prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers…and stage-managers.May 8, 2015
After a couple of years of marriage, my partner Christopher began the process of selling his businesses and pursuing his sense of call to ministry.
There are a few variations on the stereotypes of what a minister *should* be and do. The pastoral type, the preacher type, the scholarly type, the evangelist type. These are the four most common of the popular ‘Ephesian fivefold’ types. We’ll come to the fifth later.
Christopher doesn’t conform to any of these.
We know that. Twice over we know that.
Twice over rejected for ordination candidacy.
Probably more than twice, really, by the time you hear all our stories.
And yet, clearly, ‘minister’, in numerous expression in these past 20 years – local parish, regional parachurch, multi-staff/multi-congregational, denominational synod, – is the best way to describe his occupation.
He’s not the kind of minister that likes the sound of his own voice.
He’s not a theological attention hoarder.
And he hates doing coffees.
He’s an apostle in the ‘sent and sending out of good news’ sense.
Truly more focused on the outward flow of goodnews than on his own voice in that.
He’s more interested in others being able to be gospellers, than in anyone listening to him preach. He can preach.
In his ministry at Keilor, I listened to two solid years of his weekly sermons and it wasn’t the worst, and definitely not the most damaging preaching I’ve endured. In the absence of a great desire to preach, he presented the text, as a pharmacist would – closely, conscientiously and carefully. As I said, you can do much worse. Though the church in that period flourished and people came to and back to faith, most would not point to his preaching as the key factor in the revitalisation of that congregation.
Still, many people, particularly ecclesial leadership, don’t get someone who doesn’t want to preach. It’s become so synonymous with ‘ministry’ in a dread and deadly reductionist way.
So he doesn’t preach or capital S ‘speak’. But here’s what he does:
He seeks the out theological and practitioner conversations and listens carefully to all the voices.
He discerns the voices that have something to speak of value (especially if is not being platformed by the mainstream.
He collaborates to enable a pooling of resources to support these voices, and works to assemble the complex infrastructure required.
He negotiates spaces and hosts and partners and networks and dollars and consignments of books and suppliers.
He underwrites conversations and gatherings with absolute integrity, not just financial integrity but relational and theological integrity, and with his own energising presence.
Many people in ministry know how to perform their own voice, many are skilled in performing other people’s stories as well. Not many are skilled in the art of stage-managing so that a multivocality of goodnewsers can perform.
Or…perhaps there are more who are skilled stage-managers, but we have over-indulged in a theology of ministry for performers and directors. How might we recover an apostolic theology of ministry, one which identifies and affirms and enriches the stage-manager ministry? In the language of that great philosopher, Sondheim, we need ministry which will ‘Send on the Clowns’, not just want to be clowns, as biblical as that is (1 Corinthians 1:27, 4:10).
This is of course not just about the way ministers think about their own voice and it’s place, but the way congregations and communities relate to ministers. It’s one thing for a minister to be an amazing host, curator and other-focused stage-manager, but if she’s also such a fabulous communicator, it can be hard for her community not to just want to turn up and listen to her.
The hard work of multivocality in ministry lies not just with ministers who would be apostles like Christopher. But with our communities, in being determined to listen to each other, especially to the less articulate, less polished, less honeyed, less confident voices.
This is the real work of children and families ministry, and it is no wonder that this is the zone of ministry that Christopher has been drawn to.
Children and families ministry, little understood by many in ecclesial leadership, consists mostly of creating spaces walled with justice, truth and grace in which the vulnerable can exercise (which sometimes includes articulating) a gospelling faith. In short, it is the art and science of being stage managers for all the voices that have goodnews to speak.