Performance theology: minister as theologian

Saturday night at the manse

A little while ago I posted here on varieties of ministerial vocation and in particular the legitimacy of ministry as performance. Since then I’ve had occasion in my current placement to reflect further on this as I observe and think about whether I could emulate particular aspects of the very fine ministry of my supervisor.

Something that has emerged out of this is a reminder of the importance of something that came out of the Master level course on Reflective Practice in Ministry that I took at New College last year. When we discussed pastoral supervision it was suggested that part of this discipline is the encouraging of the person supervised to identify a “core” to their ministry, a set of practices, values and goals against which they would assess themselves.

This core should not be fixed and non-negotiable but it should be conscious and intentional. The minister should know who they are and what they believe themselves to be called to do. This should not mean that they are uninterested in the legitimate demands and expectations of the role they play and the people they serve and encounter but it should mean that they protect the integrity of their particular call, gifts and interests, organising their ministry to reflect these. This, in the context we were looking at, would provide a frame or focus for discussion with the supervisor.

For me this sense of who and what I am probably centres on theology and on preaching. As a minister I think I will feel that a theologically reflective preaching and teaching practice will be the core of what I do. I am delighted that both the congregations I will be serving have functioning weekly Bible study groups, since this will give me a context in which to explore how I can facilitate them as learning communities.

This doesn’t at all mean that I am unwilling or hesitant about other aspects of the ministerial role. I look forward to playing the role of pastor, of visiting and conversing, praying with and standing alongside the people of the churches in their lives. I’m excited about becoming a member of the wider communities of the two settings, representing the Church and its head, Jesus, in their corporate lives. I’m eager to explore and develop relationships with the other Christian (and other faith) leaders and groups around about.

But for me these will all come together as I reflect on the Bible in the light of the experience of the Church over two millennia and out of this reflection strive to make worship and especially preaching that will bring God’s Word to life in the here and now. It is this task, of hearing what God has to say to God’s people through me, that energises and motivates me.

I’m quite sure that preaching depends on being fed by the rest of what a minister does. I couldn’t sit alone in my study all week and hope to lead worship properly, but preaching, for me, is where it all comes together.

Now I know that this isn’t true for everybody to anything like the same extent. I know people for whom ministry really comes alive in the pastoral encounter, in the attempt to bring Christ’s hope and love to those who are troubled, sick or in other difficulty. For others it is in the struggle to embody Jesus in the building up of communities where those marginalised or excluded by society can find dignity and strength. For others again the institutional work of the Church looms large.

All these and more are, in my view, quite proper and legitimate ways of hearing God’s call to service. What all of have to do is guard against seeing our call as the only call, of dismissing the ministry who has heard a different word from the Lord. Part of this is recognising that we can’t only respond to what suits us. Our special ministries depend on and imply the others. We will have to do some of this other work ourselves and find people to support us in some but it all needs to be done.

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