This morning I had a meeting with my spiritual director. He is a Jesuit priest residing at Fairfield University.Today was pure gold. I shared with him the four potential paths I could take for the future and in 15 minutes he laid out a discernment process of prayer, listening and processing that will take the next few weeks and months to work through. It is based on the Ignatian spiritual exercises. (The photo is of the statue of Ignatius outside the Jesuit residence at Fairfield.) It was great to have such a clear, practical and prayerful process to work through. I will post more later about what this process looks like. I'm very encouraged and excited about how God is leading me these days.
Monthly Archives: January 2011
I just had a great conversation with a church planting friend who is really knocking it out of the park in Chattanooga, TN. In the midst of our conversation, he said something that has really made me think…
Which is more important? MISSIONAL PRIORITY or THEOLOGICAL PURITY?
- Which is more important to most churches?
- Which is more important in my own theology of ministry?
- Which is more important to Jesus?
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
In the midst of a season of discernment about vocation, calling and purpose, I am mindful daily of the importance of being grounded in the basic core truths of the Gospel.
Having been a “full-time professional Christian” for such a long time, I am well aware that in the drive to DO GOOD THINGS FOR JESUS, we can easily miss the SIMPLE BEAUTY OF BEING WITH JESUS. For the most part, I was able to stay grounded in this truth (I had other issues, lol) — but I saw many people in professional ministry burn up and burn out because they lost their footing, lost their grounding.
This teaching by Brennan Manning — one of the more important mentors-from-a-distance that I have had (almost entirely via his books, btw) — is a good reminder and grounds me well in the Good News.
Take a moment to watch it and let me know what you think…
HOW DO YOU STAY GROUNDED?
A few days ago, a good friend who is planting a church in Chattanooga, TN called me. I hadn’t heard from him in a while. It was late Saturday night and he was desperately trying to finish his Sunday sermon and remembered an illustration/story he had heard me use years earlier in a message I gave at a leadership retreat.
He wanted to know if I still had that message and the illustration.
All of my old files from my pastor/ministry days are on one external hard drive (mental note to self: I should really make a back-up of those files!) The sermon and message files aren’t all in one place. They are scattered throughout different filing systems as I had separate files for all my different ministry jobs… six different church and parachurch ministries in 12 years.
Suffice it to say it can take a while to find any one particular sermon, talk or message.
So to find what he was looking for, I had to work though some old files and messages. It is interesting to see the recurrent themes that come up in one’s preaching and speaking. If I could create a “word cloud” of my preaching over the past 12 years, I think some of the key words that would come up big are JESUS, love, grace, forgiveness, purpose, discipleship, follow, surrender, worship, change the world, risk-taking.
I have preached often on the importance of TAKING RISKS as Christ-followers — because we are called to be WORLD CHANGERS.
Looking over these messages — in addition to a conversation I had with another pastor friend a few days ago — led me to start asking some tough questions of myself.
- Are Christ-followers allowed to play it safe?
- Is it okay to not want to change the world?
- Am I still willing to take BIG RISKS for GOD?
- What does this all mean for me over the next 25 years?
- Is cooking a vocation, tent-making or net-tending activity for me? Which should it be?
I don’t have the answers to these questions yet… but I am wrestling with them.
Discernment is an activity that best takes place within the context of authentic community.
As we pray and listen, we share what God is doing in our lives with others, seeking feedback, affirmation, encouragement, warnings, corrections, questions and further insights.
A few weeks ago I was meeting with my spiritual director and we set a course of some specific areas to seek discernment in this month. As I have gone through that process, I believe God has been moving me and speaking to me.
I have shared some of this with friends and today spent a couple of hours talking it through with my pastor at Panera Bread, while it snowed outside. It was actually quite beautiful.
God used the conversation this morning to refocus in a slightly different direction than I was sensing — actually, a pretty significantly different direction. But during the conversation, it felt right.
I will continue to pray, reflect, journal, blog and dream. I meet again with my spiritual director next week. I will probably also call some friends and mentors this week or next, just to process some more. Different insights are always helpful. Each person will bring an important perspective to the process.
But at the end of the day, others provide input and we individually need to decide — but God uses community to direct and guide us. And to also protect us from bad decisions. Beware life-changing decisions that are made without community input or contrary to the input you are getting. Sometimes the community wisdom is wrong — but I find rarely so.
More discernment, prayer, dreaming and journaling. Maybe some “low cost probes”. Perhaps broadening the circle of input.
And then… waiting on God to direct the next step.
That is the discernment process.
Slow, deliberate, communal, intentional, prayerful and faithful.
HOW DO YOU GO THROUGH THE PROCESS?
I pray today that my heart would be tuned to yours:
Seeing the things you see.
Feeling the things you feel.
Loving the things you love.
I pray today that my hands would be like yours:
Doing the things you do.
Touching the people you touch.
Surrendered to your will and leading.
I pray today that my feet would be at your command:
Going where you would have me go.
At the pace and gait you would have me go.
For the purposes that you would have me go.
I am convinced that each of us is created by our Heavenly Father to crave purpose, significance and to pursue something greater than ourselves.
I think this is a universal — and really good — longing of the soul.
We might consider this our greater VOCATION.
Throughout church history, VOCATION has meant far more than just job. It is about calling.
- First, we are called to a relationship with our Creator. That is our primary vocation. (Discipleship)
- Second, we are called to love God with all of our hearts, minds, souls and being… Celebration. (Worship)
- Third, we are called to relationships with others… Community. (Fellowship)
- Fourth, we are called to love and serve each other… Great Commandment. (Ministry)
- Fifth, if we are followers of Christ, we are called to be Ambassadors for Him… Great Commission. (Mission)
These are things that — I believe — every person is called to. Our universal VOCATION… our primary purposes.
But beyond that, we all have a need for specific VOCATION… a specific place where we invest in that which is greater than ourselves and experience significance.
I have noticed that such focus tends to come in one of three areas:
- Ordained Ministry
Some people find this kind of vocation through the religious life, that is ordained ministry (or, if not formally ordained, through recognized ministry). Others, through their jobs — whether teachers, doctors, engineers, lawyers, etc, etc. And others through family — marriage and children. Many, through a combination of all three.
As I have been doing some self-reflection, I realized I need to focus on this sense of vocation.
For most of my adult life, ORDAINED MINISTRY was my vocation and primary outlet for investing in something greater than myself. I was blessed to get to do this as my job. In many respects, my passion and commitment to ministry made the desire/need for my own family — spouse and children — unnecessary.
In the coming season of life, I need to redefine where I will focus and invest.
Perhaps it is a plan to re-enter ordained ministry. That is a possibility. But if not, then it seems like a need a job that is about more than just a paycheck. Or if that kind of significance does not come from a job, it will need to come from family — a partner, children, etc.
This, of course, is not an either-or scenario. One can be in volunteer ministry, have a job that is significant, and raise a family. But you need at least one of those.
I don’t know (yet) what direction God will call me (and all vocation is calling). I think it is very possible that God will call me back into full time vocational ministry — and for those who have been reading this blog for the past 18 months will know that this is a change for me. I am now very open to such a calling again. And maybe God will call me into a career as a chef that is significant… my dream job would be either working as a chef at a soup kitchen or training at-risk youth in culinary arts. And maybe God will call me into the vocation of marriage, adopting children, and raising a family. And maybe he will call me into all three.
But this I know, HE WILL CALL AGAIN.
And when He calls, I will respond: HERE I AM, LORD. SEND ME.