I had three communities that I considered home at the beginning of 2011, and in all of them, I was something of a hotshot young theologian. In the spring, one community made it very clear that my contributions weren’t welcome. Late in the year, I was laid off from the church I was working for, and so my role in that community is coming to a close.
At the same time, God opened new doors. A friend in the city started a mentoring group for young leaders and invited me to join, which I did. During the summer I found myself a welcome part of Fishes & Loaves, a ministry to the homeless in Englewood, and even though I’m presently going through a season where I can’t make it there, they’re good friends and I look forward to rejoining them when I can. Also during the summer, I helped out a friend with a church plant, and although I had no intention of doing anything more than lending a quick helping hand, found myself quite unexpectedly becoming part of the community. God made that church, The Dwelling Place, into my new home church, and He did it with surprising speed and thoroughness.
Some communities have been continuous throughout all this flux. Most notable are my continuing close association with Jim and Michele, and my partnership with my youth ministry compadres Joe and Becca, who together with my wife Kimberly make up the best core team I’ve ever worked with in my life. Above all, my marriage to Kimberly has been a safe, stable, exhilarating little community of three (no, she’s not pregnant; God’s the third). But the fact that these communities have endured does not mean there was no change. All these relationships changed shape in surprising ways over the last year, and we’ve grown closer and stronger as a result — it’s been good. I’m humbled and grateful to you all.
We Westerners — and especially Americans — want to be radical individualists. “Your community is not you,” we want to say. But of course, it isn’t true. The Triune community certainly defines God; why should we who bear His image be any different? We are who we are in community, and while we bring our own internal selves to the relationship, the relationship defines us to a great degree. The external association shapes the inner man.
So over this year, my identity has shifted profoundly. I’ve become a disciple to one mentor, and deepened my discipleship with another. I’ve become a better brother to several people, and entered into some new ‘brother’ relationships I hadn’t had before. I’ve terminated a couple of mentoring relationships (giving and getting), and I’m no longer a foot soldier for certain causes. Even my areas of gifting are shifting. I’m still a teacher, and in all modesty, a good one. God’s given me a gift there, and I’m still using it. But I also find that God’s moving me into areas of function within the Body that I’d never suspected I’d fill, and my interests are shifting to the new vistas God is leading me to explore.
Some of the rules I’ve lived my life by up to this point, I’m having to bend. Others, I’m having to break. They weren’t biblical rules to start with, more “It’s a good idea to…” stuff. Mostly, I’m trashing the rules because I can’t follow Scripture and keep them. But these rules are accepted as gospel in my (former) home communities, so at the same time that I’m shifting into new communities, I’m learning to let go of old shibboleths. This, too, makes me a different (and much freer) person, and a better image of God.
I’m also learning to minister more like Jesus taught us to do. He told His disciples to seek out sons of peace, and minister to them, and through them to others. I have made a career out of seeking out sons of conflict, and trying to induce them to repentance. If you’re a budding young theologian trying to make a name for yourself in academic circles, this makes a certain kind of sense. (Worldly sense, but still…) I gotta admit, I started this year thinking that way. I thought of myself as a theologian: I didn’t go through four years of seminary classes and a master’s thesis to be a bus driver, after all (even if I might, temporarily, drive a bus to pay the bills.)
And then, slowly, it began to dawn on me: I did go through all that training so I could be a bus driver. That training made me very, very efficient at what I do; I see guys spend 20 hours on a sermon, when I can prep the same sermon in 2 or 3 hours. If I’m drawing a full-time salary to prep sermons, I can spend 20 hours. If I’m driving a bus 40 hours a week, that’s not gonna happen — I may only have 2 hours to spare. So let that other guy draw the salary. He will minister to the people who can afford to pay for his services, and more power to him. People with money need Jesus just like the next guy. Me? I’ll be ministering to people who can’t afford to pay me anything. Don’t need it, thanks; I can buy my own food. (In truth, some support really helps the ministry, but I need a lot less than a full-time supported worker would.)
I’m working on a couple of books, and I began the year feeling the pressure to get the work done. Calvin published the first edition of the Institutes when he was 29, for crying out loud, and I’m not going for anything so monumental — what could be taking me so long? As I see it now? No pressure; God will get me there when He’s ready, and if the work should take another decade or three to ripen, well, I’m just a bus driver, after all…. Takes all kinds to make the Kingdom.
Will I ever go back to full-time paid ministry? Probably, at some point. When the Lord calls me to. I like the work; I’d do it all day if I could afford to. I also like having the flexible schedule that allows; there’s a couple of prayer meetings I really want to attend that I can’t go to because I’m driving in the early morning. But that’s not God’s will for me right now, and His plan is good. His heart toward me is for good, and I trust Him. (That said, I’m praying for this to be the year of Wednesday snow days, so I can go pray with my family and still keep my job.)
If you’ve been following this blog for a while, expect to see some corresponding shifts in the posts here. Some battles, I’m no longer interested in fighting. Some of them are because my convictions have changed. Others are because although I still hold the same doctrinal position, I’m just not interested in expending limited resources on that battle, however theoretically important some may find it to be. And truth to tell, I’m just less interested in fighting, period. Some battles have to be fought, and I’ll fight the ones God asks me to, but I’m no longer interested in hunting for worthy causes to fight for. I’d rather find unworthy people to love. Love gets me into enough fights as it is; no need to look for more. There’s a lot to celebrate and thank God for and support, and I plan to do more of that.
I’m deepening my associations with parts of the Body I’d never met before. I’ll continue to offer the reflection you know and love, but expect me to fall silent in some areas, change my position in others. And of course, there will be new insights, new areas of thought, and new associations. Well, new to me. The Body’s been around a long time; I’m just getting set to enjoy a glorious year of catching up. Gentle reader, I’m glad to have you with me. We’re gonna have fun this year.