Ministry


. . .  but sometimes you get what you need. (the Rolling Stones)

Sometimes I do what I want, other times; I do what I must. (Gladitor)

I have been thinking along these lines a lot over the past few months, and some of it was brought to a head today in a way that would probably be unusual for most people.

As we all do in many areas of life, I have spent the majority of my life in one particular area doing what I must, rather than what I want. And it is not an area where what I want to do is inherently bad (in someways I think it would be quite positive), but I have had to bend my personal will to that of the various entities and people to which I am held responsible. In many ways, this has been a very good growth process for me throughout the years, sometimes a growth process and/or amusement for others, but overall a sanctifying experience for me.

It seems as though whenever I begin to get to point where it can move to situation in which I am free to do what I want, it is either derailed or turns out to not quite be as conducive of a situation as I had thought it was, which then shifts it back into that growth process of bending my will to that of others. What can be frustrating about this is that it does hinder my ability to accurately represent myself (which I very much try to do and has probably caused me to miss a few ministry opportunities since I want to show who I am rather than put up a front, since everyone does that, so most people front extensively).

And then, a a few months into the sanctification process, we came to a ministry that not only allowed but encouraged being comfortable with who you are. As this came more and more together, I slowly grew into doing this thing in a way that reflected who I am, though it is by nature a slow process, as most similar things are.

But then that ministry fell apart. Being my stubborn self, I tried to hold on to what should have been there and continued to seek these ideals, never really admitting that it was gone . As my life was transitioning away from this, I had a few opportunities and necessities of doing what was needed rather than wanted, but I refused to admit that the dream had faded, so I complied in only the most limited sense of the term. There was also a lot going on at that exact moment in time, so I think there was much more grace extended toward me by various people than may have normally occurred (though the lasting effect worked more toward my preference in the long run).

So then moving forward again a few months, there has been progression in most areas toward restoring the parts of our lives had been derailed, but there were still some areas where I was stubbornly holding on to the dream. In order to move back to where we were before, my wife and I have been making some decisions we have not necessarily preferred, but they are the best options for the time being. Temporary discomfort/misery is worth the trade-off of a more comfortable/less miserable/more beneficial future. One of these choices was in this realm.

I have seem that I am a unique person. Things that affect and reflect me do not necessarily do the same things for the average person. But I also tend to think through things (particularly unusual things) more thoroughly than average.

I have a good friend in atypical ministry who also thinks through things, much more thoroughly than I do. He made a related decision a few years ago and has unfortunately had to continue much longer than preferred. Thinking about his choice tonight made me thinking about mine. I had not made mine with the same initial intention as he had, though I believe the pieces were there in such a way that it lead me to make the choice that I did, just not putting them together in the finished product until later.

Though it may seem petty, foolish, unattainable, trite, selfish, pointless to many, I have long had an atypical desire, especially for someone in my chosen life-path, even more particular in the fact that I hold it so strongly. Part of it stems from a personal preference, part of it stems from a desire to help some who are very much in need in a way not often seen by someone in my position/field, part of it from a desire to best reflect myself in how I am presented to others, and part of it is simply a desire to do these things while I have the ability. Since I was very young, I have wanted to grow my hair out to the point that I could donate it to make a wig for a kids dealing with cancer. I have not yet been able to do this, largely as a result of schools/jobs/etc not allowing me to get my hair to that point.

This last ministry was heading in that direction, but it did fail. The ministry situation which I hope to help develop would allow, embrace, and probably enable this, but that will take a while to get to the point where I am able to fully focus my attentions there (provided it happens at all). In the meantime, the work situation (which I love) is moving in a direction in which it would not be conducive to do so (yes, it was mentioned to me, and although it is not what I prefer, I do agree with the reason and the probable necessity).

This time, instead of barely skirting the boundaries of acceptability, I decided to go for what amounts to an incredibly drastic step for me, comparable to most guys shaving their head. Granted, it still reflects me while taking these factors into account, it is still not fully me. The amazing thing was that whenever I have done things like this in the past, I had felt like I was betraying not only myself, but some of my core beliefs (all people need to be accepted as they are by churches/ministries; use what God has given you to bless those in need; God uses us for who we are; be creative in blessing/ministering to others; diversity in non-moral issues should be encouraged; etc).

This time, it felt like the right thing to do. I was getting a bit fed up with the way my hair was, largely because I kept getting it almost to the point that it would begin to head toward the desired length before having to start all over again. This time, it will be quite a process.

