Tuesday 1 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!


Anonymous said...

As a lay youth minister and Divinity student I'm often impatient with my church's lack of resemblance to the church of Acts. Thanks for reminding me to have patience even as I continue to nudge the youth and the adults toward deeper commitment to Christ.

It's so hard to walk the line between prophetic witness and compassionate shepherding. Undoubtedly the two ought to converge, but I suppose it will take me a long time to learn how to do both with grace.

When I'm ordained I hope to shepherd the local church with both passion and compassion.
Thanks again for your reminders of "what a pastor is for."

W. Travis McMaken said...


This is my favorite list that you have done, and the one that I have most reflectivly and reflectively agreed with.

Re: #5, however...

It seems to me that churches of all stripes need either to rediscover or revitalize the role of canon theologian. Most denominations are big on continuing education, and what better continuing theological education than to be interacting with a professionally trained canon theologian?

::aaron g:: said...

Hi Kim: This reads like some of your early lists. I liked the rhythm.

Eugene Peterson lectures on a very similar topic: “What are pastors good for?” I have a link up on my blog.

Anonymous said...

Hi guys,

I'm glad that I've struck a chord - so far! And WTM, your comment about canon theologians - Hooray! Interestingly, I recently had a constructive conversation with our Provincial Moderator about just that - in the URC it would be a "Synod Theologian". Now would be just the time to do something about it too - we're in the midst of restructuring in the URC - but I suspect that nothing will happen. Like a mighty tortoise moves the church of God!

Anonymous said...

What's a "life coach?" The name sounds disturbing. I probably won't like the answer, I think.

If we think in broader terms that peer-reviewed papers with footnotes, then I think all ministers are called to be scholars, although that certainly doesn't exhaust their calling. (Nothing wrong with those ministers who do write peer-reviewed papers with footnotes, either, unless they neglect their other duties.) I remember that odd duck from my tradition, Roger Williams (briefly a Baptist, but long a [small-b] baptist!), referred to all Christians as "scholars" who were supposed to be learning from the risen Christ through the Spirit (speaking in the Word and the community). Williams reminded "all Christ's scholars" of their duty to "try all things" to see what is of God.

Ministers as pastor-theologians, should both be scholarly and encourage such in the congregation. Again, without this coming anywhere close to exhausting the calling of church or minister.

Other than that, I liked this list, Kim. It clarified more by via negativa, but that can be a very good thing.

Anonymous said...

Hi Michael,

Yes, "scholars" ... I guess I'm afraid to use the word for tactical reasons. In the UK church, even the word "teacher" is considered too "directive" by some - they prefer that awful management-speak term "facilitator", which has overtaken "enabler" as ecclesial neologism of the month. His/Her job is to get people to "share", never mind if it's a sharing of ignorance. And until recently in the Welsh Synod, we used to have an Education Officer; but "education" came to be considered too threatening, so now the beast is a "Training Officer" (that fierce pragmatism again). I despair!

By the way, I thought "life-style coach" was another one of those lamebrain self-inventions that crossed the Pond from the US. May the you be spared these particular quacks flying west!

Chris Price said...

an excellent post.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reminder of what is important. It is easy to forget sometimes. I agree,you can keep McChurch and all the CEO-like models and methods of leadership.

The idea of minister (or anybody) as scholar in the UK, does seem to be a problem. The need to encourage congregations to think a little about life and faith maybe where the life coach idea comes from.

JP said...

11. Ministers are called to be bridge-builders, the literal meaning of the Roman term pontifex. They stand in that awkward intersection among the people and between the people and God. Or is this just the basic assumption that underlies all the other propositions?

Anonymous said...

Hi JP,

"Bridge-builders" - absolutely! As a matter of fact, in my longer original paper, I wrote of ministers encouraging their members in "constructive engagement with the world... Practically, speaking [I continued], such engagement will entail getting stuck in the life of the local community and acting as bridge-builders. Many churches are alienated from their local community - and vice-versa. There are culture gaps and barriers of indifference, suspicion and resentment. The church is often known more for its moral posturing than for bringing life in all its fullness. Ministers need to be go-betweens, building bridges from both ends, so that the community can trust the church and the church may serve the community ..."

