An Interview about Ministry

(A few months back, I was interviewed by a former student about my thoughts on Christian ministry.  I’m afraid he makes me sound better than I am, especially when I reference ideas from wiser and holier people than me like CS Lewis and Mother Theresa.  Here is an excerpt of what he wrote.)

I should probably introduce Mr. Grayson, a veteran teacher of fourteen years, ten of them at my former school.  He currently teaches the freshmen level theology courses, film appreciation, film production, theater, and moderates the Film Club, Socratic Club, Juggling Club, and Board Game Club. 

He is not the tallest teacher on the faculty, but he casts a very large presence and is one of the teachers who I have the highest respect for out of any of my teachers before or since.  After the students leave the room, we sit down and begin our discussion on ministry.  Our discussion begins as any discussion with an expert in the Socratic Method should begin: with defining our terms. 

Grayson begins with defining ministry as “identifying a need and voluntarily addressing it” and then moves to stating that in Christian ministry the need that is to be addressed is the salvation of souls.  He states that “all ministry is geared towards this one fundamental need.” 

As we keep going down this train of thought, he tells me a story of how Mother Theresa generally refused government aid.  For her, it was never about how many people she could help, rather it was about the individual person she could help. Ministry is by no means a numbers game; instead it is intentionally relational.

The final component of ministry that Grayson defined, and it is the crux of ministry, is that it is carried out “for the greater glory of God.”  There is no getting out of performing ministry, according to Grayson; all of us are called to building up the Kingdom of God.  We are commanded by Christ to make disciples of all nations.  We are called to “be rooted in love, looking for the good of the other.”  God has already given us all His love.  The acceptance of it is a choice; it is the choice of the minister, but also to the one being ministered to.

After defining ministry in the general Christian sense, we moved into refining it into the context of W.L. Grayson.  His ministry is being the teacher.  He says that “it is not my role to be Paul” [travelling to the ends of the earth], but rather to educate the young in the faith.  “To know the Church is to love it” and those who do not love the Church may be doing so from ignorance. 

This truly does speak to the role of the teacher as a form of ministry, but it begs the question of what about the other many roles that are filled by the infamous W.L. Grayson? What about the Socratic, Film, and Board Game Clubs or spearheading the drama department?  Are those too expressly Ministry?  The short answer to that is “yes.” 

Socratic Club cultivates the God-given wisdom in the students, giving them the tools they need, not only to win arguments or look clever, but to be able to structure and formulate arguments and take them to their logical conclusions. 

He then moves to the board game club, which offers a chance for people to come together to play games to win real money.  It is a great way to find a common ground and to break the ice and foster friendships.  He reminds me of a truth, one that struck very close to home for me from my experience, “in high school, the number one fear is being different and alone.” 

This is when we begin to delve into the club that I remember most fondly: Film Club.  Film Club is all about “connecting people through film.”  It is a community within my former school unlike any other.  It creates a change that Grayson has seen time and again “A student without friends reluctantly joins [film club], but after a month or so, there is a huge change [in that student]” from completely alone to surrounded by friends…

We now move into a new ministerial role, one that Mr. Grayson did not have during my time in high school: theater director.  “Drama was an incredibly important class for me in high school. I was a cripplingly shy kid, and I was bullied,” Grayson begins, “I actually almost dropped the class.”  I naturally follow up with the question of “why did you keep going?”  “It was the Monologue portion of the class.  I never really had had any time to practice my monologue in class before we had to perform it for a grade.  I was petrified, but I went up and gave it my all.” 

After he was finished, the teacher told Grayson he ruined the curve. Grayson supplements with “for me it was a huge realization of value.”  He goes on to say how teaching is a performance, but that by now being the drama teacher, he is giving his students “the ability to be the best versions of themselves empowering them to achieve “confidence through excellence.”

After elaborating on the entire ministry of W.L. Grayson in the realm of the teacher, we move into the great challenges of Ministry:  how the culture of the world is secularizing all forms of aid.  “It is misses the point,” he claims, and I can see in his expression how painful this point is.  By secularizing, we are “losing what it means to help people, becoming unmoored from the Truths of God.” 

He then points out a very coldly logical point: the problem of pain.  In the secular world, pain is the only true evil.  “When we ignore the human component, the love and relationship… if alleviating pain is the only good, then why not mercy killing?”  When we ignore the fact that people are made in the image of God, and that life has dignity, then this becomes a logical necessity.  It flies straight in the face of another, more important question: “What is the good of what you are doing?” 

