what did you mean...

In a recent post about "saying yes and saying no" I was asked to clarify what I meant by my confession that "church" (or ministry or the life of the institution) is no longer the central focus of my life. Some were perplexed - after all, I am a clergy person, right?  Others were unsettled - as if my boundaries were a judgment on the validity of a tradition. And one or two told me:  I get it - living a Christ-centered life is at the heart of your vision now - and church is just part of the whole, yes?

Exactly. Church is just one of the things I do:  it is my job, it is a calling (but not the only calling), it is where I focus my professional energy and talent. And, it is something I say goodbye and good night to from time to time so that I can do other things. Here's another confession: I am often startled at how threatening that sounds to some folks. But I suppose it is only natural in a culture obsessed with work: when we define ourselves by our jobs first, and only later by our faith, family or other interests and activities, it stands to reason that some would become uncomfortable making this distinction.

I think back to a story Bill Weber, late President of New York Theological Seminary in NYC and part of the team that founded the Inner-City Protestant Parish in East Harlem, told about a men's retreat.  One of the programs Weber worked on was linking suburban congregations to his inner city church. To build trust and understanding in the early 50s, a retreat was planned with equal numbers of men from NYC and Fairfield County, CT attending. All went as anticipated until the first night when the suburban leader asked everyone in the circle to introduce themselves:Tell us your names and what you do, ok?

There was an awkward and confusing silence for a moment until one of the city men replied: That's not the best way to start this retreat. Let's start with what we have in common - our faith - not what divides us - because some in this circle don't have jobs! It was an eye opening and heart-expanding experience for the suburban men, most of whom had never publicly spoken about their Christianity. But after another awkward moment, the retreat got down to it and all the men shared how they come to experience the presence of God in their lives through Christ - and things only got better after that.

At this late stage in ministry, I am simply learning better boundaries as I practiee saying yes and saying no. Yes, there is still value, meaning and energy for me in the church. Yes, I still love Christ, too. No, work - whether it is church or something else - is not at the center of my identity or life. No, I have no interest in returning to the realm of workaholism. And yes this is an exciting albeit challenging time to live within this tension. 

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