Ferment in the Ministry by Seward Hiltner
Ferment in the Ministry was published in 1969 by Abingdon Press. This book was prepared for Religion-Online by Harry W. and Grace C. Adams.
Chapter 4: The Ministry as Administering
In the current ministerial vocabulary, administration is a dirty word. When ministers get together after hours at a convention, the complaints that are not about money and bishops are nearly all about committees, womenís societies, the telephone, the mimeograph, denominational programs, correspondence, and various related matters all generally classed as "administration."
This commonsense impression received significant reinforcement from the study made by Samuel Blizzard, the full report of which is still unpublished. Roughly speaking, when Blizzardís five thousand ministers were asked what aspects of their duties were most and least rewarding, they declared preaching and pastoral care to be most rewarding and administrative and executive functions to be least rewarding. But when asked about their actual time schedules, they reported spending more time on the latter than on the former.
So convinced am I of this general ministerial dislike of administration that I believe I know exactly how this discussion could achieve, for me, a peak of popularity. I could begin with tears over the mimeograph and the telephone, make resounding remarks about the ministerís need for plenty of time to study, portray the number of dying persons deprived of pastoral service by committee meetings, and declare warmly that the Word and sacraments should not be encroached on by carbon copies, budgets, and inept church school teachers. I could give a clarion call to the minister to be the minister, as the church is to be the church; and cap the climax by allocating all financial matters to a business administrator, all telephones and letters to a host of efficient secretaries, all committee meetings to something known as a "responsible laity," and all denominational program materials to limbo.
Can you not picture the utopia this would conjure in manifold ministerial breasts, including your own? At last we could get back to real morning devotions to start the day right, not the hasty scriptural snack to which we now seem confined. A productive but useful morning in the study would then follow. Think how rich our sermons would become. And we should, at last, have time to keep up with biography, with fiction, with history, as well as with all the branches of theology. No longer could the names of either Barth or Hemingway make us cringe. We should finally be able to quit pretending that we know who Heidegger is, why Toynbee is to be regarded with suspicion, and what an affluent society really means. When our imagined afternoon is considered, what Christian bliss indeed to make those hospital calls upon patients awaiting eagerly our attentive ear and reassuring word. Later in the afternoon we may rescue a marriage or two, save an adolescent from a criminal career, cure a morphine addict, and a few other similar but daily successes. And when evening comes, then above all we may finally not neglect our home but may play parchesi and backgammon with our adoring family gathered around us. Perhaps one evening telephone call, from some inept committee chairman, could be tolerated. After all, he could simply be told what to do and to take the responsibility for it. But no more. At bedtime what bliss to look back and thank God that one has, at last, had a day worthy of a ministerís vocation: plenty of prayer, plenty of study, plenty of service, plenty of family, and no conflicting demands from any person or group. With such a day behind one, he could give up not only tranquillizers but also his last vestige of relevance to the needs of todayís world.
If we should go back over this utopia with a realistic eye, the previous conclusions must at least be qualified. Our devotions go barren after ten minutes because we are awaiting a call from the hospital or the forms to make out our income tax. Our study is great for an hour; but then, right in the middle of Toynbee, we have to plunge into the consideration of new hymnals. The calls and counseling in the afternoon find one person bitter, another dependent, another recalcitrant; with few if any notches cut into the pastoral gun by tea time. And as to the evening, which child would drop dead first if father had time to play anything, let alone parchesi?
The tone of these remarks so far may appear to be realistic almost to the point of cynicism and exaggerated almost to the point of caricature; and I freely admit, on points like this, a certain initial predilection for excess. Although I shall not continue in such an extreme strain, it is simply my experience that, where some meaningful analysis of administration is concerned, nothing succeeds like excess ó at least in getting attention.
Let me put in a quite different way one tact that has already been stated in another way but perhaps so that it sailed by before the reader could grasp it. That fact is that what ministers say they like to do is precisely what they do alone and by themselves without having to consult anyone but God, and that what they dislike doing is consulting and winning and relating to other people in order to get something done. They like preaching and pastoral care. They need not consult a congregational vote concerning the subject for the next sermon, nor have a committee diagnose a particular parishionerís spiritual needs before they make a call. If they succeed, it is they (and of course God) who did it. If they fail, well, sometimes they fail, sometimes they are not appreciated, and sometimes the people were not ready. But succeed or fail, they have not been compelled to consult. The Lone Ranger rides off into the evening haze.
