About 15 years ago I made a conscious decision that if I wanted to be taken seriously by a skeptical and cynical culture for the faith that I feel so strongly about, I couldn’t do it from a vocational role that was a stumbling block to that conversation. When I was in graduate school (aka Seminary), I took a course in Anthropology where we got back to the basics of human communication and how culture messages work. For anyone to be heard, they must have an ‘acceptable role’ within that culture so that people understood their place first, then their message. If missionaries were going to go to a foreign land, they couldn’t come with their western labels such as ‘pastor’, they needed to take on a role that culture would accept like doctor, teacher or engineer.
I applied this same teaching and understanding to the cynical postmodern world. If people’s biggest barrier to understanding the true Christ was the hypocrisy of church leadership and/or the mismanagement of money and spiritual power, then why not do what I could to remove it. If I was who I claimed to be, I would be able to do it without an office, position or budget. So 15 years ago I fired myself as a pastor and have sought vocational roles within my culture that make sense to anyone (i.e. teacher, administrator, manager). To say that this journey has been a painful and confusing one would be an understatement. I have had very few if any models to learn from, I’ve largely tried to figure it out on my own and have found solace in many friends/sojourners along the way trying to figure out the same path.
To go along with the anthropological reasoning, the more I read and was taught about the successful tactics of pastoring or growing churches in the American landscape, the more I felt less comfortable in my own skin. It is difficult for me to marry the core teachings of Jesus with the tenets of the American consumer and corporate culture. In fact, at their core, I find them at complete odds with one another. I could not and still cannot figure a way to allow them to sit in the same room or barter at the same table. They both want to be king and there is only one King. One or the other will reckon your allegiance, I want to tread very carefully in that arena. You can only serve one master.
Christian community is not about money, power, position or titles. It’s not about a particular place or a particular time or event in the week. Christian community is most basically about a life that is organized around the teachings of a Jesus who said to love God and love neighbor (it’s not more complicated than that). It is possible that this can be done without a budget, campaign, crusade, conference, seminar, workshop or infomercial Jesus. But it’s not possible without a complete abandoning to your own selfish ambitions and having them replaced with the King’s orders. This is the truth whether you pastor vocationally or not. I believe God has called me to this sometimes painful and confusing journey, but it’s not really for me to figure out. My job is to follow.
I have a bachelors, masters and doctorate degree in a vocational field I don’t work in. On the surface, that is pure foolishness. And it would be with the exception that I sucked the marrow out of each of those learning experiences to help mold and shape me into the person and leader I am today. Spirituality is not a job, it’s a lifestyle. When spirituality is no longer your job, you are free to love and serve and live as you truly believe. It is that freedom over the past 15 years that I would not exchange for anything, they are my King’s orders to follow.