Amy Jones,
Agape Coordinator
Dear God, we come to worship you today. 
We come to pray, and listen.
You always hear us. 
Help us to hear you. Amen
John 3:22-36

22After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he spent some time there with them and baptized. 23John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim because water was abundant there; and people kept coming and were being baptized 24 — John, of course, had not yet been thrown into prison.

25Now a discussion about purification arose between John’s disciples and a Jew. 26They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” 27John answered, “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. 28You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.’ 29He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. 30He must increase, but I must decrease.”

31The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is above all. 32He testifies to what he has seen and heard, yet no one accepts his testimony. 33Whoever has accepted his testimony has certified this, that God is true. 34He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. 35The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands. 36Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath.
I worked in theological education at a time when faculty and staff were attempting to rewrite the curriculum to better reflect the needs of the church and the world in the 21st century. At that time, the core of theological education really hadn’t been revisited in decades, though the church had outgrown the need for executive pastors behind immovable oak desks whose primary objective was to deliver lecture-like orations each Sunday.

I remember sitting in a day long “retreat” with other faculty and staff discussing what pastors, churches, and communities really needed from theological education. One faculty member said that her deepest hope for her students was that they would learn to improvise. Another faculty member took exception to this. She hoped to raise up students who were thoughtful, critically reflective, and didn’t just “make things up.”

Anyone with even a modicum of musical training knows that improvisation is not simply “making something up.” Yes, a musician usually improvises without the aid of written musical scores, but in order to be really good at improvisation you need years of practice. You play endless scales, you study countless professional musicians, you master technique and music theory - all this so that you can make your improvisation sound effortless and make it fit the musical expectations of the listener. 

The faculty member advocating for “improvisation” among students clarified that she had hoped they would leave theological school knowing their strengths and weaknesses and cultivating their gifts so that they could stand up and take a solo when necessary, but would also know when to back off and let others lead when it was time for that, too.

I love the way John articulates his role in ministry so beautifully. He knows how to improvise. He knows when it is his turn to take the solo and when to back off and support someone else. John knows his gifts and sees the need and fits himself where he is needed. Most importantly, his ego doesn’t get in the way because he is already secure in what his purpose is.

We all have a role to play in ministry, not just people who attend theological school or become ordained. Everyone has a ministry. Everyone has gifts and talents. Everyone is necessary. It is a matter of learning ourselves and our communities well enough to know when it is time to take a solo and when it is time to support the soloist. Where do you fit? What are your gifts? Just as no one becomes a jazz musician without learning the rudiments of music and practicing their skills, none of us can become ministry improvs without knowing our gifts, understanding the basics of our faith, and practicing what we preach.
Give us courage to practice what we know and take risks with the gifts and talents you’ve given each of us. Make us to be a strong backbone of support for the gifts of others so that together we may glorify you, God. Amen
Amy Jones
Amy Jones, Agape Coordinator
Amy Jones our Agape Coordinator is an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church. In this tradition, deacons are ordained clergy who bridge the ministry of the church with the needs of the world, and vice versa. In more than 15 years of ministry, she has worked in churches, in children and family ministry, higher education, and nonprofits. In each setting, her focus has been on matching the resources of the church with the needs of the world. Agape Community Kitchen is exactly the type of work she was called to do. 

Amy can be reached by email at:
The Presbyterian Church in Westfield continues to burn as a light in the darkness as our community weathers this fearsome storm of illness. Our reach of care continues to extend far beyond our immediate borders. You can help us make a real impact in the lives of others by joining in our work through your time, your talents, and also in the fruits of your labors.
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