I was just sitting with one of my parishioners, working on how we can rework an old website so that it can be more interactive. Before this I was visiting a parishioner who had been in hospital. Before that I was leading a bible study and before that a staff meeting. While I did use a few bits of knowledge that I gained in my seminary education, I must admit that both what I learned in seminary classroom and and the very setting of a classroom somehow antiquated or perhaps out of touch with the reality of contemporary pastoral ministry that I experienced in this one day. The skills that I used today involved working with and leading a team, facilitating discussions, creating a healing relationship and technologically based communication. I must admit that I am not sure how any of these skill can even be taught in the setting of a traditional classroom. Perhaps it is time to not only rethink what is taught in seminaries, but even how we teach. What if seminary education was moved primarily out of classrooms and was instead in sites of practice. What if the focus shifted from knowledge learned to skills and competencies gained? This is now a question that many seminaries are exploring. If you want to read more you can read this article in the Washington Post.
Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?” – Genesis 18:10-12
Like Sarah, many of our people, congregations, denominations and church bodies have been around for many years. Over that time we have all experienced beginnings and new beginnings and yet, the older we get, the more impossible another birthing event seems to us.
In fact, we do much to protect ourselves from the probability. Yes, we may welcome and congratulate others in their new births, but good order, stability and security are what we work for.
A friend of ours became pregnant in her late 40’s and although I was happy for the couple, I could never see my wife and I welcoming another child at our age. I would most likely not be laughing at such an announcement, but crying.
In the midst of such attitudes God comes to us to proclaim that he has started a new thing in our day and time. The church is indeed pregnant, birthing and being reborn.
Now some of us will laugh at this possibility from inside the well constructed church institutions we have made. “Over my dead body” may be the declaration of a few. Some of us may agree with our need to be reborn, but limit it to controlled test tube events that really do not change the substance of life as we know it.
However, whether we laugh, cry or grieve, God is still in the process of birthing a new thing in the midst of the old.
Sarah laughed, but that didn’t prevent her from conceiving and giving birth to a child that would become part of God’s continually unfolding story of salvation. I wonder how much more she laughed at herself as she looked at what God had blessed her with.
May God bless us with the pleasure of participating in new beginnings.
The link led to a page with three videos highlighting Steve Jobs’ life. I decided t0 watch the middle one entitled “No one wants to die.”
This video (see below) was taken at a university graduation ceremony in 2005 after Steve Jobs was first diagnosed with cancer and had apparently beaten it. In this video he reflects on the critical role of death in defining what was important to his life.
None of us wants to die and neither do our congregations or the church we are part of. And yet it is only in recognizing the closeness of death and the need to die that we as followers of Christ and as people of Christ’s ecclesia can hope to participate in God’s mission of life.
I’ve discovered “Busted Halo,” an online magazine for spiritual seekers sponsored by the Paulist Fathers. Today, like many other sites, they featured an article entitled Think Different by Tom Gibbons and inspired by the death of Steve Jobs, founder of Apple.
The article highlights for me the alternate story the church is called to be as part of God’s mission.
I leave you with a piece of this article and a video which emphasizes this point.
I have to confess, the part of me that has loved Mac computers for as long as I can remember sometimes strafed at the idea of becoming an official member for another worldwide organization for whom the slogan “Think Different” is not usually associated. But that’s when I remember that while “thinking outside of the box” is not typically a value that my church holds, it does often force me to think different in other areas of life — something that I might not have done before. And I am also reminded that the church, like Apple Inc., was started by somebody who would easily fit the commercial montage that begins with, “Here’s to the rebels.”
A discussion on the value and importance of our larger communities is something that is often lacking in American culture. The way our communities — ecclesial and otherwise — shape us. The way our communities remind us that it is not only about your individual life…my individual life…that discussion can be, and should be, had often.
But that conversation can be held another day because today is a day to honor those individuals who have reminded us about the limitations those communities can sometimes impose, the individuals on whose achievements we stand because they chose to “think different.”
In July of 2010 I resigned from the congregation I was serving. It felt good to be out from under the pressures that characterized my ministry in that place. It was good to breathe again without someone breathing down my neck. But after a few weeks of relaxation the question of “What Now?” popped up.
My wife suggested trying something new and I took here advice like an good husband should. I took a course totally unrelated to being a pastor and discovered another world. I sought out other jobs, but soon discovered that ageism was indeed the number one form of discrimination today. By December I had discerned that my calling to follow Jesus was in and through the church in some form.
So for the last nine months I’ve waited (not always patiently) and prayed (not always fervently) for an invitation to serve somewhere. For nine months the institutional church doors have been shut to me.
I’ve wrestled with the silence and at times been depressed that no one would want me. However, through this time I’ve practiced living missionally where I am.To live missionally is not only about being “Christ-like” where I am, but also listening and watching for God’s presence where I am.
Over these months I’ve visited with my neighbours and gotten involved with my neighbourhood. I’ve brought my neighbours together for fellowship. I even set up my barbecue one evening and offered free hot dogs and hamburgers. I’ve tried to practice a ministry of presence to the people around me. In a way, I’ve tried to live out my calling as a follower of Jesus where I am and with the people around me.
All of this neighbourhood ministry has made me wonder what would happen if upon graduating from seminary new pastors were sent to some neighbourhood and said, “Go therefore and make disciples…Be Christ’s presence and his voice calling people there.” I wonder how well we would do and how many of us would be able to survive.
I’m still looking forward in hope to a “community” call, but I realize now that the most important calling we all have is right where we live and move and have our being. In our neighborhoods and wherever we journey God is there inviting us to participate in the good news God is unfolding.
Perhaps that’s the lesson I needed to learn.
I’m pleased to announce the upcoming aXiom Calgary two-day missional training event. We’re pleased to have Karen Wilk and Cam Roxburgh in town, two seasoned practitioners in helping churches thrive in the neighbourhood. The landscape that the church has operated in is shifting and aXiom seeks to offer fresh yet rooted insights and training for church leaders to see God at work and join him in that work. You can download the full .pdf poster here: Axiom Calgary Poster
I’m a visual thinker, here are some helpful short videos that have helped me think about becoming a “neighbourhood” Christian in my own town.
Lastly, Check out the amazing work of a bunch of neighbourhood minded folks in the States. They started a website to plot themselves in the neighbourhood, and find others who were keen to become better neighbours. The result is a map that is growing to include people in the US and Canada. Why not plot your own spot and start the journey of good neighbouring? Check out the website, Building Blocks: Rediscovering the Art of Neighbouring.