Daniel, of Jewish royalty, was exiled to and raised in Babylon, and chosen to be schooled in its language and literature. In other words, Daniel was steeped in Babylonian culture: he was adept at their cultural, moral, and philosophical structures, which, at points were anathema to his monotheistic heritage.
Early on in his education, he forced a point of difference, and in so doing proved the wisdom, the observable difference of his separation, when he refused the rich fare from the king’s table. He was applauded for this.
Later he came into life-threatening conflict with the powers when refusing to obey the King’s edict concerning to whom one could pray. His disobedience was almost the occasion of his demise. He was thrown to the lions for this.
Admired and despised, loved, and hated.
And yet, remarkably, he out-lasted the suzerainty of four Kings.
Daniel is a remarkable example of being culturally aufait and counter-cultural.
He understood and utilized the culture, but he was not captive to it.
Where needed he faced into the raging wind of Babylonian power, and where required he worked within it.
Social media is a tsunami of facts, opinions, misinformation, vitriol, and accusation without defense. It assumes to be judge, jury, and executioner. Its damage ranges from being a nuisance to a cause of suicide. Any appeal to impartiality is a lost cause, as Facebook is currently discovering with massive losses of advertising revenue over its seeming inability to cull hate-speech invective.
On the other hand, social media can be social – it can be used to inform, entertain, and delight. It depends on who wields the s/word or the pict/ure. And as with any tool, it quickly loses its neutrality in the hands of the aggrieved, the thoughtless, and the malcontent.
But for many, it is a way to keep in touch, to foster connections. Fun and beauty can be mediated by social media, along with thoughtfulness, kindness, and truth.
This is all obvious though – nothing new here.
Of greater concern is not its use, but that it may be using us. We need the dexterity of Daniel in being able to weave our way between employing and being employed by, between mastering and being mastered by.
The easy option is to simply condemn it – avoid at all costs. But this is problematic, as it is a tool that, wielded correctly, has positive benefits – even in our Babylon. Daniel didn’t fail to employ his knowledge of the “language and literature” of Babylon with acuity. Much of his task was a human/creational endeavor as much as a Babylonian/fallen perspective. Administration of a kingdom is still administration; of itself, the administration is a noble task.
But where Babylon defied Jerusalem, Daniel was no longer carried along with the tide. At a great personal cost, he swam upstream. He would not become the mindless pawn of the powers that demand fawning obsequiousness. His failure to bow was their opportunity to crucify him, but his resolution shut the mouths of lions.
Vortexes of opinion agitate and swirl around social media. We must take care we don’t become a repeating station of ill-informed and spiteful words.
Jesus can be proclaimed on social media, but Jesus can as easily be defamed on social media. How? By God’s people reacting, retweeting, entering slanging matches, picking up on point-proving diatribe, all of which does little to advance the kingdom of God and the cause of Christ’s love. Not for no reason did Jesus teach in the Lord’s prayer – “Hallowed be your name,” or make your name holy in your people, juxtaposed to God’s people bringing into ill repute to his holy name.
Daniel got it right.
Normally when we think of going the distance, we cite the usual suspects: prayer, scripture, the moral life, and others. And they are correct to cite, but not correct enough, because they all depend on self-discipline.
Self-discipline is good in itself, but focusing on these “usual suspects” individualises the faith, and diminishes the value of the community of God’s church. It’s in community where we gain longevity, because it’s in community that Christ is more fully realised, known and expressed than in private. Together we are not only better, but we are God’s people, and his church.
The Usual Suspects
Prayer is axiomatic (taken for granted) to sustain vitality and viability in relationship with God. Prayer needs to be regular and employing the various tools of prayer: private, public, using Psalms, NT prayers of Ephesians and Colossians, the Lord’s Prayer (where “I” and “me” are not mentioned once), speaking in known and unknown tongues, etc.
Jesus invited private prayer, but not to the exclusion of public/gathered prayer.
He was teaching us to see reward in relationship, and not in public accolade for long winded fancy prayers. The early church practised both – but we read more of gathered prayer rather than private prayer, although we can take private prayer for granted. You won’t go the distance without prayer. And it is one of the first things to suffer when ‘moral/ethical dissonance’ creep in.
