While Gregory defends his integrity he presents his theology of ministry. You might say he presents ministry as such a weighty responsibility that anyone in their right mind would have run away from it. If he were talking to a candidate for ordination today, the conversation would probably sound something like that between Frodo and Aragorn in at least the film version of The Lord of the Rings. Aragorn asks if Frodo is frightened at the calling unfolding before him. Yes, says the hobbit. “Not nearly frightened enough,” says Aragorn.
Gregory’s view of ministry is startlingly countercultural. He starts by declaring that God has set up the order of things, with a few people ruling and the rest to be ruled–by which he means some will be pastors, guiding and teaching others, and the others will be guided and taught. The hierarchical picture is surprising–antithetical to our ideals of personal independence and social mobility. It sounds like an ecclesiastical caste system, and wherever we are on the ladder, there we are–stuck.
But from another angle, when he says God set it up this way he is just describing the church around him. Then and now, a few are pastors and teachers, and then and now, in some way, most think God called the pastors to be the pastors. Personally, I hope God does move in the hearts of people who should become pastors, and I hope God does move in the lives of congregations to call them to serve. God does seem to call all of us into those congregations. It just sounds uncomfortably hierarchical.
The use of the term “rule” for what pastors do is something we’ll see again in other writers. Eventually we’ll have to look into its meaning and implications, and consider whether the concept is at all useful today. But Gregory has a number of terms and metaphors for the pastor’s work, each of which could provide a different shape or pattern for ministry.
Gregory says, to my surprise, that the pastor should be like the “soul” in the “body” which is the church, or like the “intellect” in the “soul.” That sounds at first like he is setting ministers up as superior beings of a sort, as if thinking ordination, or the pastoral office, makes a fundamental change of our status before God. Here again I think that is not quite the case. We are all called to grow closer to Christ and to serve God’s purposes in the world. But churches set apart one or more people to receive training and to have time to attend to these matters. We do not want our minister to draw close to Christ or serve God instead of us. Rather we want them to do so with integrity, so they can help the rest of us come along and grow too.
If the pastor is not growing close to God, living the Christian life with integrity, then he or she will not be able to lead us to lives of integrity with God, either as individuals or as a community. A minister who does not ring true may try to have influence, but in Gregory’s terms, “the wider his rule, the greater evil he will be.” Gregory’s metaphor here is that of silver and gold coins. If you reach into your pocket and pull out a handful of change, you want it to jingle. If it rings like gold or silver, it can be used. If it sounds instead with the thunk of lead or the clunk of clay it gets tossed or returned to the refiner’s fire. Ministry fails, Gregory seems to think, because the pastor does not live the life of intimate connection with God that is every Christian’s calling. He calls it “evil.” In mainline Christianity it sometimes looks more like the bland leading the bland.
Though he does not belabor the metaphor of the refiner’s fire, he does view himself and us as metal in the process of refinement. The intent is that we draw close to God and be changed, grow in virtue so as to be shiny enough to reflect God ever after; “a real unspotted mirror of God and divine things”, he says. This is Gregory’s description, not of the ministry as a superior state, but of the calling of the Christian. Gregory was so intent on this goal that he fled ministry to pursue it. But then again, he seems to say that this transformation, a life changed by closeness to God, is an essential qualification for ministry.
We resist any idea of superior status, having absorbed from our culture an egalitarian idea that everyone is on the same level in the church. Gregory is not, I think, really setting up the minister in terms of status before God. He does, however, say that the minister has some distinct responsibilities: to pursue God and grow in virtue, not instead of others but to be able to lead others the same way; to discern and guide others with perspective that comes from communion with God, knowledge of the Scriptures, and as we will see, study of people.
What would a minister’s life look like with this transforming pursuit of God as the first concern? What kinds of daily actions and interactions make for the kind of integrity where a minister’s life rings clearly as true coin? What might it mean in a congregation for the minister does function as “soul” to the body?