Yesterday my Joanne and I attended our old church where we said “Hi” to many old friends, celebrated the ministry of the interim pastor who had led the way the last 6 months and was now leaving for another gig. (And the celebration of a new full time pastor starting next week.)
It was good to visit and we enjoyed the fellowship, the sermon, the singing and the lunch which followed. (Though we had to leave early because of work commitments.) In many ways it was like walking into my parents family home. In many senses it is still home; but in many other ways, its no longer home. I have sensed since the age of 16, that I was called to be a pastor. Indeed, after that encounter where I heard the Lord say to me, “Craig, I am calling you, calling you, calling you!” and I knew I had told the biggest whooping lie of my life when I told our Boy’s Brigade Chaplain about it, saying “But I know God doesn’t want me to be a minister!” I knew then that the Lord had indeed called me to be a minister.
But, the question I never asked then and it has taken me 30 years to get to where I am now – was just what kind of minister had the Lord called me to be? I had once believed the stereotype and was caught up in the romanticism of what a minister is – dressed in a robe or dog collar around the neck – standing behind the pulpit, proclaiming with great authority God’s word. Now – I don’t want anything to do with the robes or the dog collar for that matter. I enjoy preaching – but the greatest lesson I have learnt is that I don’t ever want to preach to anyone ever again. Instead, I prefer to come alongside people and engage in their life, where they are at, and share God’s love with them – instead of preaching to them.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I believe in the authority of God’s word. I enjoy preaching behind the pulpit. (Though truthfully, I hate standing behind it, and would rather walk in front of it to engage with the congregation.) These days I am much more at home sharing the good news with a local year 5 and 6 class on a weekly basis. Sitting around the campfire at our men’s group sharing the ups and downs of life, looking into the Scriptures to see what they say to us and praying for each other. I’m more at home at the Tuesday morning community BBQ, where we share a meal and life with those whom the majority of society tend to ignore or look down on. There are conversations that would make one blush and cry. And yet there are other conversations where the real nitty gritty’s of life are also discussed and perhaps the opportunity presents itself to encourage those that indeed there is a God who is for them and not against them. Then there is the ministry with the intellectually disabled and their carers whom I spend some time with…I had the joy of sharing the sermon with a small group just before Easter. And there is a possibility towards the end of the year, where I start doing some School Chaplaincy work.
Jesus sent his disciples out into the community. He sent them out to the back blocks, the highways and the byways of life – into every sphere of society to share his love. And he said, “If you do this, I will build my church!” We have been having some discussions as to what church might look like if we plant one from the work we are doing. (When I say we, I mean the whole ministry team that I am a part of) At the moment we have women’s group, Sunday school, youth groups, men’s group, community groups, school ministry and a stack of other things that are going on and the reality is, this is the church in action. And while we may never all come together in one specific time : we do come together and celebrate the Lord when we meet together over a meal, a song, a word of encouragement, a time of prayer or Scripture sharing…and as we do this – its Christ who is continuing to build his church.
Truly, I love being a community pastor – it can’t get any more exciting then that, can it?