Maybe it’s just me and my own personality/spirituality, but I find winter to be a deeply reflective time. Perhaps it is the longer hours indoors, the longer nights, or simply just the need to adjust our lives to the natural rhythms of our world. If a winter internal withdrawing is good enough for the tree, pulling its life resources deep inside to survive the winter, it’s good enough for me! But then that’s what feeds me, so I have no problem with a shift of pace.
Our world, of course, races on at its own pace and our electricity to light the dark, the connectivity and the 24 hour society, demand constant production, activity, and movement. I observe many people rushing around here and there, the amazing frenetic activity…but for what? I know the mortgage needs paid, the loan needs tending to, the holiday needs booking and the kids school trip needs paid for… but is there no time to dig deeper into your own life and God’s work of grace in you?
Perhaps, at times, the role of ‘the pastor’ is to be subversively countercultural. I say this tongue in cheek, of course, because what I really mean is that a pastor should be radically countercultural…no perhaps about it. Someone has to take the slower pace: to stop, to listen, to take note, to reflect, to hear, and then having heart, to speak. And, ultimately, to be with the other. ‘Running a church’ is a part of the ‘day job’ – but its far from the primary task. I’d venture to say that its the thing that can even get in the way of ‘the task’ if the institutional expression of our community life gets out of hand.
My view of ministry has taken radical shifts over the years (‘thank the Lord’, I hear some of you say!) and I’m increasingly convinced that however good my preaching, biblical knowledge, strategic visionary leadership, administration, and worship leading is, it counts for very little if we lose relational connectivity to people. We don’t just do these things to people, but alongside and in connection. We take on the ‘monastic’ values of availability and vulnerability. And I don’t just mean an institutional availability like a voice at the end of a call centre number…
How am I to know what to preach about unless I hear what people are facing? How am I to know how the heart of God for a people unless I take the time to listen to their hearts as well as God’s? And how are they to trust me if I can’t open up my heart and life to them? Ministry doesn’t happen in a vacuum. And it is not a generic one size fits all. You just can’t do the same year 17 times (or however many times) over…ministry is always incarnational to specific settings and people and is different in each collection of God’s people. ‘But’ I hear you say, ‘the gospel never changes and Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever’. This is true. And Jesus himself took his eternal nature and submitted it to the earth and to people in a particular time and setting, entered into their lives and, as Peterson puts it, ‘moved into the nighbourhood.’ Jesus travelled less miles than my mother…and that’s saying something. But yet, he took the biggest journey of all for the sake of his people.
To do this, I also need to prepare my own heart through knowing what God is doing in me. I need to know how God and life is shaping me, and what they’re teaching me. I also need to be aware of my own ‘internal furniture’ that has the potential to be bumped into as I am with others. Hurt people hurt people. I need to do the inner work, cooperating with grace, so that I can truly be available to others in whatever ‘condition’ they are in.
But I close with this: people aren’t projects to be fixed or resources to be used. “If only they weren’t going through relational challenges…they’d be so good in [insert your own] ministry”. “If only they weren’t so short tempered, they’d be ideal for …” The Grace of God produces redemption, restoration and sanctification at Gods speed. Tell me one biblical character other than Christ who had it altogether perfect before being allowed to participate in God’s redemptive purposes?
The pastoral role is one which has the capacity to subvert the usual rat race, overachievement and fuss, and with prophetic intentionality, it has the possibility of pointing people to deeper stories, deeper rhythms and deeper paths ahead…if only we’d dare to tread them ourselves.
And this is what knitting a sock taught me today.