Finding Meaning in Metaphors

The following is a reflection post from my Vocation Matters class this last spring at Phillips. We were studying metaphors of ministry, and relating them to our own calling to ministry.

I was really struck by some of the metaphors for ministry mentioned in the lecture from Donald Messer’s Contemporary Images of Christian Ministry. In particular, servant leader, political mystic in a prophetic community, and enslaved liberators in a rainbow church caught my attention. I find meaning in all three.

At my undergrad, Oklahoma City University, the university really pushed the idea of developing students as servant leaders. I had never heard that term before, but I always liked the sound of it, and contemplating what was meant by it. Five years later, being steeped in seminary and theological thought, I find it to be a good description of the type of leadership Jesus practiced. Through service to those around him, especially those considered lesser or in need, Jesus gained authority as a leader willing to embody the things he was asking of his followers. As the modern earthly representatives of Christ and the Kingdom of God, those of us called to ministry are obligated to pick up that example, and practice it towards our own flocks.

The second, political mystic in a prophetic community, also speaks to me because of my background in political work, and that fact that the motivations that took me into policy and politics (namely, a drive to change the world and people’s lives for the better) also power me in ministry. I don’t believe the church, and those of us who lead the church, can disentangle from the political concerns of the world, nor should we want to. Justice is one of the ultimate callings of the church, and political happenings invariably concern issues of justice in the human community. But the church is not called to identify with any one political movement or ideology, but instead, to act as a prophetic outsider, ala Isaiah or Amos or Hosea or any other of the prophets, calling the powers and principalities back towards a closer approximation of the Kingdom of God.

Finally, being a strong believer in the ideas of liberation theology, the metaphor of enslaved liberators in a rainbow church captures my attention for obvious reasons. However, I am having a difficult time wrapping my mind around what this meaning-packed phrase means. The possibilities contained in the three keys phrases-enslaved, liberators, rainbow church-are exciting, but I have to figure out what Messer is saying about they work together in the context of ministry.

All in all, I think there are a wide, wide variety of metaphors that can describe the vocation of ministry, and as those looking to move into ministry, we should cultivate a wide variety of images for understanding what we want to do, in order that it should not become stale or uni-dimensional throughout a life of work.

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