They do not like administering and executing. Whatever the specific task, the one thing that cannot be done with it is to move simply and plainly from oneís conviction to getting the thing done. A committee has to be called or consulted, and have its shins barked and its theology redecorated. A moribund society has to be revived, since even the Lord is manifestlyí not powerful enough to kill it. Even a letter cannot be answered without con-suiting the encyclopedia, the church secretary, the chairman of the board, or the Heidelberg Catechism. A thousand consultations shall fall at thy administrative right hand, and ten thousand executive encounters at thy left. And they shall make thee tetched.
I simply see no escape from the conclusion that, at least in our ministerial dreams if not in our practice, our patron saint is a combination of Narcissus and Hotspur. We want to do it alone and we do not want to be distracted by other peopleís opinion. Perhaps the sign on the ideal ministerial door, if it were honest, would read, "No waiting; painless extractions; privacy assured." To be sure, this is a rather odd motto for the ministry of a church that professes to serve the world, and to do so through a Living Word carried and conveyed by a fellowship and in which priesthood is somehow conceived to be a universal function and not an aristocratic prerogative.
If I thought the distortion we now confront were only a small one, I should not be obliged to bring in the dangerous big guns of satire. But the twisting seems massive. Tinkering will not do. Something fundamental is wrong. And while I do not propose to set it all aright, I do want to take as clear a look at it as possible. For I believe that a hatred and distaste for everything lumped together as administration can be as severe an enemy of ministry as can the absence of the gospel message.
Administration and Poor Administration
In the argument that I shall make from here on, defending administering by interpreting it as no less important than preaching, I shall not, however, attempt to defend everything going under the name of administration. For some administration is poor not because it is administration but because it is poor. And it, for the most part, is what gives rise to the general image that ministers have when administration is mentioned. We may symbolize this by the cartoon image of the minister with rolled-up sleeves cranking the mimeograph machine.
In normal situations, as a matter of fact, this is not a proper image of administration but of the failure of good administration. For it suggests that the minister has accepted, or been beaten into, a hired-man position around the church. If anything involves work, "we pay him, donít we?" But the fact is that masochism of some type, even the ecclesiastical, is needed to perpetuate such practices. So far as routine duties are concerned, no minister may properly conceive of himself as either a hired hand or a fall guy. Why is he cranking that machine? One reason might be that he cannot tolerate a sense of obligation to anyone; and if he got a good volunteer to handle the machine, he would have to be grateful; and since grateful feelings embarrass him, he cranks the machine, finally, to prevent the embarrassment of gratitude. Another reason might be that he can not bear to request paid secretarial help; for this would involve a need for more money; and thus he would lose his reputation for being such a "spiritual" person. It is also thoroughly possible that none of these Freudian revelations of inverted pride is nearly so important as his not being smart enough to ask the right people in the right way at the right time for the right things in the right tone of authority. But, whatever the reasons, he is not merely doing himself a disservice and building up a greater head of steam against something he thinks of as administration. He is also selling out the ministry of Word and sacraments. He shows that, whatever the reason, he has failed to interpret his function to his people, has not elicited their support and their service to enable him to perform the function; and in this instance has failed to get the people doing the mimeographing who ought to be doing it. This is not administration but poor administration.
We must, then, reject the mimeographing image of the ministry. But we must do so for the right reason. The reason is certainly not that the minister is too good to be caught mimeographing. Suppose that the time is Saturday evening, and that Mrs. Jones, who was to have mimeographed the Sunday bulletin as usual on Saturday afternoon, got a pain about noon and was taken to the hospital. Under these circumstances the pastor might very well be behind the machine for this occasion. No necessary function in the life of the church is foreign to him or beneath him, under special circumstances. But that is very different from making mimeographing normative.