A love for God’s word is vital. A private devotion to and immersion in God’s word is a lifeline; food for our true hunger. No other book compares.
A consistent practise of reading, studying and meditating on God’s word is the only thing that actually challenges and changes the church (as it is preached).
Food not sermon material. We aren’t meant to be merely good orators, communicators, relevant and appealing. Hitler was all those things, so are most dictators and heretics. What we preach/minister matters more than the delivery platform. Only reading/listening to what others have discovered is to rob ourselves.
The church was formulated by the apostle’s teaching – it was something they did together – not apart. “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
More was discovered and regulated by doing the process together. We always, and thereby erroneously, read this as the solo practise of prayer and scripture. It wasn’t.
This is vital as well for longevity. Some have forgotten this and incurred much pain and loss. Much of Paul’s instruction whilst starting in theology ends in application for lifestyle. Love will always show itself in moral and ethical apparel. Grace is a deterrent from sin, not a way around it, nor a minimisation of it. Your morality matters, your ethics matter.
These are private matters, but they have public impact.
And time isn’t enough to mention more of the usual suspects: generosity, witness, etc… These all matter, as personal commitments, but they don’t and can’t matter enough.
What we have individualised:
Baptism is not a private matter. Baptism is not just baptism into Christ’s death, as personal benefit (although it certainly includes this). It is also and equally baptism into Christ’s church – the new saving community (which is why it is so serious for people like Hindus and Muslims coming to faith is Jesus, as baptism disavows their community).
The Lords Supper
This is not meant to merely be a personal reflection of Christ’s death and its application to your present circumstance in the private domain of your heart. It is firstly a community celebration (an actual meal), that has saving significance and proclaims the Lords death until he comes again.
An inconvenient truth
Longevity in the faith and ministry has as much to do with who are your people, your community, as it does with a private devotion.
My salvation has as much to do with God’s church as it does with my individual commitment. I’m simply not that good, but God’s church is. My salvation depends as much on my community as it does on my personal commitment.
We grow as we connect, as we stay connected. We wither as we disconnect.
Side note, here’s how you disconnect: you get offended and fail to forgive. Going to another church won’t change a thing – it will only delay the inevitable. Repentance, forgiveness, love – the Jesus stuff. I don’t stay in God’s church, in community, because I like everyone or what everyone does or says – I stay in because I won’t make it otherwise (and I’m hardly dumb, uncommitted or undisciplined).
The church is the “saving community.” You aren’t a saving community. It is both pride and bad theology to suggest we all stand alone. Our Reformation reaction has cost us.
Church is a community that meets – not meetings that add community as an after-thought.
Salvation takes on many aspects in God’s church. As an example, the apostle John states, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” Light, community, cleansing. Together, not alone.
This is the reason I’m still in Christ, in his church, in community – because it isn’t up to me. I worry about those who disconnect and say absurd, unbiblical things, such as, “I have a personal, private walk with Jesus.” You may do, but it isn’t the Jesus of scripture, tradition or history they appeal to. All the very best with that.
Longevity is found in community.
One thing is for certain: God’s people are praying more – more often, more intensely, more urgently, with more faith and less self-interest than usual – none of which will harm us.
As to why this pandemic has spread with such virulence, I have no idea. Whether it is the outcome of cross species contamination or a lab leak, I speak with no authority. Beyond this, we speculate.
Apportioning blame is something for Governments, not God’s church. We are the antidote, not the accusation.
What can we pray?
There is no better place to start than the Lord’s prayer, which currently makes more sense prayed in community than in the closet. It is a prayer that glorifies our Father, a prayer that invites the uniting of “things in heaven and things on earth,” and a prayer that situates us with our daily needs being met, forgiveness being extended to us and from us, testing with limitations, and deliverance from evil.
This prayer has an ‘eschatological horizon’ realised in the resurrection of Jesus and the inauguration of God’s kingdom – as in heaven, so on earth. We are invited into much more than just anticipating a nice time here, as up there. Kingdom will here, on earth, in your city, your community, your family, as it is in heaven! We are praying with prophetic boldness the realisation of the will of the one who is far above all power and authority, be it human, angelic or demonic.
