize that your ministry must be planned and conducted in the context of the law of readiness. Always minister at the point of evolutionary readiness but do not confuse this basic preparation for the surface conditions of psychological and social readiness. All who have prophetic vision know that evolution, the plow of history, eventually breaks the crust of individual resistance and moves the clods of social stagnation. Be loyal and persistent in your service without needing to see results or be honored by success. It is our privilege and responsibility to minister; the results are in the hands of God the Supreme. In all things cultivate in yourself the mind and attitude of the Supreme. The vicissitudes of time do not change the goals of eternity.
- 5. Be actively involved in routine, commonplace experiences. Grow, bloom, and bear fruit in the soil where you are planted. If possible, keep your old social and religious ties strong and healthy. Share at the level of spiritual acceptance. When you are a tadpole don't pretend to be a trout or an eagle. Only dedicated and creative tadpoling will bring you inner satisfaction and a sense of fulfillment. These mundane activities and identifications will bring a sense of proportion, genuineness, and integrity to your ministry. Forget the failures of the past and do not allow yourself to be preoccupied anticipating the future. Live in the present in constant fellowship with the Universal Father and absorbed in the existential moment of experience.
- 6. Cultivate an active sense of humor. Humor helps us maintain a proper sense of perspective. You can carry useful man-sized or woman-sized loads when you get the world off your shoulders. Do not take yourself too seriously even though you are participating in important work. Be unconcerned about prestige and status. Strive to avoid self-contemplation and cultivate self-forgetfulness. Finite personalities can become tragic figures when they lose their sense of perspective and fail to appreciate the comedy of life. We need to learn to laugh at our selves and the frustrating, ridiculous, and absurd situations we encounter. A light hearted spirit can be a great asset in carrying the sometimes heavy burdens of ministry.
- 7. Above all, live with joy in your heart and find joy in your ministry. You belong to the Father's kingdom which has an eternal future of unimaginable adventure and reward. Nothing can long prevent the fulfillment of your most ardent spiritual hopes and fondest dreams. All who experience this faith in an eternal destiny live with irrepressible joy even in the midst of material hardship, social conflict, and seeming personal defeat. As you free yourself from the slavery of the lure of things, the adoration or criticism of people, and the importance or preoccupation with self, you will experience the liberating joys of service. You will also discover that in doing so you are free from the egocentric social pressure of being successful and establishing or maintaining a reputation.
- When our will is in harmony with the Universal Father, the joy of service also brings a deep inner peace. When you no longer experience this peace of mind and joy in your ministry, find another channel of service which does fill your heart with joy because you feel that you are where you belong, where your heavenly Father wishes you to serve.
Let us now summarize what we have shared together. Jesus by example and teaching tells us the one thing necessary in our relationship with the Universal Father is to experience a personal fellowship with him, a living faith. This living faith activates three great spiritual truth responses:
- 1. Loving attitudes toward God and our fellows
- 2. Dedicated action in service motivation
- 3. Outreach ministry communicating the good news to all the world.
These three great spiritual truth responses are augmented by seven principles of ministry: wisdom initiation, love radiation, philosophical discretion, evolutionary consideration, commonplace participation, humor realization, and joyful consummation.
Now may living faith, the one all-encompassing requirement of sonship, inspire us to actualize the great truth responses of love and service, guided and enhanced by the seven-fold principles of ministry. May each of us experience Godspeed and joy in the adventure of our commission to minister!