“Maintenance” – dirty word?
Rev John Rietveld
Synod this month will be faced with usual tensions between inreach and
outreach, between maintaining pastoral work and looking to the ‘fields
white unto harvest’. Some years ago our now Home Mission Coordinator
wrote an article on T&S appealing for balance. The editor thought that
the issues raised would be relevant – not only for Synod but also in
connection with this month’s Forum 2000 theme ‘Change’. We therefore
offer this reprint.
With Synod behind us, The Reformed Churches of Australia have firmly
taken hold of the Great Commission, we have made some great statements,
and many are greatly encouraged. Some disquieting elements have crept
in, however, and are causing concerns. Missions is all the go, all the
rage, while the normal pastoral work? Well, that’s maintenance. Or, it’s
And the concerns are being voiced! What has happened to the high calling
of the ministry? The command of God to preach the Word, in season and
out? What has happened to the task of being a faithful undershepherd of
the sheep? Don’t our people need visiting and pastoral oversight
When one expresses the pastoral task of the Church as “only”
maintenance, we are in grave danger indeed. Add to that the fact that
some Pastors are doing less and less visitation, and that a common
complaint is that members don’t see their pastor anymore, then we have a
problem on our hands. And, to a greater or lesser degree, in some
quarters it appears as if pastors are taking more of a professional
approach. Forty or Fifty hours a week! Don’t ring at awkward times!
Don’t expect me to solve all your problems…!
Denigrating the pastoral role, the visitation, faithful and constant
work with those under discipline will, in the long run, make the Church
a spineless jellyfish. It’s not “only” maintenance! It’s the life of the
church, the heartbeat of health. And through it, the Church grows, not
only in grace, but also in numbers. Garry Bouma’s little study, “How the
Saints Persevere” (Monash Press) is a very helpful study here. It should
be read by all those who are “into” mission. It should also be read by
Is it possible, however, that maintenance is not a dirty word, but a
misunderstood one? That maintenance is one facet of the Church’s
calling, and mission the other? That traditionally and historically we
have spent the majority of our time, our structures, our training
procedures, and perhaps even our theological reflection, on the pastoral
role of and within the Church?
Maintenance is the word coined to cover that vital area of the Church’s
calling. It is not a derogatory term. It is not “only” maintenance. It
is maintenance in distinction from (but not separated from) mission.
Because if “only” maintenance is one danger, then an equal danger is
“only” a bit of evangelism. We also heard that in some quarters. Oh yes,
a bit of evangelism is good for the Church. Yes, we have had an interest
in evangelism from time to time. But don’t set too much time aside for
it. Don’t train people for it. Preaching and pastoral work – that is
It may well be that we need again to ask the question of primacy. Is
mission first? Or maintenance? Jesus said to Peter, “Feed my sheep!”
Maintenance is a command. He also said, “As the Father has sent Me, so I
send you!” Mission is also a command. What the Church needs to wrestle
with is the matter of balance. It is not either/or, but both/and.
Perhaps an illustration from industry could help. Years ago I worked for
a firm whose business it was to supply crushed blue metal for the
railway between Townsville and Mt. Isa. They employed explosives
experts, drillers, front-end loader drivers, plant operators, truck
drivers, cooks and a whole lot more. Their various tasks were to blow
mountains apart, crush granite, load trucks and deliver blue metal to
the railway siding. Everything was geared to that. For five and a half
days per week there was noise and dust everywhere, explosions, the
rumbling of a monstrous crushing plant and trucks and front-end loaders
roaring around all over the place.
On Saturday afternoon all that stopped. Out would come oilcans,
grease-guns, steam-cleaning equipment, spanners and the like. Worn
machinery parts were replaced. Engines were cleaned and tuned. Equipment
was lubricated and checked. Saturday afternoon was “maintenance” time.
The whole plant was undergoing maintenance so that it could carry out
The Church’s mission IS NOT TO CARRY OUT MAINTENANCE. It is to proclaim
the gospel of the kingdom, to disciple the nations. It is to reach into
a rebellious world, with the word of life, the call to repent and
believe in Christ Jesus. The maintenance of the Church is to help
struggling saints, to heal bruised hearts, to renew worn members. It is
to tune those who are running roughly, to repair and restore those who
are broken, to pour the oil of God’s love and the Spirit’s power onto
and into Christians who are clogged with the dust of battle.
But please, let us not mistake maintenance for mission, nor let us
denigrate the one or the other. Both come from the Christ who taught us
the great missionary prayer: “Your Kingdom come!” When He returns, it
really will be “Mission Accomplished!”
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