So thanks for your point!

Anonymous said...

"Life coach" probably was a "lamebrain American invention." The term has that dreadful feel of "Southern California meets Madison Avenue." Sometimes I give thanks that, living in Kentucky, I can miss some of the worst parts of popular culture. I have never seen a "reality TV show" or watched any "pop idol" contests, for instance. Alas, it is harder to avoid NASCAR in these parts (sigh)!
In 2000, when I was Visiting Prof. at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, I had great fun. It's a great school. But the Southern California surrounding culture often got on my nerves.

The maiden said...

Bravo! I'm copying these and hanging them up over my parish office desk. The next time I find myself banging my head against the wall, they'll be there waiting for me!

Anonymous said...

You manage to get "piss" in again, but "Jesus" not once.

Anonymous said...

The apostles, appointed by the Lord, progressively carried out their mission by calling — in various but complementary ways — other men as bishops, as priests and as deacons in order to fulfill the command of the risen Jesus who sent them forth to all people in every age.

The writings of the New Testament are unanimous in stressing that it is the same Spirit of Christ who introduces these men chosen from among their brethren into the ministry Through the laying on of hands (cf. Acts 6:6; 1 Tm. 4:14; 5:22; 2 Tm. 1:6) which transmits the gift of the Spirit, they are called and empowered to continue the same ministry of reconciliation, of shepherding the flock of God and of teaching (cf. Acts 20:28; 1 Pt. 5:2).

Therefore, priests are called to prolong the presence of Christ, the one high priest, embodying his way of life and making him visible in the midst of the flock entrusted to their care. We find this clearly and precisely stated in the first letter of Peter: “I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed. Tend the flock of God that is your charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd is manifested you will obtain the unfading crown of glory” (1 Pt. 5:1-4).

In the Church and on behalf of the Church, priests are a sacramental representation of Jesus Christ — the head and shepherd — authoritatively proclaiming his word, repeating his acts of forgiveness and his offer of salvation — particularly in baptism, penance and the Eucharist, showing his loving concern to the point of a total gift of self for the flock, which they gather into unity and lead to the Father through Christ and in the Spirit. In a word, priests exist and act in order to proclaim the Gospel to the world and to build up the Church in the name and person of Christ the head and shepherd.

This is the ordinary and proper way in which ordained ministers share in the one priesthood of Christ. By the sacramental anointing of holy orders, the Holy Spirit configures them in a new and special way to Jesus Christ the head and shepherd; he forms and strengthens them with his pastoral charity; and he gives them an authoritative role in the Church as servants of the proclamation of the Gospel to every people and of the fullness of Christian life of all the baptized.

The truth of the priest as it emerges from the Word of God, that is, from Jesus Christ himself and from his constitutive plan for the Church, is thus proclaimed with joyful gratitude by the Preface of the liturgy of the Chrism Mass: “By your Holy Spirit you anointed your only Son high priest of the new and eternal covenant. With wisdom and love you have planned that this one priesthood should continue in the Church. Christ gives the dignity of a royal priesthood to the people he has made his own. From these, with a brother’s love, he chooses men to share his sacred ministry by the laying on of hands. He appointed them to renew in his name the sacrifice of redemption as they set before your family his paschal meal. He calls them to lead your holy people in love, nourish them by your word and strengthen them through the sacraments. Father, they are to give their live in your service and for the salvation of your people as they strive to grow in the likeness of Christ and honor you by their courageous witness of faith and love.”

Peter Rohloff said...

Thanks for the post. I especially like the bits about managerial and business-minded ministers, and your point that ministry is not therapy is well taken and timely. I have a response of sorts up on my own blog.

SaintSimon said...


I will join the throngs who print this up and frame it for their wall.

John Paul -

Your comments start really well but then go seriously adrift. The Royal Priesthood includes every man, woman and child in the church without distinction. The function of the minister is just one function within that priesthood, which is why Kim says the minister should not try to do it all.

Anonymous said...


I wonder if there is a difference between therapy and spiritual guidance and what it would be. I've always had difficulty with the experiential distinction between the psychological and the spiritual in that I wouldn't know how to tell them apart.

thegreatswalmi said...