1 Timothy 2:1-4
We might also pray what Paul writes to his understudy, Timothy, urging him in the right direction to use all manner of prayer for all people, “for kings and all who are in high positions,” with the purpose that we, God’s people, may live in peace with quiet dignity, resulting in people coming to salvation in Christ. Whatever we pray for our governments, with whatever political preferences we adhere to, the point of this prayer is not that our Prime Ministers, or Presidents, become Christians, but that we, the church, can lead a quiet and dignified life so that the Lordship of Christ might be experienced in salvation.
Nothing wrong with praying for the saving power of Christ to be extended to our Government leaders, but this prayer isn’t about that – it is about a different sort of governing; it is about a governing, a lordship, that isn’t compromised by “the principalities and powers” of this “present evil age.” It is about peace for the sake of the church, his body.
This isn’t how this prayer is normally comprehended, but it is what it was written for, if a plain reading is allowed.
Praying these prayers in lockdown is a good place to start. Who knows where it might lead as the Holy Spirit prays through us, with prayers beyond our finitude, in intercessional groanings?
On Earth as it is in Heaven.
A crisis is what it is: a time of intense difficulty and danger. And this is never nice or a good thing. As COVID-19 wreaks havoc on health, finances and overall wellbeing, people have been talking about a big “re-set” and taking time to refocus on the things that matter. I like these ideas, but with a future that seems uncertain, with the swirl of bad news, losses and death, it’s hard, on a day-to-day basis, to look on the bright side, to make the most of a bad situation, no matter how positive or faith-filled you might be.
When this is over, we’ll all look back and see the places of shelter in the storm, but right now that might be difficult, and as far as I’m concerned that’s ok.
Here’s what I am finding though, and for my part I am making every effort I can to use this time for this purpose: sharing the good news of what Christ has done for me – and all humanity. People are worried and scared, and they need, more than ever, a saviour.
The brightest, the boldest, the best are all in it together. No one, in over 48 countries (and counting), is exempt. This is happening to 1.5 billion of us. We are in lockdown, the things we’ve always taken for granted, a casual trip to the grocery store for something as ordinary as milk, has become a complicated chore. Never mind the poor and disadvantaged in our cities, the ones that have always had it hard. For them, sadly, it’s even harder now, in some cases fatally so.
Right now, I am doing all I can to share the love of Jesus. There are open doors all around, people we work with, family members that have never taken kindly to our faith, neighbours we’ve wanted to chat to about Jesus but were afraid it would ruin the delicate fabric of our social structure. This is the time. If there ever was a good time, this would be it. And you don’t have to hit them over the head with the Bible, all you have to do is offer to pray for them when they’re feeling down, maybe share a scripture, or how your faith in Jesus is giving you strength.
The door is open, we just have to ask permission to walk through it, and very few people are saying no.
I’ve had so many opportunities to share, and there have been moments where I’ve thought, “Oh, I don’t know, maybe later.” There might never be another time. For me THIS is the time to share the love we live in with those who need it so, so much. I’ve read Psalm 91 over co-workers, prayed for someone who had their team furloughed, explained that this week I was ruminating over the fact that Jesus forgave my SIN even though I continue to sin, and how that helps me feel safe and free while making me want to do better.
If you’re reading this post my biggest hope is that you will step outside of your comfort zone during this crisis and make the effort, no matter how uncomfortable, to share Jesus with those around you.
If you’re leading a church, encourage your people in this great opportunity. With all the bad news being communicated all day long, people are more open than ever to hearing some good news. And guess what – we’ve got it. Don’t be afraid, don’t wait for later, let’s share it – now.
For 21 years I was a paramedic.
I’d put on the uniform, get in the road ambulance or medical helicopter, and respond to emergency calls for help, ranging from the most minor of falls to the most unspeakable of disasters. And despite extensive on-going training, and exposure to almost any situation you could conjure in your mind, that sense of heading to the scene and feeling unprepared for what lay ahead never went away.
As we journey through this global pandemic, the feeling of being unprepared as a pastor is very real and is very present.
From providing counselling sessions via Zoom, to preaching in empty halls or even your own living rooms, to passing worship teams in the hallway of make-shift recording studios at acceptable distances . . . pastors have suddenly found themselves positioned on the very frontline of a community that is crying out for help, and doing it without some of the tools of the trade we’ve used for so long.