Servanthood, which is so focal in our conception of ministry, always involves a proper relationship between two kinds of elements. On the one hand, since it seeks to serve where service is needed, nothing that serves needs is in principle beneath its notice. But on the other hand, as the notion of "waiter at table" that lies behind the servanthood idea is analyzed, it is clear that some kind of covenant about types of service offered and expected under normal conditions is essential. If there is no covenant, then service is forced into slavery. And if there is no spirit of commitment to meeting needs but only acceptance of specific tasks, then only a job is being performed and there is no servanthood. The minister is not too good to mimeograph. But his covenant should normatively be to things other than mimeographing.
Undoubtedly some poor administration comes from plain inefficiency, fancy laziness, and plain or fancy lack of self-discipline that fails to get some things, like correspondence, done when they ought to be done. But for much of it the motives seem far more complex and hidden.
For instance, let us take a quick look at Pastors A, B, C, and D, each of whom has just reported to a friend, with a mixture of pride and petulance, that he was not home a single night last week. Each complains about committees, conferences, and meetings. But when we take a good subsurface look at Pastor A, we find that he simply dropped in on three of the meetings ó "They expect it of their pastor," he says. And on each occasion the chairman of each meeting, at the beginning, middle, and end, has expressed profuse thanks to the pastor for his presence and his wisdom, without which apparently dire events would have occurred. It takes no great psychological penetration to recognize that in Pastor Aís case his petulance about meetings is a bit feigned provided the correct doses of adulation have been doled out.
Pastor B looks at his meetings a bit differently. He fears that one committee, left to itself, might vote against God; another against the prayer book; and the third against the Republican party. Of course, if asked, he would deny that he regards himself as the indispensable man. But the fact is that the load he carries rather obsessively and narcissistically on his shoulders is the one thing that prevents him from admitting his secret self-judgment: that he is a lightweight.
The secret and unacknowledged fear of Pastor C, we find upon analysis, is that the committees will get along beautifully in his absence; and then where will he be? Pastor D, we find, attends the meetings, and then complains privately about them, because if they were not around to distract him, he would be compelled to face an evening with his family, or to make needed calls on parishioners, or to read a book. These latter possibilities all being, under the surface, too dire to contemplate, it is the meetings that receive his attention. Indeed, what would any of these ministers do with their aggressive impulses if there were no committees to blame them on.
There is, I believe, a little bit of each one of these hypothetical pastors in each of us. Some of our own poor administration comes not from ordinary inefficiency but from more subtle motivations about which we have not come clean. Can you, if the situation really calls for it, leave the telephone temporarily unanswered? Do you, in chairing a meeting, find yourself pouring oil instead of helping to clarify conflicts because you yourself feel threatened by the very fact of the conflicts? Do you use your car inefficiently not because you are incapable of plotting out an efficient round of trips but because it has become your real "castle," the one place where you can get away from immediate requests without feeling guilty? Do you complain privately about your secretary ó who performs miracles already with the bad syntax of your dictation, but who cannot quite make you sound like Winston Churchill ó because, if you took trouble with your syntax, you would be like an ordinary man and not a great spiritual leader? Do you build up inner resentment quietly when asked to do something unreasonable by someone from denominational headquarters, instead of taking the risk of being honest and open and saying no? There is a little bit of yes to each of these, and similar, questions in us all.
All of us are involved to some degree, then, in partially poor administration. But the astonishing fact is that our general conception of administration is determined by what is poor, not by what is good. When we considered preaching, we saw, in contrast, that our image comes from preaching performing its best and proper function, not from its distortions. Now, with administration, we find that pathology provides the norm. That is why the distortion is massive, and why our analysis both of poor or distorted administration and of positive and proper administration is so important. We turn now to the positive image of administering.
Administering as Commitment Through Group
Our proper conception of administration, like our image of preaching, has its modern starting point in the Reformation. It stems from the two closely related doctrines of the universal priesthood of believers and the universality of Christian vocation. Thus, from this perspective, administration was not invented solely in the twentieth century, and it was not a device of the devil. The meaning behind it is, in our Protestant tradition, just as important an interpretation of the meaning of ministry as is the preaching image.
Put in cartoon form, the image is this: a pastor standing slightly behind two other Christians, with a hand on the shoulder of each person.
