A church is a disciplined community following Jesus together.
How do you know whether you’re doing this or just playing a religious game?
By the measurable, tangible fruits of your community. (Fruit is *not* growing worship attendance or bigger budgets, btw, it’s this, and this, et al.)
And now, for a supremely important corollary:
If you read this statement, and you’re part of a poor, marginalized community, please start with the assumption that you’re already doing this.
If you read this statement, and you’re part of a powerful, privileged community (yes, all ye white middle class people, I’m looking at you), please start with the assumption that you’re already *not* doing this.
“Eternity is at our hearts, pressing upon our time-worn lives, warming us with intimations of an astounding destiny, calling us home unto Itself.”
I’m currently reading “A Testament of Devotion” by Quaker writer Thomas Kelly and I’m struck by how the farther you progress in the spiritual life, the less mystical it becomes. The idea of God speaking to us only seems miraculous when you’re starting your spiritual journey, because as you deepen your spiritual life, the active experience of the indwelling as God becomes as prosaically concrete as any other daily activity. Hearing God’s voice becomes no more miraculous than making your grocery list.
The only reason why we think of hearing God’s voice as some sort of blazing, neon-sign-in-the-night miracle is because we have learned to live dis-integrated lives, secular and sacred, times of prayer and times of work, spiritual disciplines versus physical disciplines versus disciplines of self-care, and so on. As we grow, we learn that *all* of it is part of one glorious whole; all subsumed within the love of God.
(And like all worthwhile projects, re-integrating our lives takes lots of hard, disciplined work over decades before we start to see our interior lives begin to reorder.)
I turned in my local pastor license this week. For those of you who don’t know, this license was what allowed me to work as a pastor a United Methodist Church, perform the Sacraments, and otherwise keep the possibility of returning to the professional clergy open for the future. (I started pursuing this process when I was sixteen, so closing the door on this held pretty weighty symbolic significance.)
For those of you who are interested, here’s what I wrote my supervising committee when I turned in my license.
Dear Members of the Tri-State DCOM,
I’m writing to inform you that I will be turning in my local pastor’s license. While I have grown much from sixteen-plus years actively engaged in this process, it has become clear, after much prayer and discernment, that pastoral ministry no longer fits the shape of my spirit.
Part of this is due to my deep concerns about the way that we structure our lives together as United Methodists. I hold largely unresolvable concerns about the way we select denominational leaders and discern about our shared life together, the spiritually imperialistic ways we have taught our churches to focus primarily on institutional survival, and the way that our systems often make the people who are part of them far less kind, joyful, and generous than they might be otherwise. More personally, I also no longer believe in the authority of our denomination to ordain nor that professional pastoral ministry is a faithful way for most American churches to organize their lives together.
However, more importantly than this is the journey that God has taken me on since our church plant closed in Haverhill in 2014. I’ve come to realize that I am frequently the worst version of myself when I’m functioning in a pastoral role, that my personal over-identification with professional ministry has led to some of my worst decisions and deepest hard-heartedness, and that my ministry has often not born the fruits of the spirit within me that I would identify with true vocation. In short, for me, stepping into my calling to follow Jesus also means stepping out of a calling to be a religious professional.
I write this letter in deep gratitude to all of you. I have been blessed with many mentors, faithful district superintendents, and compassionate DCOM’s throughout my journey. You all have given me the freedom to be able to work out God’s call in my life with greater joy and passion than I would have been able to otherwise. For me, that indeed has been a great gift.
Thank you all for your prayers and support. May God bless each of you in the season that is to come.