I had earlier mentioned my friend and his interesting commitment. After getting burned again by a church, he decided that he would not cut his hair until he was comfortable and accepted in a church again. It has been almost 5 years, and though he does ministry and is highly involved in his church, he has not gotten a haircut (I doubt anyone reading this knows this friend, but is was a commitment just between him and God that he shared with me as he was helping me work through some of the ramifications of this past summer).

I have decided that I will be making a similar, though opposite, commitment. Once I am comfortable in a ministry again, whether voluntary or paid; typical or atypical, I will be keeping my hair short. (Short for me, anyway; I will likely only get a couple trims a year still). Once I get in this ministry situation, I will begin to make a solid effort to grow my hair out again, like the Nazarites or various warrior cultures of old. By the time it gets to an appropriate length, enough time should have passed to be fully ingrained in that ministry.

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It is sometimes hard to see what God’s plan is. Being a Biblical counselor and somewhat theologian (meaning that I have studied many topics, especially while in school, but tend to only study them to the point of my own satisfaction, typically just past the point of practical application), I know that discovering God’s plan is quite simple. Look to the Bible for the clear cut issues, then take the general principles and apply them to the situation. Once that is done, you are free to choose what you want. The goal is still to honor God. There are always some choices that will honor God more than others, so try to make the best choices. once it is past the first two levels, they are all good choices (since they honor God), but there are good, better, and best. It may be hard to determine which is which. Once you get into this realm, you then look for wise, Godly counsel, compare the options, and basically see which looks like the best option, and then go with it.

But sometimes there are other situations that are not quite so . . . leisurely. Sometimes you don’t have enough time to go through the final details exhaustively. You know it is not sinful and that it honors God, so it is an acceptable choice. Based upon everything you have done up to this point, it is right along where you are heading. It lines up with your “calling” per sea (I have a hard time with the “calling” issue. I think it is over-spiritualized from a scant bit of narrative text, but that is another discussion. I do think that some people are suited to some things better than others, and some people are even so suited to certain things that it is unimaginable to do anything else.). it isn’t exactly what you want, but close enough. all of the major factors are there, including ones that you did not see coming together at the same time and place in that way, which makes it even better.

What makes it even more interesting is that it came together out of nowhere after basically giving up on it from your own power and giving it to God. After years of slowly shifting to try to work it out through your own strength, you finally get back to where you need to be, and hand it over to where it belongs. Within a few hours, I received a rather interesting call from a pastor. It was for a church plant that was attempting to be multi-cultural (both types of churches I always wanted to be involved with). He was specifically looking for a youth pastor, but also was wanting to find someone to do counseling. Since I do both, it was a great fit. He offered me the job right there on the phone. Granted, it would not be payed yet, but it would guarantee a job at an alternative school they were starting. I would probably have been interested in doing that part alone. About a month later, we went to a meeting of the potential team. I was introduced as the “Family Life Pastor,” in charge of everything from children to youth and counseling (though a few more things have been added since). I was thinking “I don’t think I said ‘yes’ yet . . . ”

A few months and a couple false starts and a near-entire staff change later, the school is starting up. Now we are struggling with a school district not doing what they said that they would. A lot of it is up in the air, but should be sorted out today or Monday. Aside from that, my wife was going to be a teacher with the school, but the district said no. Then she was going to work a different position for the year, but then we had problems with the insurance.

the past few months have been an interesting ride

Being involved in what is attempting to be a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic ministry can be very interesting and unique process. Right now, the majority of our church is African-American, typically coming from a very strong black-church background. My background it from a predominantly middle-class white-church background (even if a large number of the church in which i grew up was Hispanic, this was still the prevailing mindset). Add to that the fact that my education took place in the midwest/south at a very “traditional/conservative” school (both being very poor adjectives to use, although it is the term generally chosen by those at the school), and I have a different viewpoint than most of the other non-blacks who have been involved with our ministry (we have had several people leave at various times for various reasons, and I hope the best for them in what they do). Add to that the fact that I have a very similar attitude toward church as many of the native Coloradoans with whom we are trying to minister, the fact that I became very disaffected with much of what I have seen in the variety of churches where I have been involved (much like many natives) and am in the emerging/emergent camps in many ways. And I spent my undergrad studying missions/intercultural studies, always with the plan of applying the same principles from foreign missions to the US (namely, Colorado). then looking at some of the strong commitments I have on the Bible (nouthetic counseling, etc), it makes for what seems to be a unique perspective.

