I realized that to anyone who is a regular reader of this blog (thank you–I really appreciate your support) the situations I describe from the congregations I serve could sound somewhat chaotic. We have people talking during worship, people making comments and asking questions during the sermon, Bible studies that might get on topic once a month, business meetings that have little structure, a very fluid and changing concept of membership among other things.
While it might all seem a bit chaotic, the deeper reality is that it is very chaotic at times. As pastor, I am often playing catch up and am more likely to be surprised by the latest suggestion than I am to have originated the suggestion. I do prep work on Bible Study and sermons and make plans for a variety of things and sometimes–many times–the actual on the ground activity takes off in a very different direction. To say that I am the leader of the congregations that give me a pay cheque every month would probably be technically correct, at least as far as the modern understanding of pastoral ministry is concerned. But the practical reality is that I most often feel like a leaf floating down a stream, twisting and turning and bumping into things as I am carried along by the current.
And I love it. I have never felt that it was my job as pastor to be the leader. I don’t have the need to determine every aspect of the life of the church. I don’t see the church as an institution that needs my great wisdom and knowledge to keep it on the right track and prevent it from going astray. Mostly, that is because the church isn’t an institution or an organization or a business or anything like that.
Essentially, the church is a group of people linked by their common allegiance to God through Jesus Christ, each one filled with the Holy Spirit. We come into the faith as different people and we grow in the faith in different ways and in different directions. But because we all have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, each one of us has something valuable and important to offer to the church. Because of that, most of my ministry has been focused on discovering the leading of the Holy Spirit for the particular group of church people I have been called to work with.
And so much of my ministry is spend listening and responding. I do work hard at trying to bring together all the disparate voices and views of the Spirit’s leading, because I believe one of the gifts the Spirit has given me is the ability to create an overview of the confusing and complex package that is a local expression of the church. I am not called to impose my overview on the church–rather, I am gifted and called to help the church discover the overview that the Holy Spirit is seeking to bring to a particular gathering of believers.
One of my early ministry discoveries was that in order for my gift to be effective, there has to be stuff happening. My particular ministry gifts thrive best in what often seems a chaotic situation. I seem to work best when there are lots of expressions of the Spirit coupled with the ever-present reality that some of what the church and I think are expressions of the Spirit are really not coming from God.
So, the Bible Study, the worship, the meetings, the encounters with people–all these things that come together to make a church that seems chaotic and confused are in actual fact part of the working of the Holy Spirit in our midst. As I participate in the chaos, reacting often and initiating occasionally, part of my Spirit given giftedness is to help the church make sense of the chaos and discover just what God is saying to us and where he is leading us.
I struggle with this at times because I am not naturally inclined to chaos. I like structure and organization and predictability. I use my gifts to help the congregation go from chaos to growth–but then the growth produces another type of chaos and so I keep going, responding to the chaos that is the church.
May the peace of God be with you.