I’ve been enjoying a few days off again, using up my remaining annual leave entitlement. Not planning to be away anywhere, just chilling at home, reading, writing, and generally taking time out. My brain needs space to function…time to recalibrate, evaluate and just find bearings.
Today I’ve been thinking a lot about the bigger things of life, namely my vocation…which has been a major feature of my thinking in recent years. It has shifted in its expression over the years but it has essentially been the same: to connect people with Jesus. Even when I wasn’t getting paid to plant Jesus, that was my desire. It’s the apostolic gifting working itself out…I can’t help but dream ways of helping individuals, groups, whoever, to come together around Christ. It’s my obsession. I’m interested in very little else. That, for me, is the heart of the thing that has come to be called ‘church’. And so, whether I’m being paid as a ‘pastor’ or whether I’m doing other stuff, my ultimate life task is to help people connect with Jesus. This is my ‘ordination’ promise: “to love and serve him supremely all my days, to live to win souls and to make their salvation the first purpose of my life, to care for the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, love the unlovable and befriend those who have no friends”. The language isn’t mine, but the purpose is the same.
That’s what I’ve come to after a lot of thinking and searching. The thing is, church leadership, sadly, hasn’t always been about that. It can be about so many more things and so, over the years, you get to the place where you know that even in church work, you have to separate the bits that come with working for any organisation with the real vocation of planting Jesus. A friend reminded me of that truth I’d already arrived at when we met last week for coffee.
That brings me into a dilemma because not many churches are willing to work with that sort of thing…there is still a common idea going round that God calls you to a particular denomination either due to its theology, style, ecclesiology or whatever. I have to say that I think it works differently to that, as much as I loved the Army. His purposes are bigger than just that. I believe God puts people where he wants them…its up to everyone else to figure out what’s more important: where God would have a person be or how closely aligned s/he is with a denominational flavour. That’s particularly relevant for my current existence, what with the denominations I work for having trouble recognising me institutionally. The ambiguity is, personally, not easy for me. The language used in inherited churches when it comes to ministry is very often about entitlement and one’s status as ordained or not ordained. I simply don’t see this in scripture at all…no, not anywhere. It never ceases to amaze and disappoint me how denominations can’t see beyond the end of their own systems. I’m not sure what a person has to be able to display/possess before one can say: ‘there goes a person called by God for this task.’ I have to say, in the day to day of my work, I pay little attention to this stuff: I know who and whose I am, even if everyone else is confused!
I’ve spent a lot of years trying to fit my sense of vocation into a church which isn’t necessarily shaped for it which has tended to leave me a bit ‘high and dry’ at times, but this is the paradox I’m in. I have a passion to help the church navigate through the murky waters of post-Christendom and on to better ways of expressing mission and ministry…that just means things are messy. Lots of chaos to embrace. It also means a sensitivity to the Spirit and his leading, which isn’t always straightforward, especially when we can’t see the next step before we take it. That always leads to exciting times…!