The indeterminate zones of ministry

CTM Rembrandt, Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer, 1653
SOME years ago, when ministering in a congregation, a retired minister asked to speak to me on matters of faith and ministry. I willingly agreed and spent an enriching couple of hours sharing stories and listening to the highs and lows of ministry in the ’50s and 60s.

One of his comments has stayed with me: “I feel sorry for all you ministers today. When I was in ministry it didn’t matter whether I was very good at ministry or not, the people still came. These days so much is expected of the minister – as if he or she was responsible for everything that is happening to and with the church. I wouldn’t be able to stand the pressure of all that.”

There is no doubt the pressure in ministry has increased over recent decades. The breadth of expectations has increased – and the roles a minister fulfils have broadened beyond pastoral care, preaching and priesting.

Ministers are also to be savvy when it comes to property matters, administration, finance and, of course, missional initiatives and project management. Some thrive on this diversity of expectations, others are brought low by the constant demand and the pressure to maintain and develop thriving congregations.

As the expectations increase, so do the expectations on the training college, mandated to form candidates for this diverse and demanding ministry.
The candidate body itself reflects the diversity of the church in this synod. Theologically, ethnically and experientially the students bring a wide range of experiences, giftedness and potential.

The formation of candidates is accountable to the standards recently revised by the Assembly Standing Committee, which (unsurprisingly) encompass the development of attributes around faith, call and commitment to the Covenant with UAICC, being a multicultural church and the Basis of Union.

Other attributes (italics are mine) to be formed in the candidates include:
• a mature knowledge of Christian tradition and the biblical witness, and the ability to help the Church shape its future in the light of that tradition;
• a capacity to articulate Christian faith in contextually appropriate ways;
• being equipped to help the Church be faithful to its identity and lead the Church in mission in a rapidly changing and diverse cultural and social context;
• a well-developed and reflective understanding of their identity as an ordained Minister within the Uniting Church;
• ability to engage the tasks of ministry with critical imagination, courage, emotional maturity, theological judgment and self-reflection; and to exercise this ministry within the ministry of the whole people of God;
readiness for the practice of day-to-day ministry, and the quality of being and awareness which gives integrity to the exercise of this practice;
• the capacity for and commitment to intentional life-long learning.

The attributes required highlight the need to offer an integrated ministry founded on the unchangeable realities of faith and the biblical and Christian traditions along with the capacity to express and display such realities in an ever-changing world.

Donald Schön (in his book on developing professional practice) speaks of the capacity to be a reflective practitioner in the “indeterminate zones of practice”. Those places where we exercise ministry that no one can prepare us for. Schön encourages us to prepare individuals who not only have professional knowledge and practical expertise, but wisdom, talent, intuition and artistry.

Reflective ministry practitioners are able to read the context in which they find themselves and know intuitively what to bring out of their store of knowledge and practice, so to be effective in ministry. Beyond that they need to discern what else they need to develop and learn to be effective in a specific context. Hence the need to engage in life-long learning.

Thus the task for theological educators within the formation program at Pilgrim is to equip candidates for ministry with knowledge, robust faith and practice as well as coaching candidates to develop wisdom and artistry in ministry – a life-long journey for most of us. Pilgrim is partnered in this responsibility with communities who engage with the candidates in field education and the presbyteries who offer mentoring and support.

It is not the intention to exit candidates for ministry who are perfect! Our task at Pilgrim is to exit candidates who display the attributes and capacity to adapt and be effective in ministry no matter where they find themselves in the years ahead.

We know the Church is on the move and is not a static reality. So too, ministry changes from day-to-day and context-to-context. Our educational and formational program aims to equip individuals to feel confident that, even in the indeterminate zones, they are able to effectively minister.

We, and they, need your ongoing prayers and support for this exciting and challenging task.

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