Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Just One Question

If you live in my neighborhood, you may have seen me out a bit more lately. Our new dog, Goliath, needs lots of exercise so he and Violet get a long walk nearly every night. I love long walks, they give me time to reflect and to listen to music, two things that often go together. As I was walking last night with my iPod on shuffle (I am too lazy for playlists) Joan Osborne's "One of Us" came on. I really like the song though it's theology is a little fuzzy. For those of you who are unfamiliar, the first few lines of the song go like this:

If God had a name what would it be?
And would you call it to his face?
If you were faced with Him in all His glory
What would you ask if you had just one question?

In my combination of walking, reflecting, praying and listening to music, that last line really stuck. If you were faced with God in all His Glory, what would you ask if you had just one question? I played with the thought for the rest of the song and tried out a number of questions. What would you ask?

Here is what I came up with: "What do you want me to do?" I reflected on that for a bit and have been thinking about it ever since. The more I think about it, the more I like it. Now, of course, this doesn't work in every situation. If I meet God at the end of my life, it might be more like, "What's next?" but if I get a chance today to chat with the Almighty, I will stick with "What do you want me to do?"

Part of my theology and rationale behind how I do ministry is this idea that every person is created with a unique set of gifts. When those gifts are used for the glory of God, they bring great joy to the person and bring great goodness to the world. I truly believe that the more people who connect their gifts to the work of God, the more this world resembles the Kingdom of God. This is why we do The Pathway to Discipleship at University. It is a pathway because it leads somewhere. We invite everyone to meet Jesus, hear the message of Jesus and then begin to hear their mission from Jesus - what gifts has God given you and how is He calling you to put them to work in the church, in the community, in the world. In the mission phase of The Pathway to Discipleship, we are asking that one question, "What do you want me to do?" This is a question we can ask now. We don't have to wait until we are standing face to face with our creator. It is just a matter of prayer and discernment.

If you haven't asked the question yet, get connected to the pathway. These questions are often best asked in community where others can listen with you.



Sunday, September 13, 2009

Leaving Church

I took Barbara Brown Taylor's Leaving Church with me on my mini-vacation to Western New York a couple of week's back. I am not going to post a thorough review because this book has been out long enough that there are plenty of great reviews on the web.

It may have been that I read a lot of the book on the front porch of my childhood home, overlooking the grape vineyards where I spent seemingly most of my childhood, but this book really went straight to my heart. Taylor is an exceptional author (that is an understatement) and she weaves a beautiful story of her call to ministry, her life in ministry and her eventual calling to leave ministry. In it, we hear the glorious joys of the life of a pastor and the many stresses, pitfalls and dark valleys of the life on ministry.

I want to go out on a limb and say this one ought to be required reading: for pastors - that they might hear their own joys and struggles reflected so beautifully and look for the warning signs that lead to the end of a life in the church; for those who love pastors - that they might get a glimpse inside the life, the parts you see and the part you don't see; for those who work with pastors - church leaders, pastor advisory committees, pastor parish relations committees, etc - that they might better walk alongside the one appointed to lead the church.

Taylor is not the only pastor who has left the church. The burnout rate for church pastors is ridiculous. Sometimes it is a right a good thing that a person moves into another season of life and ministry. But sometimes the time is not right but the life is overwhelming. We should all be part of avoiding that.

Even if you are not interested in all that, the book is fun, funny and poignant. Barbara Brown Taylor is a gift to Christ's church.