In the early months of 2014, I felt prompted by the Lord to begin writing down a vision of what I would like to do with my life. This prompting came near the tail end of a long Dark Night of the soul which began in 2001-2002. A large part of this Dark Night involved acknowledging and mourning the death of my most significant vocational dreams (vocation = calling, life’s work). In fact, I was committed for a long time to never dreaming again because it just caused too much emotional pain. I believed (wrongly) that I was “shelved,” set aside as useless after having had my chance at following God into a full time vocation but somehow blowing it. I lost my chance, and with it, in a very real sense, my heart. Unknown to me, however, God had a recovery plan in place.
God, in his goodness, took me on a very different kind of journey than I had anticipated or wanted. It has been fraught with messiness and pain and slowly inbreaking light. Over time, healing began to slowly outweigh sorrow, and as it did I felt courage to pick up certain questions again - Why did God make me? Why am I here? What am I good at? What do I love to do? What do I enjoy? What gives me life? Does my life matter?
When I began writing I thought this would be mainly just a personal discipline, to help me work through thoughts and desires in a deeper way. I didn’t think anyone else would see it, so I felt no pressure to make it conform to what I thought others might want, need or like. The only stipulation from the Lord was that I would not limit desire, that I would allow myself to dream again.
As I chipped away at it for months, words slowly came together weaving a vision for what I would like to do. At first it was just simply titled, “Job Description.” Over several months it began to be obvious that it was a description of a specific Pastoral Vocation. Simply put, it is an articulation of the pastoral way I find myself already walking with my friends and family; it is the natural and easy way I show up in my most intimate relationships.
As I wrote, I became aware of several profound ideas. First, it was obvious to me that the vision was a “pastoral way” I’ve never seen lived out in the Church, even though I’ve seen it somewhat described and modeled through distant mentors and writers (Eugene Peterson & Dallas Willard being by far the most prominent). I have seen faint whispers and glimpses of it, but never to this extent, never this explicit. I knew that if this pastoral way were to find a home with a group of dear Christian believers, it would involve a profound re-envisioning of doing and being the Church. Obviously, I have had to come to terms with the fact that my desires and dreams are tied up inextricably with the life and practices of the Church.
I have come to understand that the message that is being preached in any given local Church will determine the range of ideas and practices within that Church. The "good news" that is proclaimed and/or assumed (these are often contradictory) will determine expectations on leaders and followers alike. What is “success”? What constitutes “failure”? How is Christian maturity gauged? The system we have in place will determine the results we have. If leaders are being burned out and torn up, then it is likely that pressure is on them to get people to do things, to make things happen, to “build God’s Church.” If however, these things are not their responsibility, then we should expect Church to go very differently. What would a Church look like if it were a community of disciples learning together directly from Jesus how to live in the Kingdom of God in the context of their everyday lives? What if we were free from outcomes? What if we didn’t have to get things done or make people do things?
Second, the vision flows from a set of core ideas having to do with discipleship to Jesus in the Kingdom of God. Even though I had been a Christian for over 20 years, I had never seen or understood the primary message that Jesus brought - that the Kingdom of God was now available to everyone who trusts in Him with their lives (Matt 3:2; 4:17; 5:1ff). My encounter with the Kingdom of God came primarily through an experience over many months of a sense of cooperation with God in “one more attempt” to lose weight. I have been heavy almost my entire life, but to my surprise, in late 2012 as I stepped into basic regimens of dieting, food tracking and exercise, I experienced a participation with God in letting go of deeply ingrained habits of turning to food for comfort, especially sweets.
As I rethought key theological terms like kingdom, grace, gospel and discipleship, the pastoral role and the kind of church that would be required for that role to be life-giving, was radically redefined. For example, one of the first things that a disciple learns from Jesus is how to let go of outcomes. What would a pastorate and church look like where this was commonly understood and practiced? The following blogs are my attempt to answer this and other similar questions.
In the blogs that follow I will spell out this vision in more detail. I have also adapted the vision to a resume format, and have been actively seeking to apply to any pastoral positions I can find that would allow room for development of this vision with an actual group of people.