Monday, November 11, 2019

The Art of Ministry

A few years ago, British comedienne Abigoliah Schamaun wrote about her use of notebooks in composing her jokes and sets:

I LOVE new notebook day. It’s my favourite day. I usually buy moleskins, but sometimes I use notebooks that have been gifted to me. Every time I buy a notebook, there’s so much excitement and hope for that new notebook. I always think “This is the one! This is the one my first Live At The Apollo set will go into! This is the notebook my defining ‘bit’ will go into. Eddie Izzard has Cake vs Death, George Carlin has 7 Dirty Words, John Mulaney has The Salt and Pepper Diner. And I’m about to write mine.”

This level of glee and hope might be seen as childish and unrealistic. But no one goes into show-business because they have realistic expectations. Comics are dreamers who say funny things, it’s as simple as that.

I am finding more and more that there is a certain commonality between art and ministry. In fact, I think of ministry as an art (it sure as hell ain't a science). There's an unpredictability to it; a need for developing and creating in reaction to the moving and dynamic parts that you have to work with.

A painter or writer may start out trying to do one thing, and by the end they'll end up someplace completely different because that's where the moving parts led. People in ministry may have a vision of how they want things to play out, but again, the moving parts may (and usually do) lead someplace completely different.

To paraphrase Schamaun, nobody goes into ministry because they have realistic expectations. Many clergy are dreamers who preach every week.

I've been finding a lot of inspiration in Austin Kleon's work lately. He recently shared some wisdom that art is the fossil record of the artist:
This bit came from us discussing how my books are the by-products of my process of figuring out how this stuff is done.

Art is much more interesting and makes a lot more sense (at least for the artist, anyways) if you think of the finished works as just the remains — the “fossil record” — of a process of looking, thinking, making, etc.
In the midst of ministry--sitting at a bedside, negotiating a conflict, crafting a sermon or Bible study, having a difficult conversation, organizing a program--there is so much to account for and there's very little chance that things will play out the way they did in the minister's head. And then after the fact we're left with a fossil record of the creative struggle.

It's why I tend to laugh and roll my eyes more and more at ministry books that propose the One True And Successful Way of doing something. That fossil record is not going to work everywhere and for everybody. Maybe there will be a few good usable tidbits, but we hopeless dreamers are going to have to create our own thing where we are.

(Image is a recent collage I made. You can see more on my Instagram.)