What is the purpose of church in 2018?
That is the question that weighs the heaviest on my heart as the calendar flipped from 2017 to 2018.
But honestly, it’s a question I’ve wrestled with since I started the ordination process.
There are moments when I feel a pang of disappointment as I think to myself, there has to be something more to this than this.
But that disappointment isn’t aimed at the church — it’s aimed at me for not being able to figure out how to make it more than a Sunday morning gathering where we come to check off an item in our never ending to-do list.
I had coffee with someone from the conference who asked, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
In that particular moment, that question stung… because I didn’t know the answer.
I told him how I’m often envious of my father — who has been a lifelong clergy and in his retired status is looking for a church to serve; how I’m envious of my senior pastor whose passion for the local church is evident and will retire as a pastor of a local church; how I’m envious of my colleague who is younger than me but I see him in the local church until the day he retires — maybe in the same church that he planted.
“So where are you getting at?” he asked.
“Honestly,” I began. “If I’m not serving a local church in 5 years, I wouldn’t be surprised at all. What I am absolutely certain of is that I’m called into ministry. But recently, I wonder why ministry has to be limited to the boundaries of parish ministry. Who knows, in 5 years I might be thriving serving at a local church. Or maybe in 5 years, I’ll have a barber’s license and cutting hair and ministering to those who are wanting to look fresh and spending weekends trying to cut hair for the houseless folks. Or heck, maybe I’ll find a blend of the two. I don’t know. And, really, I’m okay with not knowing.”
And I know sharing things like that often leaves some folks unnerved. But man, the title “pastor” never means we got it all figured out. I know I don’t. And I don’t think I ever will, because I, too, am on a journey just like the rest of y’all. I’m on an adventure that God has called me to where the journey is far more important than the destination.
My guiding prayer for this year has been and is going to be: give me courage and strength to be faithful to your call and to your will alone.
Only God knows where this adventure will lead me. So, I’m okay with the fact that in 5 years I’ll definitely be serving God, faithful to my call, but the context– where I’m serving — might be a place I never anticipated to be in.
It’s the same conversation I had with the Cabinet before I moved to Texas.
I remember being told — I have been ordained in the Cal-Pac Conference and that should mean something — loyalty-wise.
And in a moment that I can’t tell if I regret or not, I looked at the Powers-that-Be and said, I’m sorry that you feel that way. I feel called to be faithful to God and not to a denomination and I can only go where I feel God is calling me to. Maybe I’d be dead wrong. But I rather be wrong in pursuing where I feel God is calling me than remaining in a place out of a sense of loyalty to an institution.
Then there are moments — that outweigh the moments of disappointment — when there’s no greater representative of God’s presence than the local church.
There’s no words to describe when a church is on point with God’s mission.
There’s no greater force than a community of people moving forward in unity to make God’s dream into a reality.
This is a long-winded of getting to what spurred this post.
I’m currently reading Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship by Gregory Boyle — founder of Homeboy Industries and author of one of the best books I’ve recently read: Tattoos on the Heart.
The stories Father Greg tells in both books tug at the heart.
In Barking to the Choir, he shares a story about Chuy, who on the last day at Homeboy, he asked to address the people gathered for the morning meeting.
To the trainees he said:
“All of you,” he began, “are diamonds covered in dust.”
He choked up a bit.
“You… can wipe your dust off here.”
Man. For whatever reason, the room got real dusty when I read that. (I’m not crying. You’re crying!)
I felt my soul saying, could I get an amen?!
In wrestling with ministry and what the church can be and should be in 2018… I have a great place to start from, thanks to Father Greg and Chuy.
What is the purpose of the church for 2018?
Well for starters, our message should be:
All of you are diamonds covered in dust. And you can wipe your dust off here.