In the realm of education, Grayson points out that there is a “watering down of religious education, avoiding teaching the hard issues.”  This is “crippling the students” and something W.L. refuses to stand for.  “If you stand by the truth, you will be loved or hated, the same as Christ.  But you will never be dismissed.” 

Having been his student, I know for a fact this is how W.L. Grayson approaches teaching.  He lives out what he teaches in the classroom, “otherwise I have no basis.”

Moving into the internal challenges, here there is one, that from which all other problems stem: pride.  Grayson pointed out that it is “the lurking demon, the spiritual cancer.”  Pride is the problem. 

“When we do good, when we serve others, part of us says ‘Aren’t I so good?’” Grayson says, and I can see the struggle, “’Aren’t I better than them?’ This is when we risk becoming a Pharisee.” 

The scary thing is what Grayson says next: “Satan will leave you in pride.  He couldn’t care less if you beat every other vice, because when you beat your other vices, you leave the door open to pride.”  The two most effective means of combatting pride are community and humility.   A good group of friends will keep you from being too inflated.  They know how to ground you. 

However, humility does not mean denying your own talents, your gifts and abilities; it means acknowledging different methods and seeing the value of doing things differently.  For Grayson, the trap of pride is a very real and present one.  He is, by admission and by my experience, a bit of a disciplinarian.  “Usually it is the small things, dress code, punctuality, etc,  which are all necessary things to enforce.  But sometimes it can turn into an ‘I got you’ mentality.”  He also admits that sometimes it causes him to write student off, “I have given many detentions over the years, sometimes failing to recognize [the good that I do not see].”  

One of the stories on that which he recounted was there was one student who was particularly snarky and difficult, who would sass him who one day posed the question “Is alcoholism a sin?”  He gave the answer to the question, and went about his business.  It was only at the end of the day when he realized “why did she ask me that?”  It turned out that her dad was an alcoholic, and that she was reaching out for help, and that he had almost dismissed her.  “As a teacher, students sometimes come to me with life problems, whether it is coming out of the closet, an alcoholic parent, suicidal thoughts, or what have you.  I cannot turn off my teacher instinct; I have to be that [person for them].”

Another side of the problem of pride in teaching is the risk of turning Christianity into an intellectual, rather than spiritual exercise.  As C.S. Lewis once said “no doctrine seems less real than the one you successfully defended.” Grayson says that “belief is not based on our own arguments.”  There is a distinction between teaching facts about Jesus and empowering students to encounter Him.

Not only is this a balancing act in the classroom, but for W.L., it is a balancing act in life.  “I do not just teach for a living, I am a teacher.  It is woven into the fabric of who I am.  As a teacher, I am not only there to impart knowledge to my students; I am there to love them.”  Again, Mr. Grayson goes on to cite C.S. Lewis’s infinite wisdom: “always avoid focusing on the faults of others, except if you are a parent or teacher.” 

He points out that outside of the classroom, even in this interview, he tries to avoid focusing on faults.  It is as if there is a switch between “teacher mode” and normal person.  That being said, Grayson points out, maybe it is a failing.  “I cannot do youth ministry.  I cannot reconcile it with being a teacher.  As a youth minister, I have to be much more open, much more inviting than a teacher, and I cannot do it.  Maybe a better person can, though.” 

Outside of the classroom, he is involved in the Knights of Columbus, fairly active in Liturgy, and occasionally blogs on theology, which are different from his teaching role, but are not contradictory.  His ministry envelops his whole person, not just one or two facets of it, but rather the whole character.

I then posed my last question, a fairly open-ended one on what his closing thoughts on being a minister are.  “Failure is a part of what we do.  I accept it, be it through my faults or not.”  He goes on saying that in his ministries he is often “very invested and stressed.  But Mother Theresa said, ‘I do not think God calls me to be successful. He calls me to be faithful.’  Maybe I have failed.   All I can control is how devoted I am to my ministry [and to God].  Did I leave it all on the field, or was I afraid and did I hold back?” 

Ultimately, though, the ministry’s success is in God’s hands.  “God makes sure that we do not see all of our results, rather he shows us just enough [to keep us from falling into despair].”

His closing thought was a reflection from near the end of his first year of teaching.  He was reflecting in the chapel of his school, and in his reflection, he heard a voice say, “I could have gotten anyone to do what you did this year, but I am glad it was you.” 

He goes on to say, “I know I am not good enough on my own, and I cannot understand why God wants me,” but he concludes that it is the case and that he will do what he can to the best of his ability for the greater Glory of God.

Copyright 2015, W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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