The Art of Ministry
The church held a fundraising auction a few weeks ago and I purchased two hours of Art lessons from a member of the congregation. This has been something on my to-do list for quite a while so I was excited to enter the studio of my friend Robert Milner. Robert is no ordinary artist. Not only is he an accomplished painter of international reputation, Mr. Milner also has an amazing talent for sharing his joy of playing with paint. As I stepped into Robert’s workroom, his warm welcome worked it’s magic. I was immediately transformed into a five year old ready to have some fun with Captain Kangaroo.
He’d set up five squares of paper on an easel. With some quick art theory, he encouraged me to play; to discover; to let go of judgement and rely on my imagination. Next came a lesson in technique. We wet the paper down applying a base “wash” of colour, then start adding blobs of paint. That was when the playing started. We’d pick up the whole board and tilt it letting gravity do the painting. The wet paper let the paint blobs flow and we tilted it this way and that producing trees, bushes, animals, clouds, embryos, cityscapes, and…art.
I’ve been letting the tilt and spin of the earth draw me this way and that for seven years of seasons now. When I left Toronto I left behind my linear career as an Executive Director/Minister and circled back to discover the artist I’d left behind.
I can’t remember who it was that was quoting whom, but I remember this …
“When I was five I was at the height of my artistic abilities.
I was a singer, a painter, a dancer, a storyteller, a comic, a poet.
And then I was schooled in all the right and wrong ways of doing art. And one by one, I put away my natural abilities to express my innate creativity because they didn’t measure up to performance standards. Standards set by teachers who knew all the rules. All the rules except the one that Robert starts with…”there is no right or wrong way to paint. The only limits are your own imagination and the materials you choose.”
Can I apply this same approach to doing Ministry?
…the most potent seeds of cultural renaissance come from the uniquely creative work of authentic adults. All such adults are true artists, visionaries, and leaders, whether they live and work quietly in small arenas, such as families, farms and classrooms, or very publicly on grand stages. They are our most reliable agents of cultural change.
Bill Plotkin “Nature and the Human Soul” 2007
I could approach Ministry as a series of tasks to check off each month (and often do fall into this rut ). Or, I can decide each morning to invite God’s imagination into the equation. What will I see or hear today if I look through God’s eyes at each situation? What will I hear between the words that people say if I listen for God’s purpose in each sentence?
I could measure my Ministry as a series of good, bad, or ugly worship services, hospital visits, and committee meetings. Or I could watch the canvas of Community and see how the bit of colour I add blends, contrasts, or complements the emerging portrait God is creating.
I could apply all of my skill and knowledge to each situation and get the job done to the best of my ability. Or I could enter into the possibilities of each situation and play with them - hoping to learn something new about making friends, making mistakes, making a difference in each moment.
I could practice Ministry all of my life and never get it right. Or I could play at the art of Ministry and create moments of beauty every day.
Now is Theology more science or art? Maybe part of the problem with religion is the words we use. Theology means the study of Theo, or God. The “ ology” part makes me think that it is supposed to be a science like biology, or oncology, or at least a social science like sociology or psychology. Science is the pursuit of truth through the testing of hypotheses. The resulting “truths” are demonstrably provable.
What is provable about Theo? Even after years of theological training and reading, there are some things I never can quite - or probably ever will - understand. I like to explain my theological training by saying “I was taught to speak intelligently about things I don’t really understand.”
I usually add that although I don’t understand much about God with my head - there are many things I know about God in my guts. Expressing what is down in there is an artist’s task.
My dad was asking me the other day about a poem I wrote. He said that he liked the incarnational (God with a body) theology in it. “But,” he went on, “you also preached a sermon a few weeks ago that talked about a universal Christ (Christ as more than Jesus). These are very different theologies.” he pointed out.
I heard myself say. “I am an artist not a professor. I’m not interested in the questions of right and wrong theologies. I express ideas about God as they come along and hope it stimulates others to express their own ideas – and keep searching.”
I could spend my life trying to get my thinking about God pinned down just so (and probably will keep at it like a jigsaw puzzle ). Or I could let the angels pluck the strings of my heart and keep dancing with Jesus and all of the other five year olds I come across each day.