So here's a paradox...

One of the challenges of ministry that has always tied me in knots is this:  leaders and members want us to "grow" the church - increase participation and deepen a sense of discipleship - so a great deal of our pastoral evaluation is based upon numbers (pledges, people in worship, membership, etc.)  At the same time, true discipleship - living into the life-changing commitment to Christ and the Cross - is the polar opposite of "successful programming," right? 

I would LOVE it if Sunday School and worship held as much importance in our people's lives as entertainment, music and sports - and I am committed to living into this challenge - but let's be real:  even Christ's closest disciples ran in the other direction when the Cross came into view.  So while I sometimes grieve the fact that soccer (and all the rest) is often more important to church people than nourishing authentic spiritual sacrifice, I know this is part of the upside down kingdom.  The way of Christ cannot be measured by numbers - only the heart - and the way of the heart is only known to the Lord. 

So, while I keep trying to find ways to lure people into the blessings of Christ's grace - trusting that God will do the rest - and sometimes even challenge the people I love the most  to put at least as much energy and money into the way of Christ as they do exercise and smart phones, most of the time I'm not surprised when this doesn't happen. It still sneaks up on me from time to time and bites me in the ass.  That's why every day I have to bring my frustrations and disappointments to the Lord in prayer in addition to the blessings and joys; otherwise, I will get resentful and burned out. And I can tell when I don't do this, too.  Peterson constantly reminds me:

Most of the individuals in our churches suppose that the goals they have set for themselves and the goals God has for them are the same thing. It is the oldest religious mistake: refusing to countenance any real difference between God and us, imagining God to be a vague extrapolation of our own desires, and then hiring a priest to manage the affairs between self and the extrapolation.  But I, one of the priests they hired, am having none of it.

But if I'm not willing to help them become what they want to be, what am I doing taking their pay?  (That is often one of the questions that comes up during annual evaluation, yes?)  Well, I am being subversive. I am undermining the kingdom of self and establishing the kingdom of God. I am helping them to become what God wants them to be, using the methods of subversion.

Peterson then quotes II Timothy 2:  Repeat these basic essentials over and over to God's people. Warn them before God against pious nitpicking, which chips away at the faith. It just wears everyone out. Concentrate on doing your best for the Lord, work you won't be ashamed of, laying out the truth plain and simple.

And, I would add, trusting that this is enough; for God can accomplish the sacred within and among us as only grace will allow.  And this is one of the humbling truths of the upside down kingdom, too.  The prophet, Isaiah, put it like this:

Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labour for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.

Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake their way,
and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

For you shall go out in joy,
and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it
shall be to the Lord for a memorial,
for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off

I think Arcade Fire expressed this challenge perfectly in their "Modern Man" off the Suburbs CD.

(All images from Deviant Art)


Barb D-P said…
You hit it, James! Thanks! Rich and I were just having a conversation about this tonight over dinner. I would go so far as to call our attention to numbers and numeric growth and success an, you said it much nicer!
RJ said…
;-) that's my blessing and curse in this life. Great to hear from you.
Black Pete said…
One of the many unfortunate legacies of Constantine I.

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