Play on...


Ray Hollenbach framed part of the conversation by essentially asking 'where exactly is the playing field?'. I'd like to continue in that vein:

Just who is 'everybody?' This is largely a strength of the Vineyard. When we say everybody, we really do mean it. We make a real effort to train and include laity in ministry; women and men, even children, people of all backgrounds and social classes. The only real 're-thinking' I see necessary at this point is in the inherent tension between 'excellence in ministry' and allowing the visibly broken to play.

I have seen new Christians, non-Christians, those with drug problems, and even those presently under the influence of drugs, all ministering in Vineyard churches in some capacity. However, there is a real attempt to prevent these types of people from engaging in 'real' ministry. We will let them hold the door (if they're pretty enough), or let them print fliers, or play the drums (if they're capable enough), but there are real boundaries we place upon just what they are allowed to do.

For the record, I am not advocating placing drunk agnostics in the pulpit, I would certainly agree that there are standards for Christian ministry.

The question that must be grappled with is this: Is the bar we set for Christian ministry about 'excellence' or is it about 'health?' Do we prevent some from certain places in ministry and Church life because they are unseemly, or because they would hurt themselves or others? I contend that Scripture has no value for 'excellence in ministry' that is ultimately a cover for excluding those people who might make things slower, uglier, or technically flawed.

Our decisions to include someone in ministry should be based on whether the individual is healthy enough to step into a particular role, not whether they are skilled enough. This decision has tremendous communicative properties...

Just what do we mean by 'play?' It is here that we must give significant energy to re-thinking current practices. We largely conceive of ministry in terms of practices and care/direction given to Church members or performed on their behalf.

Ministry is preaching and teaching, ministry is playing musical instruments, administrating the needs of the church, leading Bible-studies, praying for people, even maintaining church buildings and running technical equipment, etc.

The results of such a definition is manifold, the most problematic are the two following: 1) Christians who are deeply engaged in ministry yet have little or no involvement in mission, 2) Christians who view 'real ministry' as being done by the professionals while viewing their jobs as distractions from Kingdom work.

We must rethink this conception. Play must fundamentally mean mission! Leaders should be player/coaches who equip others for ministry to the world. As a pastor I am naturally focused on the local faith community of which I am a member/leader. This must not be allowed to divert my own focus from the wider community that is the object and context for the Church's mission. This must not be allowed to 'leak down' onto the church, causing the stale atmosphere of spiritual inbreeding that is a result of a church that ministers to itself.

Play must include the entire scope of human activity. Almost all occupations can be Christian vocations. As a pastor I am resourced to take future church leaders through an equipping process. I can teach someone how to lead church activities. I am competent to teach people how to live a life of spiritual disciplines. But when it comes to the single largest fact of most peoples daily lives, I am left with one of two options for discipleship. 1) Quit your job so you can do 'real ministry.' 2) Pray for and witness to your co-workers while maintaining personal integrity at your workplace. What is largely missing is any sense of training people to view their occupations as their vocations.

Scoring Goals It is here that the Church has the largest problem, and hence, the largest need for re-imagination. Our system rewards and reinforces a view of ministry that is largely out of sync with our stated philosophy of ministry. We say everybody gets to play, but the rules of the game, and the way in which we 'score goals' (ie incentives and definitions of success) are set up to prevent everybody from playing. Of course this is unintentional, but still true!

A 'winning' church (to continue the metaphor) is defined by characteristics that have nothing to do with 'everybody getting to play.' Because of this we simultaneously recognize a need to have everyone play, while attempting to keep the star players in the game as long as possible; in our system you can't score goals with mediocre performance. Because of this, we give some attention to the idea of workplace ministry, but it somehow never really makes it into the playbook; you can't score goals by practicing law, or building bridges, only by proclaiming the gospel or praying for people. In short, our definition of success prevents us from implementing this value more fully.

Our most essential task is to create a system of in which 'everybody gets to play' is itself one of the markers for success, is itself defined as one of the ways in which we 'score points.'