The first fact that strikes us in this image is that there is a group, and that the group is made explicit. Whatever the persons may be assumed to be looking at, they are all looking at the same thing, in the same direction. It is not simply that they have a common goal. More basically, their actual perceptions share commonality. Further, there are three persons, thus clearly a group. Thus, any false interpretation that might arise if there were but two personsómaster and servant, day and night, or even sexual connotations óare set aside by the presence of three. Since three is not a rounding-off number, as Carl Jung has reminded us, three is the proper symbolic number for this group; for they and their task are by no means rounded off. It is a group that is incomplete and with rough edges, just as it should be.
Second, it goes almost without saying that the members of the group are all shown on the same level. We saw that this same point was implicit in the preaching image. Here it is explicit, and there can be no mistake.
Third, the image acknowledges functional differences among the group members but no distinction as to basic task. There is no sentimental groupiness about everyone being as competent about everything as everyone else just because all are on the same level. The minister is shown with his hand on the shoulders of the others. His function is to provide a necessary and welcome guidance. But one may equally turn this statement about and say that the minister acknowledges he cannot move on alone. The need of minister for people, and of people for minister, is equal. And the basic task can be understood only in the light of what they can do together, even though functions are different.
Perhaps someone might want to make something out of the ministerís being a bit behind the laymen. In my cartoon the reason for this is that otherwise he would have to be a contortionist to get his hands on their shoulders, or would have to embrace them, neither of which alternatives gives quite the proper impression. Perhaps there is symbolic significance in the ministerís being just a bit behind. The people are the frontier contacts with the world. At least collectively, they know far more of the details of the world with its sin and sorrow than he individually can know. Perhaps it is proper for him to be taught by them about the world they all, as a group, seek to serve and to save.
When we look at the combined elements of this image, I contend that we are viewing the essence of ministry as administering in exactly the sense that the image of open-Bible ó pulpit ó preacher gave us the image of preaching.
In tracing the roots of this image of administering, it is clear that the biblical conception of servanthood would come first. Yet it is not serving that makes this image unique; for all proper images of the ministry also demonstrate forms of serving. The unique aspect of the present image comes from the Reformation juncture of universal priesthood and Christian vocation.
The universal priesthood of believers was partly a constructive and partly a polemical doctrine. It did not mean, as has sometimes been hastily and wrongly assumed, that every Christian is his own all-sufficient priest. It did mean two things: that a specially designated hierarchy as a channel of access to God was rejected; and that, under some conditions, any Christian might properly serve as priest to any other. Priesthood in general implies mediation or linkage. The Reformers were too wise to deny that linkage might be needed, even by ordained ministers. But they denied possession of a linkage function by a priestly class. Thus the whole conception of linkage, or human mediation, or of priesthood was changed from a status notion to a functional one. The paradox involved in this redefinition was very effectively prefigured in Paulís statements about burden bearing. Christians are to bear one anotherís burdens: but as he becomes able, every Christian is to bear his own burden.
Perhaps the thrust of the universal priesthood doctrine may appear more clearly if we think of some partial parallels. For instance, except for the unfamiliarity of the term, it would not be inappropriate today to call the best relationships in small groups of workers "the foremanship of all workers." We might even conceive of the "universal vice-presidency of all junior executives." Bernard M. Loomer once spoke of the "deanship of all instructors." Such terms connote something quite different from the "dictatorship of the proletariat," the "kingship of all lords," or the aristocracy of everybody who is not "in trade." They do not deny the importance of a focusing or guiding or leading function, and of its incarnation in foremen, vice-presidents, or deans. But just as the foremanís function can be performed only through and in cooperation with the workers, so the function of the workers can be performed only as they acknowledge and responsibly live up to the "foreman" dimensions of their jobs.
The related Reformation doctrine was Christian vocation, which also had a constructive and a polemical dimension. Polemically it was denied that only priests are called by God to what they are doing. Instead, every Christian is called to his total functions in life: what he does in the church, what he does at home, and above all what he does in his work. True, the modern use of the term "vocation" as a synonym for working occupation is a serious distortion. But it was certainly the most radical aspect of the Reformation vocation doctrine to link a Christianís calling explicitly with the way he earned his living. His vocation was a significant, and often the major, aspect of his ministry.
