September 29, 2011

Beyond Functions: An Incarnational Ministry Fair

With Kick-off Sunday under our belts, many churches turn to the Ministry Fair to jumpstart recruitment for all the numerous parish ministries needing warm bodies to keep their mission going. Many times these look like this: a parish hall set up with tables and displays and staffed by a ministry leader armed with a three-fold brochure and a clip board. Cookies or candy are used to lure the unsuspecting worshipper to consider signing up for the Altar Guild or the Gardening Group or the Homeless Meal Program. Sadly, the lists don’t fill up and sometimes don’t get followed up on and the same crew goes back to work for another year, sustaining all the important efforts that make up the ministries of an Episcopal Church.

A key flaw in this design is that it begins with a functional understanding of ministry. The functions of the church’s ministry program are pre-set either by the vestry, staff, other committees, tradition, or habit. Slots open up as people move on. People are recruited to fill the slots. Life goes on.

Sometimes we proactively recruit to close the gaps. A new CPA in the congregation is recruited for the Finance Committee. The owner of a construction company is tagged for Buildings and Grounds. Those with a certain expertise are assumed to be interested and ready to step in to a hole the church has in a ministry roster.

But what if the CPA wants to sing in the choir? Or the construction company head wants to take communion to the sick? How will we discover gifts that go beyond the obvious?

What if our Ministry Fair began with a theology of the Incarnation? We are not our work. Function doesn’t trump soul when it comes to discerning which gifts someone might give back to the community.

An Incarnational Ministry Fair would begin not with a room full of tables listing pre-existing ministries, but a roomful of gifted souls seeking to name and use the gifts and callings that are welling up inside them. People would stop and talk with a trained spiritual director who would draw from a list of tools designed to tease out the giftedness of each individual. Once identified, people with newly named gifts would participate in an Open Space process that connects those gifts to the needs and hopes of the world. Unforeseen ministries might be launched on the spot.

I haven’t yet designed and implemented our first Incarnational Ministry Fair, but the thought intrigues me. It feels like a way to honor what God is doing in each church member, rather than filling holes that the church thinks are present. It could leave some gaps, but it could launch some visions.