In 1 Kings 17, we read where Elijah responds to a call from God, sent to help a widow in the village of Zarephath. The call is firm, yet also vague and unusual. In a time of drought, Elijah is to ask a widow to feed him: counter-cultural for the times, and counter-cultural for a minister of God.
As a paramedic working on the frontline, I rarely received clarity in the initial call for help. In fact, often the information received added more confusion, building up that feeling that I was unprepared for what I was about to step into.
Elijah does exactly what God tells him to do, and then is thrust into a situation that he neither asked for nor had the natural skills to deal with. The widow’s son would get sick, very sick, and we read in v17, “he grew worse and worse, and finally he died.” Elijah was not a doctor, a nurse or a paramedic; in fact I’m not sure he expected to be thrust onto the frontline of this kind of crisis. Yet here he was – faced with the dead son of a widow. In a desperate call to God, Elijah cries out to save the boy’s life, and God moves. The boy is raised back to life, as God responds to Elijah’s obedience and faith, even though he was unprepared on the frontline of a crisis.
You may not have signed up to be pastoring on the front line of a global pandemic, yet God chose you, and will use your obedience as healing for His people.
Elijah didn’t have the skills or training to deal with his situation either, but he responded to the call, and he had faith in God.
On so many occasions, I would fly into a situation feeling unsure of what to do next… but I knew then, and I know now, that God is on the throne, and He is always in control.
We find ourselves living in days of rapid acceleration on many fronts. There is an acceleration of change and uncertainty within the world. Yet there’s also an acceleration of opportunity for believers.
The Kingdom of God never stands still, so we need to be prepared for an acceleration as we enter this season of harvest.
The way we disciple new believers during this season may also need to accelerate, leaning more towards a ‘hands on, learn as you work’ approach, driven by the urgency of the harvest at hand. We see this model of ‘hands-on’ discipleship during a harvest, within the book of Ruth.
We meet the recently bereaved Naomi, who has been living away from God’s people in enemy territory for years. She hears a report that ‘the Lord has given His people a good harvest.’ Good news – God has turned up in a big way, and is moving unmistakably! Stuff is happening, both blessing & harvest! Naomi wanted in, so she made the very significant move to position herself with God’s people, in God’s harvest field.
This prodigal brought along a ‘plus one’ – her pagan, Moabite daughter in law, Ruth.
I believe this is a prophetic picture of the last days harvest we’re entering into now. The prodigals will return. They’ll hear that God’s moving amongst His people, they’ll get a bad case of FOMO, and, not wanting to miss out, they’ll come home!
We need to get ready and make room for the ‘Naomis’, (the prodigals & backsliders) because they’re about to come home en-masse to God’s house, bringing their ‘Ruths’ (their unbelieving friends & family) with them.
Ruth declared her commitment to God in a vow, confessing faith in Naomi’s God. Their arrival back home coincides with the start of a bumper harvest, one they have not seen the like of for many years. Enter Boaz, a type/picture of Jesus. He is Lord of the harvest, owner of the whole field. Their place of meeting is significant – in the harvest field.
It is interesting to note that Boaz did not make Ruth jump through any hoops to prove her experience in reaping. He fully comprehended that she was a new believer, yet he let her have a go at harvesting! He didn’t make her get a theology degree first. Neither did he require her to firstly attain a semblance of maturity, or at least be saved for 5 years!
He simply encouraged Ruth to do her part and serve.
He instructed her to follow his workers, then let her loose in the harvest field. She learned about the Lord as she worked alongside His people in the field. Ruth was simultaneously discipled as she served. She didn’t learn about God in a class, she was immediately mobilised to work. Ruth learned by doing, by working alongside Boaz and his workers.
Today also, we are all called to make disciples – to mobilise God’s people, even new believers, and not to hinder them.
There is no hierarchy here. We’re all just workers in Jesus’ harvest field.
The need to release as many workers as we can into the harvest field now, is an urgent one. These new believers need not be sidelined by Christian bureaucracy of lengthy theory lessons within discipleship classes; they can simply be discipled as they serve alongside us in Jesus’ harvest field.