Every Christian. asserted the vocation doctrine, is called an active ministry. From church and Bible, through Word and sacraments, he receives the grace that makes him a believer. But the life of a believer is ministry. The inevitable response to a true "hearing" some kind of action ó first in worship, to be sure, but then just as surely in service of God through serving the needs of the world. The Christian may of course go out from church and testify to others in the world, verbally, of the riches of his faith. He may perform special kinds of service, philanthropic, foot-washing, or their equivalent. But the radical declaration of the Reformation doctrine, while not denying either foot-washing or verbal testimony, was that a manís principal ministry, in response to his vocation, was in the course of his common life. If he is husband and father, let him minister there through the quality of his common service to his family. If he is an artisan, let him glorify God and serve mankind by the excellence of his work and its products. To serve God he does not have to dream up some special daily good deed. Let him do well what he normally does in the common life, and this will be the principal indication of his hearing Godís particular call to him, and of carrying out his particular ministry as a result.
With universal priesthood and Christian vocation both in mind, let us backtrack to the administering image and reexamine it. A minister and two other Christians, with the ministerís hands on the shoulders of the others, all facing in the same direction. In the image universal priesthood is in the foreground. All are committed to the same basic task; but there are differences of function among them; and each needs the others if the common task is to be performed. There can be no lone-wolfishness or going-it-alone. Ministry involves commonality of basic task and mutuality of appreciation of different functions in performing that task. In terms of functions performed, the other Christian may be said to be as truly ministering to the minister as he may be said to be ministering to them. All three, jointly, seek to minister in Christís name to the world that stands beyond them.
But the Christian vocation notion, while not in the forefront of this image, is not absent from it either. How does each person express his response to Godís call? What the image does show is that each person expresses it according to his gifts or abilities or assignments, that is, functionally. The image denies that any one means of functional expression is inherently better than any other. Do what you are capable of doing ó provided that it is seen as movement toward performance of the common task ó and you are fulfilling your vocation.
Since the cartoon image is not a filmstrip, it does not go on to show the three Christians about their specific duties in the world. But that is implied. They do not simply stay in church. They do not remain as a literal proximate group twenty-four hours a day. Each goes out into the world to exercise his vocation, partly on special service, to be sure, but mainly through his participation in the common life, which is also ministry, if he so understands it.
When we look at the image from the point of view of the ordained minister, which is unapologetically our focus in this book, it becomes clear why this is an image of administering. For what the minister wants to get done cannot possibly be done by him alone. It must be done through and with ó above all, in consultation with ó other Christians. Precisely who should do what is not, so to speak, fixed in advance of the consultation. If the situation were always such that the minister allocated responsibilities to the others, then one assumes that he could go happily back to his lone-wolf duties except for the occasional periods of referral. But the actual situation is not like that. The result of the consultation may be to give him new responsibilities, or to give him a new sense of responsibility about guiding the others in the exercise of their functions. The results of true consultation are never wholly predictable. Thus real consultation is an enemy of that kind of mental economy that wants to know, now and forever, precisely what pigeonholes are for what pigeons. The administering image declares such a compulsion to be incompatible with true ministry.
There is one additional way in which all this may be put from the perspective of the ordained minister. The image tells us that the unique thing about the ministerís vocation is his responsibility for guiding the Christian vocations of others. But if this is so, and if, as is also true, he is minister of the Word and sacraments, then it must follow that guiding the Christian vocations of others is as indispensable an aspect of receiving responsibly the Word and sacraments as is preaching or pastoral care. If administering is being properly done, one does not, therefore, leave it in order to get back to the true ministry of the Word when he enters the pulpit or the study or the counseling room. Either administering is an essential mode of ministry of the Word, or else the Reformers were entirely wrong about universal priesthood and Christian vocation.
The Psychology of Administering
So far as time and insights permit, we have demonstrated in summary the theological bases of administration as an essential dimension of ministry. It is evident that the psychological attitude making possible the risk of investing oneís most precious projects unto others in consultation involves some basic surrender of the notion that ministry is what one does by himself. Conversely, inability so to invest, or the more frequent grumbling about the investment, are rooted in an attitude that at some level still regards basic consultation as an enemy of ministry.
