When my son went to college, the Senior Warden of my (then) congregation gave him a gift: a small tool kit with all of the various implements that could come in handy moving into and living in a dorm. The kit had a couple of screwdrivers, a hammer, a tape measure, a bunch of screws and nails and picture hangers and a pair of wire snips. These tools were all packed into a tidy, durable plastic case with a handle. As she handed the wrapped gift to me, she said, “Here, take this- he’ll be the hero of the dorm.”
Well, I don’t know if he was the hero of the dorm. I do remember noticing how young men approach “moving into a dorm room”- tossing a duffle bag in the corner of the room, finding a safe place for the guitar and plugging in the mini fridge- which seems to me to be the most minimal decorating scheme ever. What I do know is if he needed to pound a nail, measure a wall or assemble anything with a Philip’s head screw, he was all set. (As it turned out, that college at that moment was a bad fit for the boy and so, in a brave move- as this boy was wont to do- we left on the same day we arrived and the tool kit came with us. The rest of that story is fodder for another blog, someday, about knowing oneself, not being afraid to make bold moves, and trusting in ones’ own inner voice.)
But back to the tool kit.
I’ve been working a lot this week with our diocesan Standing Committee, the Commission on Ministry and the Stevenson School For Ministry as we’ve been gearing up for this weekend’s fall orientation for the school and working to discern the different roles and responsibilities around the ordination process. The ordination process is vitally important to our Church as we seek to engage with people in some of the most exciting and vulnerable times in their lives, as they listen closely to God and learn of God’s desire for them. Sometimes, God’s desire is for the person to develop and use the gifts that God has given them for ministry as an ordained leader in the Church, and other times, God’s desire is for the development and exercise of ministry in the world and in the Church without the need of the laying on of hands. Having been through the ordination process three times, now, I can tell you that in each instance, it has been a period which has been profoundly humbling, sometimes disorienting, and requiring a lot of trust.
Whichever path is ultimately selected- lay or ordained ministry- there is a need to hone the skills and gifts of the individual and to do our best to equip them with the right tools for ministry. It is our responsibility, as leaders and administrators in the Church, to provide access to those tools and to help the minister learn what he or she has already, what they might need to acquire, and what needs oiling or “servicing” to work its best. There are some general tools- the hammers and screwdrivers of the ministry tool box- which every minister of the Christian Gospel needs: a working knowledge of Holy Scripture; a personal, fruitful practice of prayer; a solid and informed scaffolding for making moral choices and ethical decisions; a general sense of the scope and sequence of the history of the Christian Church; interpersonal skills for group processing and one-on-one engagement. Not surprisingly, our canons of the Church require that all candidates for ordination pass muster in seven canonical areas which include much of the aforementioned list.
I would argue that these “skills” or competencies are important for all of us, ordained or not, as we seek to build a responsive, compassionate, effective and connected Church.
There are other skills- conflict management, strategic planning, reconciliation and healing, liturgical planning, preaching, pastoral care- that are traditional tools for ministers of the Church as more specific paths for ministry are selected. The tools of specialists, if you will.
And there are new skills that we are inviting people to add to their tool kits as we pay attention to where God is calling the Church, next: tools of community organizing, demographic analytics, social media and web design, the development of public narrative, building our knowledge of civic and secular structures for deeper engagement, tools that celebrate and allow us to work across differences… there’s a lot to learn.
Now, Jesus told the disciples to travel lightly. In Luke 9:1-3, we read:
Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic…”
And, really, I don’t know how I would do, out there without my tool kit. I believe that Jesus’ message to the disciples had two points: he wanted the disciples to 1) be confident in their own capabilities as empowered by the Holy Spirit moving within them and 2) to be vulnerable to the point of needing others to accomplish God’s mission- and I’m okay with that. But I still want to be prepared.
I wonder what path you may have discerned for yourself as a minister of Jesus’ gospel truth. Where in God’s mission have you decided to apply yourself and what tools do you need? Perhaps it’s been clearly revealed to you and you are busy filling up your tool kit and actively building God’s Kingdom. Or maybe it’s as clear as mud, and you feel as though your tool kit is light. If that’s the case, I’d invite you to look at the “basic tool kit,” named above: scripture, prayer, history, ethics, etc. and spend some time there, exploring what interests you. There are resources of all kinds- electronic, private tutors, spiritual directors, the Stevenson School for Ministry, annotated bibles, etc. etc. etc. to guide you. We – your parish clergy, diocesan leadership, lay leaders- are here to guide and support you and each other , as we make our way, growing into the full stature of Christ.