Of Ministry, Titles, and Stewards

Titles and the meaning behind them matter

Woman looking ahead outside with arms crossed.

What titles have you held in your ministry? 

I’ve been an assistant to the rector, associate rector, rector, and assisting priest. You might be a parish council chair, pastor, bishop, elder, lay preacher, rostered leader, or something else. While the specific duties of each title varies, they signal a traditional ministry role.

I struggled for a long time to discern a suitable title for my ministry because it doesn’t fit a defined or traditional role. My current ministry began when a vision awakened me in the middle of the night with the force of a lightning bolt: create a ministry for lay and ordained preachers to develop their craft and skills in a manner that is at least as much about skill as it is about spiritual direction. 

In that instant I understood not only the vision, but my role in it to get it launched. I was to help it get off the ground and grow to the point that it would continue beyond my tenure. But what was the appropriate title for someone carrying an idea, a concept, a mission? Traditional church titles didn’t seem right. I wasn’t in charge of a congregation or a region, so I wasn’t a rector, pastor, or canon. It’s a vision for ministry, not a business, so CEO didn’t fit either.

After months of wrestling it dawned on me. It was so obvious I didn’t know why I hadn’t seen it before. This vision had been handed to me, and I had had nothing to do with its creation. I was asked to be the vision’s steward. Hence, my title, the Founding Steward of Backstory Preaching. One day my successor will be the Steward to carry the vision forward for as long as they are called to serve in the role. 

Although my title and specific ministry may be unusual, my mission is the same as yours. We’re all stewards of a vision to which we were entrusted in a single moment—our baptisms. We’re all stewards of an idea, a concept, a mission, by grace, to actualize the reign of God in our time and space. We carry this sacred vision during our tenure in this lifetime only for the purpose of handing it off.

There is no question that the Church is changing, and thus, our roles in it. The Church’s Second Reformation began before COVID-19, but the pandemic pushed us all into the deep end of that pool. 

  • What does it mean to be a lay preacher tasked with preaching a relevant sermon to an online worship attendee you may never interact with? 
  • What does it mean to be a pastor in a denomination rich with wisdom, history, and tradition if the “spiritual but not religious” don’t care? 
  • How do you function as outreach coordinator to serve the discarded human beings near the faithful online parishioners who live three states—or a continent—away? 

All of this is unknown, and the unknown is disconcerting. And yet… 

Our primary mission has not changed. It is the same as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: to be the stewards, the vision-bearers, and mission-enablers to love our neighbor as ourselves. To forgive as we have been forgiven. To make justice roll down like waters. To tend to the needs of widows, orphans, and strangers. To let people know Jesus Christ shows us the way, and reveals the truth—that love conquers every form of death, because Jesus is Life itself.

Because the world is changing as fast as the Church, that makes our role as stewards of God’s vision literally more necessary than ever. Imagine for just one moment what this world would be like if that vision were forgotten, not carried forward, discarded as anachronistic, unrealistic, or just a fairy tale. Imagine the heartache and unspeakable tragedy if people didn’t know they were loved beyond measure, beyond reason, beyond deserving.

The particulars of Church life, worship, and our roles as lay preachers, pastors, bishops, and all the titles we get are changing and will continue to change for the rest of our lifetimes, but our mission never will. We were handed a vision of God’s reign that we did not create. More precisely, we were dunked into that vision in our baptisms. In that instant we were entrusted with a vision of the reign of God which we will hand off only as our tenure on this earth concludes.

Whatever titles the Church confers on us, they are malleable and temporary. “Steward” was granted first, will go with us to the grave, and is the most sacred of them all.

Your Turn

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  • Lisa Cressman

    The vision for Backstory Preaching woke the Rev'd Dr. Lisa Cressman in the middle of the night, and she's been trying to keep up with the Holy Spirit ever since. She's Backstory Preaching's Founder and Steward, sharing insights from 25 years as an Episcopal priest, preacher, spiritual director, and retreat leader. Lisa is the author of Backstory Preaching: Integrating Life, Spirituality, and Craft and a Certified Daring Way facilitator. She holds a BS in Nursing from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, an M.Div. from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, CA, and a D.Min. in Practical Theology from Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, IN.

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