“Come and help us learn to be the people of God in the neighborhood where we find ourselves.”
That was the call.
Last month I shared here about my departure from paid congregational ministry. Unsurprisingly, I’ve found that many of the practices I engaged as a paid minister were things I could still do after I left:
- BLESSING There are lots of people outside the church walls who are in need of blessing. So I don’t hesitate to write a blessing in my co-worker’s birthday card.
- SHOWING KINDNESS I still show kindness cashiers and gas station attendants and janitors, asking them how their day is going and making sure they feel seen and heard.
- NEIGHBORHOOD I’m still involved with the neighborhood association—but now it’s the one where my home is located, rather than the one the church building is located in.
- CEREMONIES A friend from the neighborhood recently asked if I do funerals because his ex-wife is on her deathbed. Yes, I can do that for you.
- SPEAKING I accept speaking opportunities as they arrive, but I also preach through my blog, reaching friends near and far with words of hope and solidarity and challenge.
- INVITING We still invite people into our lives and home, listening for God’s movement and looking for ways to bless others.
Living missionally and extending hospitality – these things don’t require a paid ministry gig. Of course.
No longer tethered to a Christian institution (which has positives and negatives), I consider myself a minister-at-large.
I don’t draw a paycheck from a church anymore. But I know who God has created me to be, and I’m living into that calling wherever my feet are planted. The affirmation of a church ordaining and blessing and paying me as a “minister” was a beautiful gift. But also…
I was a minister long before anyone paid me to be—and I will be long after as well.
Still, beyond how I live and move and work in the world, there’s something critical about Christian community. Although attending Sunday services doesn’t totally fulfill this need, we wanted to be growing together with a body of fellow travelers. We wanted to continue sharing communion weekly. We wanted to keep singing the hymns that have been etched into our hearts through decades of singing them with our church families.
For the better part of a year we spent Sundays at home or traveling, with a dozen or so spent visiting a handful of churches.
We found churches that met some, but not all, of our priorities. We weren’t trying to be picky (although admittedly we are), things were just so complicated after working for a church. Our disenchantment with the ways we’ve institutionalized Christianity was stronger than ever.
While we worked through the grief and healing, hopeful for a day we would once again be regular church-goers, we spent that season focusing more on Christian community outside the walls of a church building.
CHOOSING THE NEIGHBORHOOD
We chose to be more intentional about getting to know our neighbors, and eventually doing life together with some neighbors who became close friends.
Together we celebrate birthdays and anniversaries and successes. We share struggles, carry burdens together, and check in with each other. We cook and eat together, vacation and play together. We’re last-minute friends. We’re “can you pick up my kid and hang onto them for a bit” friends. We’re “let’s go for a walk around the neighborhood” friends. We’re “hey dinner’s ready, do you want to come over and eat?” friends. We’re friends like family.
It’s life-giving, and deeper than relationships we could build just by being with people on Sunday mornings. Although we have different denominational backgrounds, we share a common faith in Jesus and often pray before sharing meals together. But we don’t sing. We talk about hard things and our faith undergirds our conversations, but we aren’t opening up the Bible and exploring how it speaks to our lives.
It’s taken a little over a year of healing to reach the point where we’re ready to commit and engage with an institutional church again. We’re almost settled on our church home for now. I’m sure we’ll keep talking about planting a church, and exploring non-traditional ways of doing church, but for now—things feel settled and sustainable. We’re still doing Christian community in our neighborhood, but we’re adding a layer of institutional Christian community in the form of a church near our home.
As a family, we’re “learning how to be the people of God in the neighborhood where we find ourselves.” There have been long seasons of questioning that call—not the call to ministry generally, but this specific call we heard to a particular church. And in a curious turn of events, the call persists although the context and faces have changed. God is faithful.