He needs them.
Luke 10:2 (Jesus) ‘The fields are ripe but the labourers are few. Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into the harvest field.’
Are there lessons that lockdown could teach us, because every new situation has the potential to speak to us. But it may be premature to speak of lessons, because, if the present situation resolves sooner than is expected I conject we will have learnt little. It will be business as usual, with an inconvenient hiatus – for most of us. To some, my inconvenience has been for them an occasion of great loss.
I suspect this lockdown will last longer than we’d wish. And time itself may be the only thing that effects actual change.
Of course, the temptation to pontificate will prove more than some can resist. We will hear every hue of prophetic pronunciation and denunciation. Some of them will be insightful, some will be bizarre, and others inconsequential (much to the chagrin of those would-be prophets).
Lessons may be a way off yet, but not observations. For instance, churches that are tech savvy have responded quickly, and in many cases very effectively. Some had already shown prescience doing online services. They have sophisticated systems that adapt to numerous platforms to keep connections alive among the church community. Many of these have resources to continue in high quality productions featuring worship and preaching. A normal Sunday, except online. But is this optimal? We may need to wind the clock back before we can answer this.
Until the time of the Reformation, church community gatherings were largely ‘us and them.’ The focal view of churches was the sacramental table, administered by ‘them’ – the priest. He celebrated the host, dispensed the wafer, and proclaimed the gospel in sacramental terms, all in Latin. Essentially, he did our religion for us. He had to, we barely understood what he intoned.
With the upheaval of the Protestant Reformation, the focus of the churches, in time, became the pulpit from which the minister preached the gospel in the vernacular, expecting adherence to its truth.
The pulpit, if not front and central by location, was elevated above the congregation (for voice projection reasons, but also a point was being made), and central to the mission of the church. If you visit a Roman Catholic or a Protestant church today, you will still see this essential difference.
This heritage is deeply embedded in the life blood of our churches – Protestant, Pentecostal, Evangelical. Preaching is the high point of a service – the direction they are geared towards. I doubt this thought will raise an eyebrow.
But does this focus tend to obscure, or take out of focus, biblical patterns/paradigms that the scriptures present for church life? And, maybe we have an opportunity to refocus due to this pandemic?
It sounds as if this is already being done in many churches, where connection with community is, at very least, supplementing preaching. Of course, it is never going to be either or, nor should it be. It is both, but a balance is being redressed.
In our foundation texts Acts 2:42-47 describes the structure of the church after the day of Pentecost. Debate still exists as to whether these verses are prescriptive or descriptive. It is likely to be both, and may even bend towards prescriptive, as Luke is writing with specific purpose, including this part of the churches narrative in Acts to call his readers back to this pattern of church life. Even in his time of writing the church needed to remember.
Teaching is the mentioned, then fellowship, the lifestyle, followed by breaking of bread and prayers. Generosity to/amongst God’s people is also included in this list.
The picture is clear. Community contextualised everything.
Most of these elements were not temple based, as teaching may have been. They were connected to homes, meals and fellowship. Teaching is not minimised, but it doesn’t dominate – God’s people being together eating, praying and caring for each other does, even if for the purpose of hearing the apostle’s teaching.
In a further example the apostle John writing in I John 1:3 states that the purpose of his proclamation was so that those who heard would have fellowship with those that spoke. John didn’t preach to be merely heard; he preached to affect connection with his hearers and with himself, which in turn would be with the Father and the Son. This is a different purpose to preaching; it has shared community and shared experience as its end.
All to say, maybe in lockdown the observable trend of heightened community connection (so much more like the church Luke saw) is as important as preaching messages.
If Sunday online is no different than an ordinary Sunday, I suspect we may be out of focus. Why perpetuate a monolithic model, that fewer seem attracted to, and not use this time to ramp up and enjoy connections with your community – as well as, not instead of.
Some are forced to do this, simply because they have neither the technology nor the know-how to present professionally competent content. Others are choosing to add life giving community to content rich communication.
If the four or five fundamentals Luke presents in Acts 2 are about community then an overdeveloped emphasis on preaching pulls this picture out of focus.
