By Colton Lott
One day my boss and mentor extraordinaire was helping a family (as she is prone to do in her youth and outreach focused ministry) when the parent said something unexpected.
“You’re always there when we need you… you’re like God to me!”
“Oh, I’m not God, I just work for Him!” She replied.
This story was working in my mind while I was sitting around a faux-wood, circle table in a fellowship hall covered in paneling from a bygone generation. I had the privilege of being invited to attend the area meeting for Disciples clergy. Whether I wanted to go or not was irrelevant: the senior minister I am working under this summer invited me, so I went, as good seasonal helper/learners should. But I couldn’t shake the “real” ministry I could be doing, like my youth minister mentor, out in the town where I could really be making a difference. I kept thinking, “These ministers won’t do anything…. Waste of my time…. Glorified eating group….whiner’s club….”[i]
At this gathering of clergy from three other churches and a regional staff person, we heard from a representative of Brite Divinity School. Those assembled spoke on what certain words meant to each of us—words like “visionary,” “provocative,” and “faith-in-action;” they shared how their churches are adapting to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Oklahoma, and nibbled around the subject of our local camp and conference center. To conclude our time, we went and ate pretty good fried chicken.
On one hand, you can call it a wasted day. Nothing concrete was accomplished. Visible signs of ministry were not performed. I was not going to be called God by a single parent who desperately needed a drop of hope or comfort. For a moment, I felt like I was a co-conspirator of everything that is wrong with the church today.
But on the other hand, I don’t think experiences such as these can be written off so easily. We also got to hear how another minister is progressing on their dissertation. Those gathered were able to laugh, and realize that other ministers had some of the same problems happening at the exact same time. They were able to lament and celebrate. They broke bread together and shared in an important communion.
In a time where everything the church does is, and must be, scrutinized, meetings of friends and colleagues must continue to be a priority. Not only is friendship an important trait to humanity, but Jesus was the incarnational God. We cannot forget that Christians are the incarnational church. Sometimes, our holy role is simply showing up.
It is important for followers of Jesus to keep their relationships with one another strong. We proclaim a message that is counter-cultural and anti-intuitive. What do you mean we’re supposed to be sharing each other’s burdens? How can I live if I give away my life and possessions to others who can never repay me? Do you know how inconvenient it is to care for the earth? These things, and many others, may be our God-given purpose and calling, but living the alternative way of Jesus is certainly not what society tells us will bring fulfillment. Living a life of extraordinary generosity is heretical to a society which demands a celebration and preservation of the self and one’s accomplishments.
We need Christian community. And the “we” here does not mean clergy—it means all disciples. We need those moments which are reserved for the airing of grievances and the sharing of hopes. These special times allow Christians to remember… their faith, their calling, their walk! And by being galvanized in community, we are able to be the incarnational presence of our unique communities to the world around us, speaking life into the void of death.
No, I wasn’t God to any of the people sitting around that table with the aluminum metal chairs. But I was Colton, some guy who is off to divinity school in the fall. Hopefully it was enough. It was for me.
[i] Of course, the presupposition here is that I actually do something valuable with my time, which can be rare, other than writing [D]mergent articles, of course.