So I left my ministry position at a Church of Christ at the end of January. That wound up being two big changes at once since (1) I left the only career I’ve ever had and (2) I left the only denomination I’ve ever known. Since then I’ve been trying to discern which of my frustrations are unique to Churches of Christ and would be ameliorated in another denominational context and which of them are common to ministry everywhere. There’s a lot riding on that, since soon I’ll either apply for standing as a licensed minister in a new denomination, train for a new professional career all together, or acquaint myself with the safety procedures for the aforementioned Burger King Frialator.*
So, if you’ve been tracking this blog the last couple of days, you’ve got a pretty good idea about why I think I’m done with Churches of Christ. But suppose I find some church that’s all about justice and equality, where I fit right in theologically and they have a strong respect for the ordained clergy. Then I’m happy and all is good and I can just continue on in my ministry career, right?
But the other aspect of all of this stuff is that I’m increasingly drawn to a missional paradigm in which the church is sent out into the world to bless it, and I am drawn to go out into the world as God’s ambassador, with this message of reconcilation. (2 Cor 5.) And by that I do not mean street preaching or established inner city mission work–I mean finding some kind of meaningful labor that makes a positive contribution to society** and that allows me to form relationships with people outside the Kingdom so that I can demonstrate the love of Jesus by loving them. In contrast, I have lost interest in the kind of ministry that measures success in terms of the Three B’s of Church Life: buildings, budgets and butts in the pews. A church that thinks they are succeeding in God’s mission solely on the evidence of increased membership is no longer enough to drive me. Although increased membership is well and good, my own criterion for success is the increased involvement of the saints in God’s work of justice and reconciliation. I can’t be at a church that raises money to give their own kids a playground and then puts up a fence to keep neighborhood kids out. That just seems backward to me.*** I don’t want to be the person designated to drop in on folks who have been Christians for 40 years to see how they are doing and if there is some way I can “meet their felt needs” or make them happy. I expect that mature Christians have learned how to minister to one another, and desire to follow Christ into society to minister to others. I certainly want to be available to church members in need of special care, but I also think that my job should be to encourage a culture of mutual ministry–and that mutual ministry should reach outward to embrace the stranger.
Now it might very well be that the truth is I just don’t want to be a pastor anymore, because the things that I am draw to are such a small part of the job, and the things that drain me such a big part of it. I’m trying to figure that out. But maybe there are churches out there who want someone to help them learn to be ministers to the world, not someone who is hired just to minister to them. I don’t know.
I have to say though, when you read through the gospels, it seems like Jesus is always bumping up against an entrenched, inward-looking, closed-off religious tradition with such a small vision of who God is and such a limited desire to be a source of blessing that the people who invoke the name of the Lord the most turn out to be the same people who are consistently hindering his will. If your desire is to be a radical Jesus-follower, going where he went and doing what he did, I almost wonder if you wind up having to give up the institutional church to do that–or at least give up positions of leadership.
I really bet there is some good ministry that can be done while manning the Frialator.
One big disclaimer–I’m really talking here about my journey with God and my Spirit-given gifts and desires. Most of my close friends are ministers, and if they are able to do meaningful work and follow Jesus in that setting, I wouldn’t begin to second-guess that. I’m just going through a major discernment process of my own path right now.
* That is, by the way, what that thing is actually called. I only know that because I was in a fast food joint one day and made some reference to the dude working the Frialator, which is a term I thought I was making up, but then I glanced at the machine, and burst out laughing when I saw the label. I only hope that helps me out on Jeopardy someday.
** Like crafting the most delicious French Fries ever!
*** Yes, I understand concerns about injuries and legal liability. So don’t build the playground–send your kids to the public park where they can be salt and light in the world.