Our Own History and Story Can Be a Powerful Force to Help Maintain Our Balance and Sense of Equilibrium in Ministry

Rev. Dr. Sunder John Boopalan

Name: Rev. Dr. Sunder John Boopalan
Pronouns: He/Him/His
Ethnic Identity: Asian
Denomination: Progressive National Baptist Convention
Ministry Role: Assistant Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies
Ministry Context: Canadian Mennonite University
Seminary Attended: Princeton Theological Seminary

Dear Fellow-Travellers,

Let me begin by sharing a story. At a college-level event during my undergraduate education, a male administrator looked around the room which comprised mostly of men and remarked, “We need some women in the room to add some color.” Add some color. That phrase and memory has stuck with me over the years. As wrong as it is to reduce the value of a person or group to just their ability to “add some color,” as people of color, we will sometimes be reduced to just that. The people who participate in such reduction could be fellow students at seminaries or divinity schools or they could be administrators interested in having your picture for the school’s webpage or brochure. Along the way, we will also discover that this reduction occurs in other settings as well—including ministerial settings. It might be someone in church who is more interested in your accent than the content of your sermon, or it might be that person who is more curious about your hair or skin rather than in your worth as a person with a rich history and story. 

My first encouragement, therefore, is to dig into your history and story so that you may fully own your identity. Because reductions have power to confuse and harm, finding a narrative from our own history and story can be a powerful force to help maintain our balance and sense of equilibrium in ministry. Keep your head and heart up. You have a rich history, story, and identity that is going to positively impact the church and the world. You (not anyone else) decide with God’s help what exactly that addition to the world is going to be.

A second encouragement I’d like to share is to find a sense of accountability to “the least of these” based on your own contexts and ministerial responsibilities. The phrase “the least of these” is used by Jesus (famously in Matthew 25: 31–46) to refer to those on the margins of society. In using such a phrase, Jesus did not create a wholly new idea. The Hebrew Bible also often refers to marginal persons and groups—using the broad category of “the poor, the orphan, and the widow”—that fall under God’s special care and protection. Part of the ministerial task is to pay careful attention to who “the least of these” are in the various contexts we are and will be part of. Constantly ask yourself, therefore, to whom you hold yourself accountable in this way. Create a smaller circle of peers and mentors whom you trust to help you on that journey. These are persons whom you can call on for a phone chat or coffee or to simply (without applying filters) air out your concerns and find—and sometimes when we lose ourselves a bit, also recover—the meaning and joy in ministry.

A third encouragement is to find the elders and the elderly in the communities that you serve and connect them with the youngest among you. Churches sometimes use the term “intergenerational ministry” for this approach. I’d encourage us, however, not to think of intergenerational ministry as a strategy to maintain church membership, but rather to capture the beloved vision of the prophet Joel in Joel 2:28. God’s spirit and presence is most tangible when all of God’s people come together in the flesh—in play, prayer, worship, and laughter. Think and pray and work towards moments of encounter where both young and old can dream and envision together. Such work will redeem the communities you work with and in the process also redeem ourselves.

-Rev. Dr. Sunder John Boopalan


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