This point brings us full circle to the reported fact that what ministers most dislike is their administrative and executive duties. In attempting to correct this point of view, I have so far drawn on two main lines of argument. The first is the injunction to efficiency in administration, lest administration be wrongly equated with poor administration. The second has been to give some vision, with a theological searchlight, of the context in which administration should be understood. I turn now, third and finally, to one additional line of argument in attacking the prejudice against administration; namely, a direct attack to expose the partly hidden motives of the administration-hater.
He who dislikes administration has a feeling, somewhere inside him, that this sort of thing is "secondhand." There is no direct pristine line from pastoral intention to ecclesiastical performance (as there seems, deceptively, to be in regard to preaching and pastoral care). Instead, one has to enter a labyrinth. Instead of the committeeís clear, well-informed, and spontaneous formulation of a plan that executes perfectly and automatically what the minister had in mind, one has to listen to that garrulous Mr. Jones, whose knowledge of the Bible is abysmal and whose preoccupation with the surgery he had two years ago is unflagging, and to Mrs. Smith, who has always found some odd thing in some odd church magazine that she thinks we might try here and which is always irrelevant to the business at hand, and to Dr. Brown, who has a big income himself but seizes every opportunity to ensure that the minister shall prove his piety by his poverty. How could God conceivably believe that a true ministry should involve working with committees that contain people like this? In putting it this way, a minister is of course saving that he is too important and his time is too valuable to waste in educating or changing or shepherding people while he is engaged in consulting them. Thus he has no inner readiness for consultation at all. He may talk about encounter, but he demonstrates his ignorance of its meaning. There can be no I-Thou relationships with rubber stamps or sycophants.
Another related thing we may say about the administration-hater is that risks make him fearful. To commit oneís time and energies, and his best interpretations and arguments, to decision in which others share must inevitably be an anxiety-inducing business unless one has a bit of a psychological free-swing about him. But one can have this kind of attitude only if, in fact, he is not inwardly compelled to feel defensive about his work and its results. If one feels securely that he has been given a treasure, and the treasure is not of the kind that is dissipated by sharing, then he can risk (within some prudent and intelligent limits) freely and even gladly. Psychologically speaking, he learns that even his aggressive energies are meant for the service of God, no less than his tenderness and his concern. But if he feels threatened, he cannot risk. And in that case his first question to himself should be not how to get out of the administrative involvement but exactly what does put him on the defensive. There surely must be some connection between the fear of risk and what I believe to be the fact: that the administration-haters are also the ministers who complain most bitterly about the reluctance of laymen to assume responsibility.
There is likely to be also, among the disapprovers of administration, quite a bit of perfectionism. There is always a certain nobility of aim in even the most disastrous perfectionism. What one does should be done well, it says. But it turns out ordinarily that what one wants to be able to do well is what no one else can evaluate; and hence the motive behind the perfectionism is not excellence of performance but freedom from appraisal. Of all the aspects of ministry, administering is that in which appraisal of the minister is most open and unconcealed. The minister who cannot receive appraisal with some kind of objective but serious ear is in a poor position to guide his people to find their Christian vocation, for that too rests upon appraisal.
Finally, I think there is a kind of "merit-badge" psychology at work in those who dislike administration. In a way one can, after a sermon or a pastoral interview, attach another bar to his pin. He knows he has been a minister; he preached or acted as shepherd. But with a committee or a pile of letters, no merit badge. In the terms of Gestalt psychology, one has not got "closure." Everything is open-ended. Now, without necessarily being against merit badges in the proper setting, which is for Boy Scouts, for adults to have their professional self-respect dependent upon their equivalent suggests at the least some deep interior doubt about the integrity of oneís commitment. On this point, as on the others, I do not intend merely to cast aspersions on those who hate administration (for some part of all of us feels this way), but rather to compel our rethinking of our motivations.
