I spent 48 hours last week at the United Reformed Church Synod of Scotland minsters’ residential conference. This is an educational and conversational event rather than a planning and decision making forum and a very valuable one. The theme this year was communication with sessions on radio, newspapers and social media and conversation starters based on a booklet looking at Jesus’ conversations in Mark’s gospel.
It was of particular interest to me of course since it is the last one I will have attended before I am both ordained as a minister and leave the synod for Thames North. The opportunity to talk to experienced ministers about ministry is always to be valued.
Something that struck me again but with new force was how differently different people value different ministerial roles.
Some seem to get most satisfaction from the staging of “events” while others speak and write about worship as performance as something to be decried.
Some emphasise the teaching role while others would deny that the communication of correct ideas is any part of the pastoral task
Some see themselves mostly as carers for and sustainers of those who need help while others avoid such work (I’m not sure I’ve met anyone who would openly argue against doing it)
Some put prayer, public, private, or shared, at the heart of their ministry while others pray only in worship.
Some only get enthusiastic about “mission” meaning either the winning of new converts to Christianity or the attempt to make the world a better place in some other way. Others appear far more focussed on tending their congregations.
No doubt there are other key aspects of the ministerial that are missing from my list but something that struck me is that most people (ministers) have one or two that they prioritise and that shape their view of what ministry is.
This mostly reflects, I suspect, the personalities and the needs of the individuals concerned, and none the worse for that. I know that my conception of my ministerial vocation is heavily shaped by the things I know I can do and like doing. I see myself as minister as a scholar/teacher come consultant., which reflects my training and experience and the things I like doing.
I want to communicate what I have learnt and continue to learn about Christianity and also to help people understand what it can mean to them, to discern their own vocations. I am less excited about the other aspects of ordained ministry, although I recognise that they are part of what is legitimately expected of me and imagine I will learn to love them too.
My point here is that I have come to see that this makes me neither better nor worse than those whose energy is focussed on performance, on pastoral care or on mission. There is a tendency in me and in others that I have observed to create a theology that puts “their thing” at the centre and then imagine, in all good faith they they put that thing first because of the theology.
It would be a lot healthier for everybody if we all stopped doing that and instead developed a stronger sense of the difference in people’s vocations as being part of their personal relationship with God. We do different things because nobody can or should do everything. We bring our different gifts and needs and these are put to use. It makes sense for us to theologise in ways that support our own ministry but not if it leads us to disrespect for the ministries and thoughts of others.
Let the performers perform, the carers care, the teachers teach and let them talk to one another in love and fellowship that allows these gifts to be developed and shared.
Let’s develop theologies that are serious about themselves without being anxious about differences.
Let’s trust God to call us to be where we should be and give us the work we are meant to do.