From Eli Shams
It is common nowadays to have someone ask you "What is it that you do ?" when you first met them.
They do not mean (a) are you an oxygen consuming organism or (b) what is your inner-most passion in life. They mean - tell me what your labor are engaged in, what people pay you to do.
About two weeks ago, I was in a large group setting, where a group of us split out to discuss what is it that we call what we do. It was a group of folks struggling to follow Jesus, so we spun around the issues regarding the term ministry, which Wikipedia defines as:
the activity carried out by members of the church in fulfilment of the church's mission
In a lot of faith communities, ministry is code speak for what those people up there do. It translates to credentialed people & the magic arts they practice. Pastors or priest minister - people attend or help. (if you want to bend your brain a bit more around categories, order & authority, go read Everything is Miscellaneous).
A friend in our rag-tag group shared an anecdote that underscores some of the perverse irony of the categorical use of the word ministry. Their faith community supports, in a small financial fashion, a person who works with special needs kids. A person who also is a member of their faith community works for an NGO that works with the exact same kids. Another member processes the governmental paperwork that allows those kids & their families to receive aid that they live on. Recently, a new member joined their community who is a teacher for these exact same kids.
Formally, this wonderful faith community recognizes one of these 4 people as "ministry" - the other 3 do work. The fellow who told the story was grounded to say simply "this is stupid, right ?".
I can guess what credentialing bodies like denominations or seminaries would say - a jumble of stuff about ministry of the baptized or 5-fold ministries or even some way-cool acronym. This is all valid, but most of my experience with faith communities is that chasm between credential ministry and what members do is a lot bigger than the space between the pulpit and the pew. That whatever concepts & covenants we recite, we think that they do ministry, that regular folks are just active or passive players.
Our little cabal of loyal radicals, most of whom have some credential and have drawn some salary for what is called ministry, kicked this around for a while - we were a vocal bunch, so the air was filled with "..and another thing..." and trash talk of "...you think that's bad...". The individual with the most authority in our group, the one who gets paid to talk smack and write shiny books, shut up for a while, then blurped this out:
what if we declared a moratorium on the use of the word ministry
what if we just called it all work
Work - the exertion or effort directed to produce or accomplish something. Simple, flat, utilitarian. Some work needs special training or gifts, some work any person can do. Some work gets paid for directly, some work is underwritten by other work. Work is work.
What would the impact be ? From my POV, we'd be forced to be more honest about what we expect from ourselves & leaders w/in our institutions. Rather than wait for those that we pay to minister, maybe we would take more seriously the call for all of us to work in the universe our Creator has entrusted us with. Is it too naive to think that maybe we would value our own work & that of others more if we simply looked at all as work, that unit of effort that is not magical or greater than just because Pastor is doing it. Work is not a spectator event - it challenges us to engagement, even discomfort or sweat.
We live in a time of some fundamental disconnects. One of them is that while people in the pews & on the street say that trust in organized religion is near an all-time low, 87% of clergy surveyed (compared to 47% of all workers on average) stated that they were "very satisfied" with their work in a recent U.S. survey. This is a classic sign of something seriously broken, of some hard-core "whistling past the graveyard". We are all complicit in this - people engaged in ministry who puff themselves up, folks in the pew who place them on a pedestal, an entire culture that takes joy in tearing them down. Visit any church or faith-based NGO - wherever their denominational, theological or political afiliation, what unites them is the mindset that outsources the work we were created to do to a small group of people to complete.
So sign me up for the mortatorium on ministry, call me a worker in the field.