One other kind of comment is needed on the psychology of administration. No doubt you have already been thinking, "But what about those ministers who get so delightedly involved in the machinery and the wheels that they become no good at all about preaching, pastoral care, or anything else?" I would agree that this is a serious question, most of all in American churches. My argument for the essentiality of administering is in no way an invitation to neglect sermons, pastoral care, or anything else that is crucial in a total ministry.
But just what, from a psychological point of view, happens with the man whose delight is in the law of wheels turning round? He has, if I may use a psychoanalytic term, demonstrated that we may have "reaction-formations" in the ministry. In psychoanalysis a reaction-formation is said to appear when the automatic defense that is brought to bear against something that cannot be admitted takes a form precisely the opposite of what is being denied, as when a compulsive neatness appears on the surface to ward off riotous interior desires to be messy, or when effusive sweetness in words covers up an unadmitted desire to dominate. The minister wholly occupied with turning wheels is, in all probability, distracting himself from the emptiness he believes he would find if he took his mind off wheels and put it onto ministry. Even if such a person is called a good administrator, I believe that this is seldom true according to the criteria suggested in the present discussion. He is not so much working through and with other people in a common task, about which he bears particular kinds of responsibilities, as he is keeping himself so busy that he need not ask what is unique about ns vocation. Thus, he is least of all prepared to understand the present discussion. In contrast, the minister with a bit of administration-hating in him is far more likely to make enough change in his outlook to become a proper administrator as an aspect of his total ministry.
Limitations of the Administering Image
Finally, let me remind you that the administering image, valuable as it is when it is rightly understood, is still a cross-section, a cartoon, that has temporarily neglected some things in order to give proper emphasis to other things. Let us make sure that we beat off in advance some possible misinterpretations.
Someone might say, "How do we know that this picture is a Christian one? Could it not just as well be a picture of a democratic society?" As stated, it could indeed be so. But this is no handicap in a cartoon if we grasp both its intent and its context. Indeed, the preaching image simply showed an open book, and we had to imagine the right context in order to see that this book was manifestly the Bible. To try to make clear our administering image, of course we might put all three men on their knees. But not only would that require the minister to be a contortionist in putting his hands on the shoulders of the others; it would also mean that the men would have to bow their heads, and the reference in the actual image to their work to be done in the world might be clouded. Perhaps each layman could be carrying a Bible; or one layman a Bible and the other some symbol of service such as a cup. Yet all such suggestions really miss the point. No cartoon image can present the whole context in which it is to be understood. To try to make it do so makes it lose its power.
In similar vein, someone else may ask, "How do we really know the difference between the minister and the others, when they are all dressed alike?" If it suits the sartorial aspects of the fellowship, I suppose I can concede a robe or a reversed collar. But certainly not a frock coat. Such queries could be endless. Why are they all men? Why not a woman and a child? An older person? Someone who is ill? All such questions do indeed remind us that we are dealing with a cartoon, with an attempt at emphasis that must, for the time being, leave certain other things unexplicit. But this procedure is, in actual fact, the way the human mind works ó from a vague, diffuse, and blobby kind of general perception, in the direction of increasing specificity, and then back to a much more accurate and articulated whole. Our cartoons are neither the first nor the last word. But they are very important somewhere in the middle.
I conclude with a rather risky word about God. A great part of the content of our Christian faith declares that God, although free to do otherwise, did actually create us in his own image, which includes some significant measure of freedom and of capacity to love; that we have individually and collectively misused our freedom and not cultivated our love capacity; that an astoundingly radical procedure was used to get us humans out of our predicament; and that it is the constant privilege and duty of the church to testify to the salvation already wrought and to bring all men and ourselves to receive it. But when we look at actual existence, we have to begin theologizing, that is, acknowledging the complications. And at that point there is no reflective Christian who has not at some time asked the question, "Was God out of his mind to entrust this most precious treasure to people like us and churches like ours?" And if he has answered the question rightly, he has finally said, "Yes, we are as bad as that; but God was willing to risk it, and he must know what he is doing."
If even God felt it wise and right and essential to risk his purposes and his love through fallible human instruments, who is a minister to be unwilling to acknowledge that his ministry must be risked through fallible human beings who are, in actual fact, no more fallible than he?