Christian ministry and disappointment

16 09 2016

“There’s a lot of disappointment in Christian ministry.” It was a passing comment made during a conversation in the pub. But it stuck in my head. It’s one of the great unspokens, because we are not meant to feel disappointed. Not only can disappointment undervalue the achievements or encouragements, but it feels kind of disloyal to God.

At its best, Christian ministry is the most profound and amazing role, a privilege and blessing and yes, there are those times.

But it’s worst, it can feel like trying to flog a dial-up modems to kids with 4G mobiles.

christian-ministry-can-feel-like-trying-to-flog-dial-up-modems-to-kids-with-4g-phones

Selling a product nobody wants, let alone needs. Blank expressions of pity, or just… blankness. In early-church days, everyone believed in (a) god(s), so telling them about your (better) one made sense. Like going to a football match and telling people about the new team you’ve discovered that are way better than this one. And the pies are enormous. People will be interested. You just have to win their loyalty.

These days in this place it can feel like telling people about the new football team. Except you’ve gone to the pet shop to do it. At night. Dressed as a pelican.

We have this amazing message of hope and transformation, yet nobody gets it. We have the best ideas for social cohesion yet struggle to organise a an hour-long Sunday service. We celebrate when a few people come to church, when the other 19,000 in the parish don’t.

In Christian ministry you have to be able to genuinely celebrate small things, all the time hoping for greater things. You have to be able to manage church-envy, because no matter how good yours is, someone else’s will always look better run/resourced/taught/supernatural or just won’t have the same old crockery.

Yes, there is a lot of disappointment in Christian ministry. It is an incredibly labour-intensive project, but that’s how God works. In terms of farmers sowing seeds, God still operates in the old ‘fling it out a see’ method, no matter how much we try to adopt intensive-farming methods to streamline, make efficient, guarantee success.

It comes down to this. God is. And he calls us to exactly the same as Jesus called his friends to. And they called theirs to. Conversations, communities, the slow-burn of incarnation, of relationships, of lifestyle. Of being seeds in the dirt, that may or may not burst into life right now, or  next year, or in a decade.

Feeling disappointment isn’t failure. It doesn’t mean you’re in the wrong job. See Elijah. It’s being honest. To feel disappointment is at least to feel something, to know there’s more, to be a person who believes in hope.

It is when we fail to feel anything that we are in the wrong job.





snail

12 11 2013

Claims to self-importance. So many.
Problem-solving? Done.
Individual. Local. National. Global. 
I am hero. 

Last week. Case in point.

Solving individual.
3 one-to-ones.
Support. Listen. Prayer. Coffee. Bacon.
To connect. Help others connect. Sounding board. Partnership.
Good. 

Solving local.
Launch of Prayer for Sutton. Friday night. Yay.
To link churches. In prayer. Can’t fault.
Saturday: Parish Day of Prayer. Creative prayer stations.
Art. Jigsaws. Space. Worship. God loves St Helier. Yes. He will deliver it.
Powerful prophetic word. Tell.
Good.  

Solving national.
Launch of Christians on the Left.
Guy Fawkes night. In Parliament. Pushing past protestors.
Juxtaposition. Hopelessness. Prophetic optimism.
National politics. Can be changed. Needs to change.
Corridors of power. Prayed for.
Good.   

Solving global.
Feel so small.
Pray for Sri Lanka. Philippines. Leaders. Remembrance Day.
Never forget to never repeat. Tell the children. Tell the children.
The children must know. Told them.
Good. 

Without me the world will end.
Collapse without my wisdom.
Individual. Local. National. Global.
Problem-solving? Done.
I am hero.

Being ironic. Like 10,000 spoons.
Adopting the weight of the world.
I struggle.
My shoulders hurt.
Let go. Jesus says. Again. 

But without me…

Let go. 

Let go. 

But. But.

Grant applications // service plans // unopened post // those who are ill // national debt // breastfeeding // tornadoes // payday loans // christmas rota.

The news. Loads guilt. So many issues. My world. Small. Big. Mixed up. 

Be a snail. Shrink for a bit. No more looking.
Permission to rest.
Slow.

Good. 

 





the lent sessions // george’s

27 02 2013

To know an area, you need to find spaces to watch and listen. This is mine. George’s Cafe. 

George's Cafe_Snapseed

Life is here. Builders on lunch break, mums with kids, couples having a cheap treat, men who live alone and need some human contact… I reckon everyone eating here has walked here, which means they are under my pastoral care. Local.

Life is here. Community is here. Ministry can’t be done in isolation reading books in the study. Get out more.

God bless George’s.

This is part of a Lent series called The Lent Sessions, using photos of my local area and experiences. Previous posts include // bathroom and // balloon 





resilience

1 01 2013

2012 was
a tough year.
I think the toughest
I can remember
as a grown up.

Sometimes
there is a perfect storm of
challenges
across life.
Resilience

faith and 
family were all challenged
and just about survived.

The hope is for
resilience without hardness
faith without papering the cracks
and family without self-interest.

I hope this year
will be more
straightforward.
For us and
for you too.

