Friday, June 28, 2013

Ordinary

“Most pastors will not regularly preach to thousands, let alone tens of thousands. They will not write influential books, they will not supervise large staffs, and they will never see more than modest growth. They will plug away at their care for the aged, at their visitation, at their counseling, at their Bible studies, and preaching…Most of us—let us be frank—are ordinary pastors.” 
D.A. Carson 
'Memoirs of an ordinary pastor'

Most churches and most church leaders are not very spectacular. That's why 'ordinary' is a good word for Carson to have chosen for this book which I read on holiday in Mauritius some years ago. So many of us are seduced by the big and the shiny in a variety of areas of our lives despite the fact that time and again we end up feeling used, disappointed and let down by them. We are sold the lie of shiny friends, shiny possessions, shiny associations and even shiny churches. Does it take a mountain moving revelation to reveal the state of our hearts in the face of such idolatry or simply a coincidence and accumulation of things that God has been trying to teach us for ages that we've just been ignoring? I think in my case it's the latter and some recent disappointments have really shown me this.

I was chatting with my friend who years ago sent me an email that read 'If you want to come and help me pastor the smallest and most struggling church in....then let me know'. Despite having offers for the seemingly more glittering gigs for my summer placement at Vicar Factory I opted for 'small and struggling'. Through that single decision I learnt more and was prepared better for a life of ministry than ever I could have imagined. 

Clerical ambition is a very unpleasant thing and it's most unpleasant when I see it in myself. I see a need to be thought well off, I see a need to have a favourable comments about my sermons, blog posts or ideas, I see myself name drop or feel more assured because person x or person y knows or likes me. I see myself grasping for management techniques or programs or speakers who might propel the life of our church into something less ordinary or more glitzy, efficient or influential like the one down the road or across the water.  

The truth is I am a fool to chase after such things. 

The reason people come to our church and the reason I enjoy being its pastor is possibly because it is 'ordinary'. It is so very easy for any one of us to use God and other people as a stepping stone to something 'over there' that we mistakenly think will be better or more satisfying or more admired. The trouble is we are not called to use God or other people for such things but are instead are to love God and people and then see what happens. 

Perhaps there's even a vision statement for the 'ordinary' in this thought. 

'We're loving Jesus and each other then seeing what happens.'

This sort of statement won't put you on the map but it might just make a disciple or two.

As I reflect on the ordinary I am yet again so grateful to have Jack Miller as my honest dead mentor and to learn that he suffered with the same calloused ambitious heart I seem to possess at times. I pray it may be a little softer once I've worked through all of his letters. I desperately need it to be so.

Postscript

This post and this one cover similar ground.

Also, on my way back from retreat I listened to a talk with my pal in the car. It's called 'In whom I am well pleased' (you may need to scroll through) and to use a phrase in it '....this is the whole ballgame'... to everything I have just written. It's well worth a listen. 

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