Going back to our foray into history, in a reaction to a sacramental approach to church meetings preaching became the replacement. Even here it isn’t either or, but something has been left out of the picture; a picture Luke was at pains to ratify in Acts – the vital and sustaining role of community, a community that hears together, eats together, receives communion together, prays together, and cares for one another, together.
It appears ironic that we may now be doing this better online than we did offline. This is as incongruous as the pandemic is ubiquitous.
Self-care. Me time. Mindfulness.
Principles and practices, certainly in Western culture, that are elevated high above our fast-paced blur right now. And at its core, self-care is obviously good. Clearly the scriptures call us to look after ourselves, to carve out rest, to run our own race. Yet, like many of these principles they can become diluted and then largely hedonistic when the world takes them on. I would argue that self-care is currently wearing worldly (ill-fitting) pants.
So how do we negotiate this space? I think a semantic shift can be aligning for us as disciples.
In recent times I have shifted to thinking of self-care as soul-care. The state of my soul – that is, my being, my essence, the beautiful combination of my emotions and spirit – this is the landscape that requires care, attention and focus.
And yet this process is not cookie-cutter nor scientific. Our soul is at home in art, and art lives in expression, emotion, risk, colour and creativity. Art breathes in paradox and nuance. Art shimmies up beside vulnerability and makes friends with it. Art is messy and beautiful.
So caring for our soul means a willingness to roll up our beige sleeves and get down to a gritty but creative business.
1. Engagement, not escapism.
Shouted from the worldly rooftops is the claim that self-care requires a moving away, an escaping to an island, a café, a bathtub, a cave of Netflix, a vortex of social media. That, to truly regroup, we must escape.
The art of soul-care, however, modelled time and again with our Jesus and superbly encapsulated by David in Psalms 23, is a that our soul is best cared for, nurtured and restored when we are engaged with the Good Shepherd.
2. Slow, sacred Sabbath.
I have been on a glorious journey of redefining the Sabbath in my life. Father God models this to us in Genesis 1-2. After six days of strategic, deliberate, purposeful, masterful creation he takes a day off – surely he wasn’t tired, right? And yet he took a definable time to exhale, to delight in his creation, to not work.
What is especially profound about this is the Sabbath here is described as holy (Genesis 2:3) – the only aspect of creative activity that is. Carving out a weekly designated space is essential for the care of our soul – a day where we are slower; a day where we feast and play and dream and rest and delight. To Sabbath is a truly sacred, and in fact holy, practise.
3. Regular rhythms.
The life of discipleship was never a call to balance, but a call to rhythm. The Message version of Matthew 11:28 remains one of my soul-care favourites – here Jesus says “walk with me, work with me, learn how I do it; learn the unforced rhythms of grace”.
Grace has a rhythm; discipleship has a rhythm; soul-care has a rhythm. That is, it ebbs and flows; it has valleys and peaks; light and shade, fullness and quietness; grace and grit. Jesus lived in rhythms and modelled these to his disciples, and then calls us to the same story.
4. Energy tanks.
Our time is static, but our energy isn’t. We can create and replenish our energy tanks by being deliberate and experimental in terms of understanding what fills and depletes our four internal reservoirs – mental, emotional, physical and spiritual. We may even find one activity that replenishes all four tanks simultaneously and this is like a targeted soul downpour from a heavenly rain cloud.
Like most of the human experience, soul care requires a good dose of art and dust and beauty, yet a great measure of strategy and form and structure.
Let’s continue to spend our days watching and learning from the master Jesus at work (and rest) guided by the soul-filling, soul-anchoring, soul-aligning Holy Spirit.
I hope you have heard the message, ‘Return of the Shepherd,’ by the articulate Leanne Matthesius. The title has a Tolkien resonance to it, does it not?
Leanne has superb insight into, amongst other things, the value and glory of the task of caring for God’s flock, which, if we want to get Pauline about it, is largely what we are asked to do. “Pay careful attention … to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” Acts 20:28. The precious possession of the Lord’s church demands the care of attentive shepherds.
This got me thinking about the role of a shepherd and how vastly different it is from the other ascension gifts enumerated in Ephesians 4. We aren’t completely sure if Paul was referring to four or five roles/gifts. It would seem to be four as the pastor is also, necessarily, the feeder – the teacher. It is difficult to be or do one without the other.
