Multiplicity and Healthy Ministry


Before I entered pastoral ministry, I was a political science major, an office worker, a grad student in theology, a lay church leader and worship committee member, a published writer, a journal keeper, a poet, a proof reader for an engineering firm, a college instructor, the wife of a law student turned professor, a daughter, a sister, and so much more. . . .   I never expected to become a pastor, and in my early years of ministry, I often thought of myself as a hyphenated teacher-pastor or writer-pastor as if the title of pastor didn’t quite fit.

Now I know why after reading Varieties of Gifts: Multiplicity and the Well-Lived Pastoral Life by Cynthia G. Lindner (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016).

There is no monolithic ministerial self. (48)

writes Cynthia Lindner, Director of Ministry Studies and Clinical Faculty for Preaching and Pastoral Care in the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Instead, Lindner’s research found that pastors who thrive in ministry exhibit multiplicity. That is, they bring multiple selves to their ministry just as I bring my teaching self, my writing self, my womanly self, my Chinese-Canadian self, my many other selves into my pastoral ministry. As we do that, we find a rich resource of creativity, vitality, and resilience in ministry.

Every story, every rich and well-lived pastoral life, was evidence of multiplicity or multiple-mindedness at work. . . . Our multiple-mindedness is essential, as it allows us to function simultaneously in the variety of roles we each inhabit. (xiii)

While some might immediately connect this with the plurality of our post-modern context, Lindner points out that multiplicity is not new.

Jesus’s self-understanding and his preaching about the kingdom takes on the complexion of his own complicated context, sometimes employing the scriptural habits of his tradition’s scribes, other times using the lives of ordinary fishermen, farmers, or wedding revelers as his text. And the apostle Paul, whose travel, teachings, and writings have shaped the Christian tradition more thoroughly than any other single testimony, was at once a Jew and a citizen of Rome, a scholar and a tradesman, an evangelist, a teacher, and a world traveler. (6)

I appreciate the wide variety of pastors interviewed for this study, and the many stories included in their own words that demonstrate some of the author’s more technical sections on multiplicity. I often recognize myself or certain pastoral situations in these stories, and where my experience differs, the stories help to deepen my understanding of ministry and invite further reflection.

While the book is not primarily about church employment, it does discuss some employment-related issues, such as the role of discernment and ordination committees (8-9), the perils of disconnected or diffuse selfhood in pastoral distress and misconduct (92-95), and the trend to bivocational ministry (114-117) which references this fascinating article from The Atlantic: Higher Calling, Lower Wages–The Vanishing of the Middle-Class Clergy.

For pastors and others who work for the church and related organizations, this book affirms and encourages multiplicity in ministry and the telling of our stories to encourage others. For congregations, it gives a window into the lives of healthy clergy and faith communities, and extends

an invitation to think more deeply and boldly about your mutual ministry, pastor and congregations together. (xv)

If you’d like to leave a comment at the end of this article or send me an email, consider the author’s conversation with her interviewees who were invited to narrate their lives of ministry “as if your stories were chapters in a book. What would the book be called? How were the chapters organized? What would the book’s high and low points be? How would the book end?”

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Thank you for your interest in When You Work for the Church. Join me here in another two weeks, or sign up for my free updates to read at your own pace without missing anything.

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