When we first came together for this ministry, we had a very diverse group of people. Hardly anyone was from the same area. Including spouses, we had around 20 people.  We had 5 nationalities, 6 states, and about 15 languages represented (mainly from 3 people). A very wide variety of skin colors and backgrounds. After several situations that came up, most dealing with cultural/scriptural miscommunications and misunderstandings, we ended up with 3 pastors left, 2 black and 1 white (although several people left for health and logistical reasons). The sad part is that (to the best of my knowledge), we all agreed on the core essentials of what we were doing. I don’t know how much of the problems really came from culture, and how much of it came from the pride and selfishness that we all have at our core as a part of human nature.

This is not to say that I have not had my problems. I get frustrated very often, and I know that the other 2 gentlemen get frustrated with me (and each other) as well. But I think the main difference is that we have and are learning how to communicate out differences and reasoning behind what we do and why we do it that way. Not that the reasoning behind is always sound, or that what we do is something that really should be done, but we are working toward understanding and growing through it and coming to a place where our church culture is both unique from our individual cultures and a combination of these cultures in a way that is inoffensive and loving to everyone who comes in, focusing on relationships while still ministering in a real and effective way. Not an easy goal. We fail very often, but it is amazing what can be looked past when love and relationship is the goal.To make it more complicated and interesting is that we hold individuality and cultural background to the highest. we want each person to be themselves, and everyone else to accept and love that. Granted, we do want to help each other be like Christ, but from what the Bible says, not from what our culture says the Bible says.

This process was highlighted yesterday when we were meeting with several higher-ups from one of our denomination/fellowships (likely to be the main one moving forward) which has predominantly been traditional/white guided and focused (and a unique combination of high and low church styles). Our lead pastor and the district superintendent had some difficulties in the past which were worked out over a very awkward and uncomfortable 10-15 minutes (I arrived just in time for the show). it got nasty for a few minutes there, but by focusing on the core of the problem and working through the cultural background/baggage that each brought to the table, they were able to come to a mutual understanding and respect for each other. It is likely that a friendship will develop that was not possible before. Because of what I had been through in the past few months, I was able to observe and see both sides from a better perspective than either party was at the time, although I think we all ended up in the same place. What was most interesting is at the end, we talked about when the district guy would be coming to speak at our Bible study in a month. He wanted to know how he should approach it as to not offend, and when we told him to be himself, he got even more nervous. Every church he deals with has its unique culture that he must fit into, whereas we are trying to help everyone be themselves, which can be scary. Based on his past experience, he was very nervous. He asked me how to translate this into what he should do, which my response was the same as the pastor’s which was to do what he was comfortable with. the last time i preached, it was in shorts and sandals. our youth pastor who spoke last week wore i nicer suit than i have ever seen. our styles were totally opposites, but the church was edified by both.

the drastic differences are what astound me, even though much of the same is at the core. I had noticed this before in dealing with different churches and people while in college/seminary, but these two were even more drastically separated. if I were to explain it to either side, it would be very similar to when I was in second year Greek and trying to translate a simple Greek concept into accurate English while using the same number of words, which was impossible. Other Greek students understood from the one Greek word, but when I tried to explain it to some high school students who had no linguistic background, it took much, much longer, and they still did not fully understand as well as my classmates.

So how do we get to the point that we are all talking about the same thing? Naturally, “church” to me means something different than the district official, and something different to my pastor, and to my former pastor in MO, and my parents, and the average member of any church in the country, black, white, or purple. It means something differently to me now than it did in January. Hopefully, it means something different to our current church than what it did to any of us in January. But we still have problems. It has taken a long time and several difficult and trying situations to get this far. We have all had to learn more patience. And how to step back from our perspective, as much as possible, to see it from another’s perspective. There were many things that were done that when I had seen it done in other contexts, I was very upset, largely because of the reasoning behind it. I was upset at first, but then in finding the motivating factors, it had a good reason and was really not bad. Not always what I would prefer, but not something that was wrong. The interesting part is that it was not something that the other side would have seen as an issue. On the flip side, I occasionally do things that I would in no way even remotely consider to be potentially upsetting, but could have caused huge issues.

I guess the bottom line is patience, time, and concern, motivated and administered through love. Even when it is frustrating. Which is the same for any relationship, but the starting points are much further apart, which makes it more work. But more rewarding and fun, too.