It’s been educational, this visiting other churches thing.
On lots of levels, I guess.
To be honest, I can’t work out why anyone would actually go to any of the Sunday services I’ve been to unless they’d fallen irrevocably in love with Jesus and therefore also with his people. (You get caught up with him, you get caught up with loving the church. That’s just how it goes.) But if you hadn’t fallen irrevocably in love with Jesus, I mean. Why would you even go? And why do we think non-Christians might actually want to come to our gatherings?
That’s a subject for another post…’what I’ve learned about the church from not going very often in the last month or two’. Don’t worry. I will work on a catchier title. But today my thoughts are drawn in another direction. On Saturday night I wondered whether I might make the following day a ‘church’ day. If I could work out where to go, that is. That’s another depressing church-related topic, by the way. Church-shopping via the internet. But even that is not where I am headed today!
As I clicked through multiple church websites on Saturday, I saw many which had a staff of more than one. They had buildings. They had things you could actually define and call ‘ministries’. Mid-week meetings and prayer gatherings and outreaches to the locality. They looked like they might even have budgets. And I was jealous.
Because somehow as a church we are always on the margins. And I’m on the margins of the local leaders. (One of them in particular has met me multiple times and still has no idea who I am even when I appear in their church occasionally for evening worship.) And sometimes I wonder whether it’s because I’m the wrong gender for the ministry boys’ network. Other times I’m convinced it’s the downside of being only part-time as a local minister and hence not present locally in the same way as others. Or it’s because we’re not connected with a denomination. Or maybe because we have neither a building nor people resources nor finances to offer for cross-church initiatives. Which makes us look plain uninterested, I suspect. Maybe even insular. Certainly of ‘no use’.
So, I don’t know why it is but as a church we’re on the margins. We’re on the margins and I’m sick of being there. (The margins, not LifeGiving – in case anyone gets the wrong end of the stick here!) The precariousness of it all. Not knowing each year how the church will make it financially to December. Wondering who God will ‘borrow’ from our midst for the kingdom this year. And will he send any more weight-bearers or will the weight begin to crush us. Saturday night’s church site skimmings faced me with this again.
Yes, I’m meant to be on sabbatical and not thinking about this stuff! But, you know, I don’t think God takes sabbaticals from working with us. And I think on Saturday night he asked me why it would be a problem if he calls me to the margins. If I am always to labour on the edges, to feel outside of the ‘ministry club’, would it matter?
The truth is that yes, it will probably always matter. A little. A part of me will always long to work with a staff team and money and ‘ministry initiatives’ and a building and teams of mature believers ready to get involved. That part of me wants that because I have so many ideas and so much passion for ‘doing ministry’ and much of it gets frustrated when we don’t have the people and financial resources.
But I don’t want to be guided by that part of me. Because I’m not so sure that this place of apparent abundance – abundance of people and programme, budget and buildings, staff and stability – I’m not sure it guarantees the abundance of his life. I’m not sure that me having an outlet for ideas and passion for ministry is what it’s all about. Not really. And though I hate the margins, Jesus seems to like this place quite a lot. Though I want the actual food to feed 5000 and not just what looks like five measly loaves and two dead fish, Jesus doesn’t seem too fazed by our lack.
So when he asks whether it would matter if I am always to labour on the edges, to feel like an outsider in church leadership, I know what to say. The truth comes out first, of course, and I tell him, yes it matters. And then I remember the truth which is truer still, and I tell myself, not if he’s here it doesn’t matter.
This is a post in my sabbatical series.