*a collective sigh of communal relief goes up amongst ministers of all stripes*

thanks again Kim. Once more you've peeled back layers of inappropriate expectation and guilt-infused job description to give us the heart of a minister, that is, the imitation and declaration of the beating heart of christ for his people.
your final point reminded me very much of bonhoeffer in life together. a good, albeit nit-picky book, for me on a regular basis.

much appreciated.


Dai Corleone said...

This list seems suspiciously like my friend Jake Coolicus' post on
Ten Proposals for Being a Pastor Theologian. I smell plagarism!

Anonymous said...

Hi John Paul,

Thank you for your sketch of a Catholic theology of ordained ministry. My 10 Ps, of course, do not pretend to be a theology of ordained minstry as such; and I shouldn't think that a priest in the Roman tradition (or Anglo-Catholic or Orthodox tradition for that matter) would have any problems with what I say, only with what I don't say.

It has been said that Luther abolished the laity and Calvin the priesthood; in any case, my own Reformed tradition acknowledges no absolute distinction between the two. Whereas the Catholic Church teaches that ordination confers a special power, character, and status - potestas, character indelibilis, "holy orders" - with particular reference to eucharistic presidency, the Reformed tradition teaches that ordination is essentially a matter of good ecclesial order involving the prayerful recognition and authorisation of a particular charism and calling. There is (if you like) no mystique to the ordained ministry in the Reformed tradition, and the minister presides at the sacrament - and, of course, preaches the Word! - by virtue of his (or her!) role as an acknowledged leader of the church. Moreover, he is understood to be a pointer to Christ, not an icon of Christ.

The Reformed tradition further teaches that the priestly vocation of interceding for the world is given to all Christians: hence the doctrine of the "priesthood of all believers".

Nevertheless, the Reformed tradition regards the minstry of Word and sacrament as foundational - they are the notae by which the church is recognised - and teaches that it is the responsibility of the Christian community to set apart and commission particular people to exercise this minstry on its behalf. Thus (in the words of Gordon Rupp) "the priesthood of all believers did not mean for the reformers what it tends to mean for us, 'an otiose ministry and an omnicompetent laity'. The reformers did not think that anyone could do anything in church, far from it. They discovered something much more exciting - that the whole people of God participated in the intercessionary priesthood of Christ." In short, in the Reformed tradition there is no separated priesthood, rather there is a common priesthood from which is derived the distinct ministry of Word and sacrament.

By the way, T. F. Torrance observes that "It should be pointed out that the term 'priest' (hiereus) was never applied in the Apostolic Foundation of the Church to the ordained ministry, but was applied only to Jesus Christ himself and in the plural, in a corporate form, to the Church as a whole. It was in keeping with this apostolic tradition that the priesthood was understood in classical Anglicanism. The English word 'priest', of course, derives from 'presbyter' and is not a translation of 'sacerdos', and was regularly used in the sense of presbyter, not in the sense of a sacrificing priest."

And plagiarism, David? How very dare you! :) I wrote the paper from which these 10 Ps come around the turn of the millenium!

Anonymous said...

Plagiarism? Oh I get it! Fab, Cool, Lick 'n' Cus. Brilliant idea. Parodying the unpariodiable. I'm with you Sky.

Robert Cornwall said...


I'm going to do a bit of business -- would you be willing to have me reprint this in Sharing the Practice -- the journal of the Academy of Parish Clergy?

If okay -- could you post a comment on my blog?

Dai Corleone said...


So you're saying that these 10 P's aren't plagarism, they're a rehash of some old stuff. That's OK then.

Anonymous said...

And what about the sacraments -- why don't they get a mention in your list? Or are you using "minister" in a wider sense, not equivalent to "presbyter"? Like including lay ministers and so on?

Anonymous said...

oops didn't see your last comment. Anyway. I am an Anglican and I see the role of priests (presbyters) as first and foremost to preach the word and to administer the sacraments. As the service ordaining priests it is said "Take thou authority to preach the Word of God, and to minister the holy Sacraments in the Congregation, where thou shalt be lawfully appointed thereunto." (BCP, Canada, 1962) The other things you mentioned are important too -- I'm not saying they aren't -- but they can be done by lay people, who cannot do sacramental tasks (except baptism in an emergency).

