DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Life finds a way

Written by: on May 31, 2019

The first time I watched the movie Jurassic Park I really disliked the character of Dr. Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum). He was cocky and a little too suave for his own good and worse yet he was not the order loving Dr. Alan Grant. Dr. Malcolm’s area of study is Chaos Theory, which is “the study of apparently random or unpredictable behavior in systems governed by deterministic laws.”1 In layman’s terms it is the study of why things get weird in physics and mathematics. Dr. Malcolm was the cynic in the bright eyed optimism of the park. In 1992, cynicism was still off-putting to me – little did I know that in the coming years it would become the source of my greatest joy, but that is another blog post – so I did not much like him. It was not until I had grown from my naive eight-grade self into a young adult that I would discover the truth of the commentary that Dr. Malcolm was providing in the film, most notably one of his most famous lines, “life will find a way.”

Working with people is fraught with possibilities. Making plans is easy in the sterile environment of ones office, but once those plans are exposed to the congregation nearly anything is possible. As a bit of a control freak, this is where I start to struggle. How to deal with the oncoming chaos is baffling to me.

Emma Percy in her book What Clergy Do, argues that the key to dealing with the chaos of ministry is by accepting the rhythm of the parish and weaving it into a meaningful whole.2 In a sense Percy is arguing that life finds a way in parish ministry. What seems like chaos can often bring about the best interactions and change in people.Percy’s history as both a parish priest and a chaplain indicate that she has no doubt figured this bit out.

An important part of chaos theory is that the beginnings are of extreme importance for how things act. It is in setting the conditions right that chaotic behavior is established. The variance of the types of people you interact with in parish ministry make it so that conditions are ripe for chaos to ensue. But the interesting thing that Percy is arguing is that the chaos is actual a feature and not a bug of parish ministry. In allowing the chaos of ministry to evolve around us we are able to see the Spirit work in ways that we might not expect. This acceptance of the chaos also allows us to continue to push into the work of the ministry we were called to without being continually distracted by the tyranny of the urgent we might normally see in the craziness of ministry.

While we do not need the level of extreme confidence seen in Dr. Malcolm, the cool resolve to understand that the Spirit will make a way is of ultimate importance. Perhaps my initial aversion to Malcolm was not his attitude, but my own unwillingness to accept that it is impossible to control all of the variables in any situation.

1.  Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Chaos Theory.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Last modified April 2, 2019.

2. Percy, Emma. What Clergy Do: Especially When It Looks like Nothing. London: SPCK, 2014. 101.

About the Author


Sean Dean

An expat of the great state of Maine where the lobster is cheap and the winters are brutal I've settled in as a web developer in Tacoma, Washington. As a foster-adoptive parent of 3 beautiful boys, I have deep questions about the American church's response to the public health crisis that is our foster system.

8 responses to “Life finds a way”

  1. mm Mary Mims says:

    I get what you are saying Sean, and maybe that is why I did not really like the book although I agreed with a lot of what Percy was saying. The thought that we must do more and more to get a response or get numbers up is trying to be in control, and not realizing it is the work of the Holy Spirit that leads people into all truth. I think I need to embrace the chaos of ministry.

  2. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    You are such a creative and insightful thinker! You state, “But the interesting thing that Percy is arguing is that the chaos is actual a feature and not a bug of parish ministry. In allowing the chaos of ministry to evolve around us we are able to see the Spirit work in ways that we might not expect. ” Wow, I have never thought of it that way. Perhaps what is chaos to me is the careful opportunistic orchestration of the Holy Spirit? I need to chew on this and also see how to integrate this thought into coaching church planters, many who are very inexperienced in parish or local church ministry. Sean, thanks so much for incorporating a perspective from Percy in such an original way! Oh, is Goldberg’s character the one who states, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”? That was my favorite line from the movie!

  3. mm Karen Rouggly says:

    This is such a good post Sean, as per your usual. I appreciated the tie in between the two and I would agree that a significant part of any parish ministry is the chaos and in that acceptance of the chaos, I wonder if that’s where we find freedom in it. When we realize that chaos is actually a certain type of structure and that there can be almost a predictable side to chaos, it no longer becomes chaos and becomes rhythm? Just a thought!

    • mm Sean Dean says:

      You’re last sentence has me thinking about music now and how if you’re not familiar with a form of music it sounds like chaotic noise, but if you know it then it’s music. I think you’re on to something.

  4. Digby Wilkinson says:

    I like the connection with Chaos theory. Bravo. As you know children are predictable in their unpredictability. We know they are going to do something entirely unexpected at the most unexpected time. I remember in a church service with some 700 people gathered, I left a long pause in the middle of intercessions for people to reflect. During that moment of holy silence one of my elder’s children (about 10 years old) called out in a high pitched voice that floated angelically across the congregation, “mummy, my penis is really hard”. No one remembered my sermon that day. In fact, we closed the service early because most people were in tears from hysterical laughter. I loved that moment because, in the midst of all our high and mighty plans for ministry and growth, a normal human experience came crashing in, and we all remembered the simplicity of family chaos. It’s in that family chaos that God chooses to work, because God knows both mothering and fathering, not as acts to be achieved, but as the chaotic realities from which real life flows.

  5. John Muhanji says:

    Thank you, Jean, for sharing this good piece of work. It is good to hear you sharing about emerging stronger, even working in a chaotic situation. That is truly the working situations some of us are operating in.

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