Thank you for reading. 

hope is a place





hit and run

29 11 2012

There are lots of cheesy cliches [surely, ‘beautiful metaphors’?] for the growing of faith in people. A cliche is sometimes true. Sometimes it’s made up to make us feel better. A favourite is to talk about ‘planting seeds’, sowing our seed [erm, really?] on rocky or weedy or shallow ground without knowing if the seeds make it through. Very Jesusy. This especially applies to the many occasions when we do services to [surely, ‘for’?] people who don’t have a clue or interest in  what we’re talking about. Funerals. Weddings. Baptisms. Assemblies.

Those times that are meant to be a privilege, where we talk about planting seeds, when it actually feels more like a hit and run. Like I gather up all I am, all I am called to be, and all I believe about God, bound up with all my nervousness and stress and self-consciousness and vulnerability of ‘performing’ in front of strangers, and I condense it into 3 minutes, hit people with it and then run away, all of us none-the-wiser about why.

What a waste of time. Hit and run gospel. 

ASBO Jesus

Or. Or is it? More and more I realise there is no such thing as a hit and run ministry. Because although each occasion may feel like an isolated incident, each moment is connected to another before. People have many experiences of church, and as a badged representative I am connected to all of them. Whether I see the people again or not, I am part of a story in them. And despite the evangelical in me wanting it to be all about what I say, the words I impart, the importance of people understanding what I am talking about, little of what I say will actually make an impact at the time. What does?

Character.

There is no such thing as hit and run ministry because our characters are remembered more than our words. So it is important that I represent Jesus well. So I make an effort in what I say, even though it may not be remembered. I make an effort in the way I say it, even if I’m feeling crap about being there because there’s a million things that need doing instead of talking to a load of people who don’t care, will never care, and are waiting for the after-party once the vicar has finished.

Won’t they?

cliche alert

Well, actually I am constantly surprised at how much people take in. When people come back wanting me to take another family funeral or baptism, or the school wants to book me for another term, I recognise that something is going in. That there is (hopefully) a positive impact being made. The lowest bar for me is that I don’t bore or offend people. The highest bar is that through my words and actions – and actually maybe just my presence – Jesus changes lives radically and surprisingly. Because where we are, he is. And he is full of surprises.

I could say something about seeds. But that might sound like a cliche. What I will say is: make an effort, people. We don’t do lazy, hit-and-run ministry. We do whole-life, interconnected, incarnational and life-changing ministry. Just because it doesn’t always feel like it, doesn’t mean it isn’t.  

Pop that in your seed tray and smoke it. 





the b word

8 11 2011

When you ask a vicar how they are, chances are they will reply ‘busy’. I have always tried to avoid answering this question with that word, either by cocking my head to one side and earnestly saying “it’s not about me; how are you?”, by playing to the (always hilarious) joke that I only work one day a week and saying “pretty free til next Sunday actually, it’s an easy life this one”, or by saying “crap actually, can we talk about it” simply because it is a hobby of mine to create awkward silences and hold them for as long as possible. Usually we call it prayer.

However at this time I am actually very busy, what with my co-vicar being on maternity leave and 20,000 hungry parishioners (as opposed to Parisiens) needing souls cured, booklets photocopied and the heating switched on and off according to the whims of Mother Nature. So, because despite my magical (sorry, miraculous) powers I cannot squeeze any more time out of the day, and because I will not sacrifice my family or my sanity on the altar of ‘doing everything’, I have decided there must be cuts.

So here are 7 things I will no longer be doing:

  1. I will no longer read commentaries whilst preparing sermons. Live text on BBC Sport is finally to be considered a distraction and I will switch it off.
  2. Updating my Facebook status will no longer be considered a spiritual discipline. If God wants to know what I am up to, he can email me, which I will leave marked as unread until I have time to respond.
  3. I will no longer keep my office tidy. Jesus came into a messy world to redeem it, so I will wait for him to do the same to my office.
  4. Whilst I can see the benefit of reading the Bible, there is never anything new in it and it is awfully long. I will stick to whatever Scriptures I can find on bookmarks, posters and other people’s Facebook pages, as they are presumably the most important ones.
  5. I shall no longer prepare services. It seems a lot of work to do essentially the same thing every week. Following the example of the X-Factor and Strictly, we will use the same script every week, manipulate the odd drama and throw someone out according to votes cast in the offering bags.
  6. Instead of feeling guilty about not having planned things that are coming up (like Christmas, or tomorrow’s assembly), I will make it a deliberate policy not to plan anything until the day on which it happens. After all, it’s God’s reputation on the line so it’s up to him to step in with last-minute inspiration, and he ought to be able to operate the photocopier by now.
  7. We will no longer hire out the church hall in an organized way, but simply leave it open as a ‘community space’. This way we don’t have to worry about keys or rent, we just let the Big Society sort it out for themselves. This is called empowering the community. In fact, we will no longer lock away the church tea and coffee. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

With these changes in place, I am hoping that I will no longer find myself scrabbling for euphemisms for the b word, and will be able once again to the play on the Playstation during the day. Sorry, pray station.





barbed wire and trampolines

15 09 2010

I wonder what is is that makes you smile. I wonder what it is that makes you belly laugh. Ministry in St Helier provides plenty of those opportunities, once you learn to bend and flex and go with the flow and understand that unpredictability is the new predictable and bewildered is the new normal.