Anonymous said...

Sure, Bob - that'd be great - as long as (pace David S) you don't mind recycled rubbish!

And, Anonymous, as for the sacraments, as I've commented to John Paul, I am not offering a theology of ministry here. The sacraments would come under "worship" in #2. But as a by-the-way, personally, I stay very close to Calvin on eucharistic theology - Reformed-wise, my doctrine is "high", and I believe that the Lord's Supper should be celebrated every Sunday. However I refuse to jump on the bandwagon of Radical Orthodoxy, which (in my view) over-privileges the sacrament to the under-privileging of the Word.

Oh - and to the other (?) Anonymous, sorry about my cussing. As for using "Jesus", I do use the word "Christ" twice. Does that count? But who's counting? Haven't we all seen and heard certain evangelists who use the word "Jesus" all the time - with, however, that tub-thumping incantatory over-accentuation of the first syllable, and, moreover, evacuated of all real meaning?

Felipe Fanuel said...

Hello, Kim!

My ordination will happen in few days. So, I like this article.

Good to find this blog.

Anonymous said...

The reformers did not think that anyone could do anything in church, far from it. They discovered something much more exciting - that the whole people of God participated in the intercessionary priesthood of Christ." In short, in the Reformed tradition there is no separated priesthood, rather there is a common priesthood from which is derived the distinct ministry of Word and sacrament.

“The whole people participating in the intercessionary priesthood”… sort of like a communion of saints?

I’m not quite sure what the reformist discovery is supposed to amount to. Catholic teaching has always spoken of a general priesthood, constituted by its baptized and confirmed members. This general priesthood was not thought to be ‘diminished’ by the existence of an official priesthood whose differentiated functional activity is seen as participation in the one, definitive priesthood of Christ. On the contrary, the official priesthood is the historical realization of the priestly character of the People of God.

Article 31 of Lumen Gentium:

“The term laity is here understood to mean all the faithful except those in holy orders and those in the state of religious life specially approved by the Church. These faithful are by baptism made one body with Christ and are constituted among the People of God; they are in their own way made sharers in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly functions of Christ; and they carry out for their own part the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world.”

Anonymous said...

Hello Kim-meister,

I simply could not disagree more with this line- Ministers are not called to be scholars. The reason that Christians know so little about their faith is because too many pastors are ignorant. In a profound way it remains true, like priest, like people. If the pastor is no scholar, he is no pastor either.

If pastor's had been, and would be now, scholars, in the Schleiermacher-ian mold, then pews wouldn't be so full of ill-read congregants.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Jim, you echo Michael W-W (above). See my my response/ explanation (above also). Remember: I'm the guy who likes to quote George Caird, who used to say that you can tell a lot about a minister by looking at his booksehelves - including when he died theologically; I'm always banging on about ministers who claim they have little time to read and study; and I clearly emphasise that ministers are called to be community theologians. If all that means "scholars", okay. And if the alternative to being a scholar is being an ignoramus, double-okay. It's just that I don't think I'd want to declare that all ministers are called to be, well, bookish (as I am bookish!). I know plenty of outstanding ministers who are biblically immersed and informed, theologically astute and thoughtful, and in ways that deeply imbue their ministry, and yet who would not know much about, say, an F&T list on must-read theology - or be able to explain why Zwingli isn't on the list! Anyway, I hope you get my sympathetic drift.

Andrew Paterson said...

Ben, thanks for this excellent post. As a minister myself I found myself nodding in agreement at each point!

Anonymous said...

Hello again Kim,

I do get your drift and I understand it, sympathetically! My quibble (and if I didn't quibble with you where would the fun be?) was that some will read your statment as permission for ignorance.