But it wasn’t this that piqued my attention.
I spoke at an Evangelists gathering – yes, you heard right – and addressed the topic of the pastor and the evangelist, how they relate and how they can co-operate. As an aside to the conversation it struck me that, apart from the pastor, the ascension gifts by and large (and remember when reading this, you have to exaggerate differences sometimes to see the difference) are reasonably straight forward, almost black and white.
The apostle is a ground breaker, requiring resilience and focus. They normally don’t deal with the tangle of lives.
The prophet is a proclaimer, a revealer, and they are often black and white – in the sense that a picture, a word, is relatively clear and always a simplification.
The evangelist is a bringer of good news. The cross, forgiveness, faith are straightforward enough. Of all these the evangelist is probably the most black and white – they need to be.
The teacher speaks of truth, application to lifestyle, and is often systematic in presentation.
But the pastor, ohh yes the pastor, deals with the inconvenience of nuance, the complication of lives, the tangle of relationships, of humanity – messy, complex and sheep like. To pastor you have to reconcile yourself to nuance. Things are always less straight forward in the sheep pen.
I suggest pastoring may be the most difficult, the most awkward of the ministries, because nothing is so complex as people.
The other equally important gifts can avoid the tangle a little more easily, especially if they travel.
For the pastor the nuance of situations, that never seem to quite conform to biblical verities, has to be constantly navigated. Almost every situation requires a different approach. The sermon on Sunday has to be massaged into mess, bad decisions and self-orientation.
If you are a pastor, you necessarily will have to trade in nuance. If you can’t you are in the wrong job.
Go the pastors – you are the real heroes.
Balance… that silly little word we throw around in ministry and in life, yet we never really achieve it. Don’t get me wrong, I know that “all things are possible with God,” yet I don’t know if He ever asks us to live a “balanced” life? Thou shalt live a balanced life (insert sarcastic religious voice), is not the 11th commandment. Jesus came to give us life and life abundantly and He wants us to prosper in all things, in every area of our lives!
Balance by sheer definition would make us believe we need to give equal parts of ourselves to every part of our lives in order to be steady and successful. Yet I’m not convinced every part of our lives needs to have an even distribution of our time and energy in order to be full of life, to be prospering, and to be healthy.
I think we need to throw the notion of “balance” out the window, as well as the guilt that comes along with it!
I believe the right question is, is my marriage healthy? Is my family healthy? Is my ministry healthy? Because healthy things grow, healthy things flourish, healthy things prosper and that is what our Heavenly Father wants for us. And, if one of those areas is not flourishing, then could it be that we have neglected an area that needs to be nurtured?
In life, in ministry, in marriage and family, there will be constant ebbs and flows. In one season, ministry may be demanding the majority of your time, and that’s ok! And in another season, your children may require the majority of your time, and that’s ok too!
However, I think we need to be able to recognize when one area of our life has taken priority over the others and then intentionally create a season where the neglected areas can be nurtured again.
I know my husband Jon and I have had to be very intentional when it comes to the health of our marriage, our family and our ministry. Knowing the ins and outs of our ministry lives, our family nights and family vacations are absolutely non-negotiable. So are vacations for just Jon and I (because we all know family trips are amazing, but not necessarily a “vacation”… and all the parents said amen!)
Jon and I look at our calendar every year and anticipate busy seasons in ministry, and we purposefully plan our getaways or days off after those busy seasons so that we can reconnect, refresh, and nurture our relationships with our children and with each other. This has created such strength and health in our marriage and with our kids, not to mention amazing memories! And a beautiful bi-product is that we are happier, healthier leaders and pastors to those who God has entrusted to us!
I believe it’s so important as leaders and pastors to model what hard work and commitment looks like, but equally as important to model what it looks like to rest, to be refreshed, and to keep a sabbath.
Because, people who aren’t rested tend to make silly decisions, and people who only rest don’t accomplish anything. So let’s be smart. Let’s be healthy. Let’s give it our all whether we are resting or working. And, let’s remember to continually re-evaluate our season of life and nurture those things which may have been neglected, back into a place of strength and health. Amen!