At tonight's team meeting we may be discussing the role of ordained ministers. Here are some possible images that we could use to describe the people we sometimes call "ministers in pastoral appointment", "incumbents", "parish clergy", "vicars" or (more normally in ecumenical contexts) "ministers".
A Spider at the Centre of a Web: The minister can be the person who is in control of all the activities that take place in a church. She knows everything that's going on and has a finger in every pie. She belongs to every group and committee and attends every event.
While this image may suggest a very positive "hands on" approach it is enormously controlling, and sets a limit on the ability of the church to grow and develop - according to the limits of the minister in terms of capacity, skill and vision.
Nevertheless, this is what many of our ministers do - and it is an approach that can generate a certain amount of growth... but is it right for the WVEP?
The Octopus: The Octopus is the more pastoral equivalent of the spider. He may not be "in control" as such, but does have an arm for each member of the congregation - ready to reach out and embrace them in a loving and caring hold.
This is a popular and very "care" orientated approach to ministry and many clergy operate on this level. Their church is a community of people who they hold together through personal pastoral contact - but the church is only as strong as the hold of the octopus - and only as large as the number of arms will allow...
Captain Kirk: I liked the image of minister as starship captain when I was a curate - actually I though I was Will Riker, but there you go...
The starship captain has a mission to fulfil and is part of a wider star fleet to whom she is answerable. She has crew rather than passengers, and is repsonsible to care for her crew - but ultimately has a mission to perform.
This is a more "managerial" model and probably reflects the way many clergy see themselves as "leaders" of missionary communities. It's got potential, but it is a bit hierarchical and non-collaborative (even if you take a Next Gen approach).
In contemporary life it would be hard to gather the kind of disciplined community that a starship crew might suggest. Our churches are more liquid and random. Shame though, I do quite fancy the uniform...
Critical Friend: In many ways, we need clergy to be involved but less in control. The term "critical friend" suggests someone who is involved in a positive way but has something positive to add - particularly in terms of comment and direction. As clergy become fewer in numbers, we need a slightly more hands off image - and this may be a good one.
Or we could go for something slightly more challenging...
Auditor: The concept of an auditor may sound like a scary one at first, but actually it could be helpful. The minister as auditor is required to examine the life and work of a church community, record the achievements, point out problems and suggest areas of development.
The advantage of this image is that it reminds us that churches have responsibilities to God, the law and the wider church. The disadvantage is that it makes the minister a slightly more distant figure...
Jedi Knight: The Jedi Knight is not a leader. He does not belong to the local community and he isn't the only person with a role to play in any situation, but...
...he does have important skills and abilities and also acts as an ambasador or representative of the wider community - the Jedi Council or Republic.
This is quite a helpful image for a minister since it reminds us that the minister belongs to the wider church and also that he offers specific skills, abilities and gifts. He may not be "the" leader, but he does have a leadership role based on these abilities.
Lolly Pop Lady: The minister may not be the one who generates the vision, or be the one who makes it happen, but there is an important role of empowerment to take on.
The Lolly Pop Lady shows us where it's safe to cross and makes sure that the trafic lets us through. The minister (as "crossing patrol person") has the task of helping us to get to where we want to be - by showing us the way and making sure that those who might stop us have been negotiated with...
Dancing Bee: Collaborative ministry communities are usually self-organising - in that they don't need a spider, octopus or captain to make their life happen. The minister may, therefore, not be the centre of that community but a member of it.
In bee colonies, the community self-organises to gather pollen, produce honey and nurture the young. Each member is an independent being but works collaboratively with the others according to a set of predifined rules - and the whole thing works!
When explorer bees are out looking for good sources of pollen, those who discover it carry out a complex dance which other bees then pick up. Before long, the message has spread around the hive-mind and the efforts of the bees are rediriected.
Ministers are often ordinary bees who catch the catch the dance and pass it on? Is one call for a minister to be to an explorer who listens for the voice of God and dances?
What do you think ministers are? Clean answers only please!