And, by the way, what is it that you mean to suggest that a pastor can be unfamiliar with Zwingli??? Is such a thing either conceivable or possible? Nah.... that's just TOO depraved to even imagine.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jim,


And if anyone is unfamiliar with the theology of Huldrych Zwingli, he is a silly sausage!
(For the uninitiated, in his magisterial Reformation: Europe's House Divided: 1490-1700 [2003], Diarmaid MacCulloch observes that "It was a sausage that proved to be the rallying-cry for the Swiss Reformation" [p. 139]. Tantalised? Then do some scholarly work and check it out!)

Anonymous said...

Well said Kim! I like you again! You have redeemed yourself (although theologically that's a vile concept isn't it...)

Best as ever

Anonymous said...

A delightful read I am going to share with my board, thanks! Some quick thoughts;

1. Hallelujah! may efficiency die a very painful, inefficient death... Accountability for God given resources is faithful, but efficiency is something else entirely. A culture of production seems at odds with a faith of sacrifice.
2. (snicker)I've not heard prayer as a "resource" (/snicker) Does that mean Jesus outsourced at Gesthemane? -“Cheerleader” I assume in a shallow sense: I'm imagine you like the idea of the minister as an advocate...even a cheerful one!
3. With so much invested in the psych profession, I am always off-put by ministers bashing the "false God of Psychology..." when the average sermon/worship service/community/pastor in the US is largely impotent to lead people out of addiction, anger, bitterness...even sin(!), but your comment about the well-adjusted citizen seems to accent what you mean, I think, and there I whole-heartedly agree. To bastardize Krishnamurti, "'Tis no measure of faith to be well adjusted to a profoundly sinful society."
4. I think I'm tilting at windmills here, but I am uncomfortable with #4. Not for the point, per say, but in my experience, the mindset of many scholar ministers is that they leave their world and enter the "flock's," but they seem to presuppose distance and alterity, as if the incarnate Christ always wished to be somewhere else, too. I wish I had a deeper sense that my identification with people was not simply self-sacrifice as a secondary act, but foundational for me to even comprehend the gospel, let alone preach it: Laughing and weeping with people not because it's right, but because they matter and we are connected...
“Kenosis: it’s not just a slogan!”
5. I like this a bunch. Perhaps something should be mentioned about community as hermeneutic to keep pastors from trumping unwanted suggestions with academic special effects whenever we feel we have to be right? Even in very communal, egalitarian churches, pastors are loathe to give up the authority that comes from being the “official” interpreter.
6. Does that mean the holy-land diet is off the list, too?
10. Who wants to be a bunch of xenophobic, sexist regents anyways? :p Ray Anderson always said we are to be the church of the last (ultimate) century, not the church of the first one.

michael jensen said...

Spot on with what's wrong with Ro, Kim...

But: not much interaction with pastoral epistles on your list: the comments there about sobriety of life and so on seem to be I would have thought an emphasis not to be overlooked.

Anonymous said...

Hi Michael,

Yeah, I stayed well clear of I Timothy 3:1-7. My 25th anniversary is coming up - of my second marriage (v. 2!); my wife wears the pants in our household (v.4!); my kids "submissive and respectful"? - Ha! Ha! Ha! (v. 4); and I was a pretty recent convert when I candidated for the ministry (v. 6!). Nor am I very forceful at telling slaves to submit to their masters (Titus 2:9), and I confess to having occasionally encouraged people to acts of civil disobedience (Titus 3:1).

On the other hand, I do pretty well on I Timothy 3:3 - though I can be "quarrelsome" when certain evangelicals get on my nerves! However, I can sign up unreservedly to Titus 2:11-15. Will that do?


michael jensen said...

Delightful! Yes, children and respect... it delighted my father-in-law that my son (then four years old) once called me 'Mr Bumhead'. Just the right mix of rudeness and respect he thought!

Ben Myers said...

That's a delightful commentary on 1 Tim. 3, Kim! And Michael, you're right about "Mr Bumhead" -- it's a perfect synthesis of rudeness and respect. My four-year-old daughter has now taught her two-year-old sister to address me not as "Dad" but as "Benny Boy"....

Dave said...

Wow...what a list to do equally well...

Post a Comment


Contact us

Although we're not always able to reply, please feel free to email the authors of this blog.

Faith and Theology © 2008. Template by Dicas Blogger.