Ministers today live in a very complex world and as they seek to exercise their ministry, they are confronted with a variety of problems, including apathy, indifference, opposition, rejection, and burnouts. Contemporary ministers also face a problem of identity. In a postmodern world, ministers are looking for models that will serve as paradigms for their ministry. It is common for today’s ministers to model their ministries after successful administrators, famous business executives, popular coaches, or compassionate clinical psychologists.
The prophet Jeremiah is a good model for Christian ministry. In Jeremiah, ministers find a model of ministry that is consistent with the biblical vision and one that can empower ministers to exercise an effective prophetic ministry in the new millennium.
Although Jeremiah lived in a different historical and cultural situation from ministers today, Jeremiah’s ministry provides evidence of valid and relevant qualities that ministers must possess, regardless of the time and place of their ministries.
When God called Jeremiah to the prophetic ministry, God called him to do an almost impossible work. Jeremiah was called to minister to a rebellious people. He was born in the last days of Manasseh’s reign, a time of great apostasy in the religious life of Israel. He was called into the prophetic ministry during the reign of Josiah, a time of great religious revival. However, most of his ministry occurred during the last years of the Southern Kingdom, a time of political unrest, religious turmoil, and social inequalities.
The message and person of Jeremiah provide an invaluable model for contemporary ministers. In the message of Jeremiah, people hear a message of judgment against those who refused to believe the word that God had sent to them; a message of hope and comfort for those committed Israelites who dared to be faithful to God in the midst of religious unfaithfulness. In the person of Jeremiah people see a minister who had a strong conviction about his call, who had a personal and intimate relationship with God, who understood the meaning and power of prayer, and who struggled to present to his people a better understanding of the true meaning of life before God.
In Jeremiah people see a minister who strives to bring his people back to God by emphasizing the need for trust and faith in the midst of chaos. In Jeremiah people also see a person of integrity, a minister who proclaimed what the people needed to hear even at the cost of his own popularity. In addition, in the life and ministry of Jeremiah people find a minister who grieved and lamented for his people, a minister who suffered because, with, and for his people.
The life and sufferings of Jeremiah for his people are, in many respects, a mirror that displays God’s love for Israel. In the life and ministry of Jeremiah people can see a God who grieves over the tragic plight of his people. When Jesus asked His disciple: Who do people say that the Son of Man is? The disciples answered: Some say [that you are] Jeremiah (Matthew 16:14). The fact that many people saw Jeremiah in the life and ministry of Jesus must continually remind ministers and congregations today that a ministry of love and compassion is modeled upon an effective prophetic ministry.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary