17 July, 2006 9:14 AM
A couple of weeks ago I had an interesting conversation with a guy that I'd not seen for a few years. Last time we saw each other I was working part time for a fairly large church as a youth pastor and was studying theology with the rest of my time.
As we chatted and caught up he mentioned that he'd heard that I had 'left the ministry'.
It was an interesting phrase - one that I'd not heard for some time and had not considered as applying to myself.
We chatted about what I was doing now and despite my best attempts to explain the processes I've been through in the last year or so he seemed to be disappointed with my decisions. I got the feeling that he saw my move from being a paid minister as being something of a failure or a loss (not his words - but his tone of voice and words indicated that it was disappointing).
I've been pondering this quick conversation (it ended prematurely as he had to go) ever since - not because it upset me in any way (it didn't) but because I'd not really considered anyone else had any real feelings about my journey and I found it ironic that others see my move from paid ministry as being a loss of some kind when I actually see the move as helping me to do more effective 'ministry' than I've ever done before.
Now I don't want to critique anyone who does 'paid ministry' - I've got nothing against it at all and think it's appropriate for many people. God's used people who work full time as pastors, missionaries, ministers etc for centuries and I'm not about to write that off. Ultimately discerning sorts of decisions and calls are between an individual and God (within the context of the wider Body).
However the last couple of years of my own journey has taken me off the path of paid ministry and into a territory that both has excited and (if I'm honest) has terrified me. Having spent 10 years of my life working for churches and studying theology I've entered the ranks of the self employed small business owner.
I don't want to sugar coat the last year or two - the transition has not been one without moments of doubt and disappointment. There have been moments when I've wondered why I studied theology for so long to end up in business, there have been moments when I've felt guilt about earning an income that is quite a bit more than my part time student minister salary and there have been moments where I've wondered whether blogging as a job is as worthwhile an activity as working in a church preparing sermons or visiting congregational members etc.
However amidst the moment of doubt are glimpses of purpose, meaning and confirmation that we're on a good path. As I ponder the experience I can't imagine life in any other way than it's unfolded so far.
I've alluded in this article (and elsewhere) to the idea that I feel like I'm doing more effective mission or ministry now than I ever used to do as a paid minister. I've had people ask for examples of this since last time I made the statement and have struggled a little as to whether it's appropriate for me to share them. My struggle is two-fold:
1. I've become increasingly uncomfortable over the past couple of years of telling the 'success stories' as people in ministry. I'm a little torn on it to be honest. On the one hand it's great to be able to share what God has been doing around us and how he's calling us to join him in that work. On the flip side I sometimes get the sense when I'm seeing people talk about such stories that they are presented in ways that are more about celebrating the work of the person telling the story than in celebrating God's work. I also worry a little that there is an element of telling war stories and not really honoring the fact that we're talking about real people who deserve respect and privacy. To be honest I'm not sure where I stand on sharing examples except to say that I'm not completely comfortable with it.
2. The second reason I've resisted sharing examples is that most of my interactions with people in my business are in the online medium. While there are increasing opportunities for face to face conversations and relationships - most of what I do happens via email, instant messaging and blogging with people who are very tech savvy. To share of what I see God doing in these interactions not only feels odd in terms of honoring their stories (point #1 above) - but it also feels a little bizarre as the examples I could give of what's been happening could well be ready by those I'd be writing about.
So I've resisted the calls for specific examples and stories and hope in doing so that I don't offend or frustrate anyone.
What I will say however is that I continue to find God working around me.
Here are a few general thoughts that come to mind in terms of some of the lessons I'm learning:
- While the internet is often talked about for it's 'evils' I'm constantly discovering it to be a 'sacred space' where people explore what it means to find life.
- I'm finding that when you connect with people around topics that they are passionate about, that are life giving for them, that you have an opportunity to connect in some wonderful ways.
- Non churchy types could actually teach the Church a thing or two about building community, generosity and making a difference in the world we live in.
- Mission is about living with people on their turf. It's also often about letting go of your own agendas and assumptions and learning to wait for the other person to set the agenda and invite you to journey with them.
- Living out Kingdom values is not always easy.
- While it's possible to speak about the Kingdom of God in very 'religious' or 'spiritual' terms - it's often when we talk about it in everyday language in the natural rhythms of life that it has the most impact.
- The words of St Francis to 'preach the gospel always - if necessary, use words' really are very wise.
None of the above is rocket science. Most of it I've known 'in theory' for many years - but it's only been the last few months that I've begin to understand some of it. I'm still working it out and much of what I'm learning is solidifying in my mind - but the journey is fun so far.