Mrs Vicarage and Marigold the Lodger were sitting in the lounge last week when an 8ft trampoline came walking down the drive and plonked itself outside our front door. Along with about 8 teenagers.

“We brought you this”
“Oh. What for?”
“For the youth club.”
“We don’t have a youth club.”
“Where will we put it?”
“In your garden.”

hello, I'm your new trampoline

I came home from the running club to find 8 kids bouncing on a trampoline outside my front door. Some rapid thinking ensued (which is tricky after doing 7 steep hill repeats) and we lugged it over our fence into our back garden. You have to laugh!  These are the same kids we have had problems with broken windows, broken vents and broken trust. Every day since then they have knocked on our door and asked to have a bounce. Some quickly drawn up rules and safeguarding meant this was fine, and we have loved seeing them behave like the children they so often aren’t able to be, and I  have enjoyed being given permission to bounce like a loon and pretend I’m in Glee. Even Mrs Vicarage had a go.

This is ministry, this is being church, this is being love, by God’s grace being able to flex like a trampoline even and especially when unexpected things happen. Because Jesus calls us to be a part of people’s lives and not apart of people’s lives, so when good things happen we relax into it and thank God that we see glimpses of the kingdom.

Yesterday things unexpectedly went belly up and some were extremely rude to our Scout leaders and obnoxious to me and the neighbours. It all ended in the church door being kicked and broken and the Police called. Sometimes the unexpected is the trampoline walking down the drive, and we laugh and enjoy it and share their laughter. Sometimes the unexpected is the anger and pain and the frustration at life which seems to end in the building suffering and the Police earning their stripes. And the trampoline of our grace being flexed to the end of its elasticity.

This is ministry, this is being church, this is being love, by God’s grace being able to flex like a trampoline even and especially when unexpected things happen. Because Jesus calls us to be a part of people’s lives and not apart of people’s lives, so when bad things happen we relax into it and thank God that we see glimpses of the kingdom.

When I saw this sunflower pushing through the barbed wire of our garden fence it seemed to me like a picture of the beauty and the pain of ministry, of living and working on St Helier, and of life for so many. The beckoning smile of the sunflower and the cruel sharpness of the wire. So there we are. Barbed wire and trampolines. An unusual combination for another unusual week…





i am the vicar, i am

18 11 2009

I am the vicar, I am.
I am the pastor, the carer, the listener
the one with the time to drop everything and
I also understand global politics and immigration and
I am the one who knows about Afghanistan
and cares about ‘our boys’
and I care about speed-humps
graffiti
litter
and the positioning of zebra crossings near schools.

I am passionate about school assemblies
council meetings
mums and toddlers and also
I am good at one-to-one and small groups and
I listen and empathise and at the same time
I am the one who plans and strategizes and
I am the one who understands budgets and decides if we can buy any staples
or replace the heating system.
I am the vicar, I am.

I am the quiet reflective prayer and
I am the speaker, the enthuser, the motivator, the learned teacher and
I can engage a room of 10, 50, 300 people with no problem because
I am the one who relates particularly well to children
older people
the middle-aged
the jobless
the employed
the doctors
teenagers and
I am the one who is always one step ahead and
I am the one who is endearingly disorganised.
I am the vicar, I am.

I care passionately about church politics
I care passionately about domestic abuse
I care passionately about the plight of Anglo Catholics
women priests
gay clergy
evangelicals and
I listen to the pope
the archbishop and
Rob Bell.

I am up-to-date with theological developments.
I understand the history of the reformation
the armed forces
the war
the government
the deanery
the Jewish background of Jesus and
I care about the excluded and
I manage my admin and
I know how to access children’s services.
I am the vicar, I am.

I am the one in whom trust is placed
I am the one in whom grumbles are placed
I am the one who is always talking to everyone else
I am the one who models worship
marriage
family
gardening

conversation
baking
prayer
listening
talking
planning.

I often get it wrong.
I am the one who has to keep my doubts under wraps and
I am also the one who is vulnerable and
dependable
stable
trustworthy.

I am the one who chairs meetings
I am the one who manages group discussions
I am the manager of an organisation that employs only me
I am the volunteer co-ordinator
the opinion co-ordinator
the trespasser on the territory of people who have been around a lot longer than me
and will be there after me.
I understand the heating system
the financial system
the rota system.

I love committees.

I drink tea with older people
And coffee with younger people
I listen to stories of bus routes and hospital visits and
I believe in transforming our community through the power of Jesus.

I am the one who is very tired.
I am the one who hates wearing dresses but still smiles
and would love to be muddy all the time.

I am the one who only works one day a week.

I am the one who loves this job.
I am the one who is making it up as I go along.
I am the one who would not swap this for anything.
I am the vicar, I am.

© 2009 Kevin Lewis

I am muddy. I am prayerful. I am.








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