Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Ten propositions on being a minister

by Kim Fabricius

A few years ago, as part of a working group in the Welsh Synod of the United Reformed Church, I wrote a report to launch a programme for local churches to explore the question, “What are ministers for?” It was entitled Great Expectations. I began by deconstructing the question, suggesting that its pragmatism (as I would now put it) is theologically vulgar, and that, in any case, it begs a couple of questions: namely, that before we can say what ministers are for, we need to know what the church is for; and before we can say what the church is for, we need to know what God is up to. And as what God is up to is nothing less than cosmic reconciliation and renewal, and as the church is called to bear witness to God’s great work-in-progress, insofar as ministers are “for” anything, it has to do with helping to align the church with the missio Dei.

Having thrown a spanner into the works, I then got down to some nuts and bolts. Here is an adapted summary.

1. Ministers should be able to lead and to organise, but they are not called to be managers – and woe unto the minister who would run the one, holy, catholic, apostolic – and “efficient” McChurch!

2. Ministers should be able to conduct worship winsomely and to preach intelligently – but woe unto the minister who would be an entertainer or cheerleader – or turn prayer into a “resource.”

3. Ministers should be able to listen, empathise, care, advise, and give spiritual direction, but they are not called to be therapists, let alone life-style coaches – and woe unto the minister who would turn out well-balanced citizens who make the system “work”!

4. Ministers are not called to be casual visitors, but they should certainly be sharing in the lives of their people, and meeting them where they are most truly themselves, in the quotidian as well as the crisis – often at home and, for chaplaincies, at work – laughing with those who laugh and weeping with those who weep.

5. Ministers are not called to be scholars, but they need to rediscover their roles as community theologians (as teachers, not just “facilitators”). Breaking “the strange silence of the Bible in the church” (James Smart), they must ensure that the scriptures are at the centre of congregational life, and that their churches are cultures of learning. They must also ensure that the hermeneutical and ethical tasks are one, shaping character as well as transforming minds.

6. Ministers are not called to be scientists or sociologists, but they should be keen observers of, and articulate commentators on, what is happening in the world, to enable their congregations to engage their faith with their life and work, vigilantly discern the signs of the times, and boldly witness to Christ in the polis.

7. Ministers are not chairmen of the board, and their ministries should be exercised collaboratively. And ministers should not be doing what others can do; otherwise they disempower them and rob them of their own ministries. Making themselves as redundant and unnecessary as possible, ministers should help people to discover and deploy their own particular grace-gifts, equipping the saints for building up the body of Christ.

8. Ministers are shepherds – though many a member would prefer a pet lamb. As they call their flock to new pastures, and to experimental patterns and models of ministry, they are inevitably going to piss off some of the fat sheep. So ministers must expect to be butted. Another zoological metaphor: ministers should be horseflies, not butterflies – better to be swatted than mounted.

9. Ministers represent the local church to the wider church, and the wider church to the local church – and the church is very wide. You know the story of the Welsh parch who was finally rescued after years stranded on a desert island, where he had built a little village: when the sailors asked why he had constructed two churches, he replied, “That is the one I don’t attend.” Ministers should nurture ecumenical collegiality. And if it is said that an ecumenical freeze has set in, Emily Dickinson wrote: “Winter under cultivation / Is as arable as spring.”

10. Finally, ministers, remember this: your congregations are unlikely to resemble the early church in Acts, so whenever you get stressed out, read Paul’s Corinthian correspondence – and thank God for the awkward buggers he has given you to love!

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