Ok, so imagine this: our entire pastoral team, after Tuesday’s team meeting, goes to the Golden Leaf for Thai food. In a freak accident, we are all killed because they garnished with arsenic instead of curry.
What would happen at NFC?
Would all the people suddenly rise up, and all of a sudden take complete responsibility for living out their faith? Would wonderfully creative emergent gatherings emerge out of the ashes, and bring the entire city of Newberg into the Kingdom of God? With us gone, would everyone finally realize that it’s up to them, and do a better job of being the church in the world? Maybe, but probably not.
Would NFC cease to be a programmed Friends meeting? Would they discover a radical, vibrant faith out of the silence, speaking passionately as God led, becoming so on fire with the power of the Spirit that the entire city of Newberg was brought into the Kingdom of God? Maybe, but probably not.
No, the most likely scenario if our pastoral team had a “Thai die” experience is that NFC would go through a search process and issue calls to new pastors. Others would come in to lead NFC. It would be different, because of those individuals different giftings, but it would still be what it is: a fairly traditional, programmed, pastoral Friends meeting.
This is actually incredibly freeing to me, on a number of levels. One, I’m not indispensable. I’m not irreplaceable. The entire world does not rest on my shoulders. At the same time, the community at NFC has chosen to release me into leadership of our community. If I weren’t here, someone else would be helping the group discern God’s call and mission in the world. Someone besides Mauri would be choosing and playing songs. It would look different, but somebody would be released to make some decisions about what our corporate life together might look like.
This is recognizing the reality of 127 years of history as a monthly meeting. I sometimes feel guilty about the decisions I make, the influence I have. I sometimes read Robin’s questions or Beppe’s or Martin’s blog and feel guilty that we aren’t unprogrammed Friends. But generations of faithful Friends are the ones who have made the decision that NFC is a programmed meeting, not me.
I sometimes read Bob.blog or Pagitt’s blog or Theoblogy and feel guilty that we aren’t de-centralized, holistic, hip, culturally relevant emergent people. But this isn’t a church plant. It’s a faith community that has been shaped over generations to be what it is, and we who are here now (we all, not we the pastors), we are charged with listening to Christ to shape this body for the coming generations as well.
Sometimes I worry that because I enjoy preaching (“oh, how modern”), I’m somehow keeping us from becoming emergent. Sometimes I worry that I’m somehow keeping us from being really, truly Quaker simply because I’m a “hireling minister“, simply by virtue of the role I am in.
But if I die or quit or go away or have a nervous breakdown or just decide that I’m going to sit at home with my wife and kids and write books, the reality is that NFC will “hire” another preacher and remain a non-emergent, programmed meeting.
And, good grief, isn’t that ok?
People from our church family have gone around the world changing lives. People from our church family hear God and obey. People in our community are helping each other seek the voice of the Spirit with everything in them and are making a difference in the world. We are who we are, and we aren’t who we aren’t. In a multicultural world, in a Christian climate that has all kinds of expressions of worship and needs and callings, how the heck could we be all things to all people?
And bear with me a little longer, for a little bit of selfishness here: THESE PEOPLE ASKED ME TO COME HERE AND BE PASTOR. I know my faults better than anyone, and they know some of them too. And God led them to extend a call, and Elaine and I to come. I know I’m supposed to be here. My drawings toward the emergent conversation and to Quaker distinctives means that, in reality, I probably will move us more toward those ideals by being pastor than by quitting or dying or moving on.
This may seem incredibly obvious or stupid, but I’m trying to be vulnerable here. I have a lot of things that block me, that hold me back. I’m trying to keep naming them and holding them up to God, and not fall of either side of the precipice. On one side is constant listening and talking…and never doing anything. And on the other is constantly talking and doing and looking like a leader….without listening.
Can I put my heart and passion on the table again? I want to preach; yes, I will work at dialogue, involving others in the teaching journey, sharing the preaching with others, being constantly attentive to the Spirit, and even having Sundays where we don’t have a message at all. But I want to preach, because I want to be a voice that calls our community to be faithful followers of Jesus: actively encountering the living Christ, growing in the faith, finding fresh avenues of doing Christ’s work in the world, and bringing to our community the life-changing message that the God of the universe not only loves you, but wants to direct how you live your life.
I want to release our community to be who God is calling them to be. I don’t want to control it, or manage it, or run it. I want to learn how to empower others. I want to do that with some people one-on-one, and I want to throw my energy and time and passion into creating a church culture that release more and more people.
I want us to create new communities that really are “church”. New communities where we worship, where we love, where we serve, the whole package. I want to learn to empower and equip and mentor new leaders to help those communities be the “church”. I want to learn how to release what I have too tight a hand upon, and how to hold tight to what I should be doing.
Would you help me with that? Does that excite you? Can we do this? Please, Lord Jesus, may it happen.