This week on Tuesday I met up with three other Vicar-types in Oxford for a quarterly time of sharing, reflection, and encouragement.
Yesterday, I caught up with my friend Chris, who is one of those people whose been really influential as our journeys have had overlapped over the years…
Sometimes, these real and vital relationships sometimes don’t always look that pretty, times I know have been fighting back the tears when sharing how me or my family have hurt on occasions, or being real with the junk and baggage that sometimes threatens to derail us, or the doubts and questions we all struggle with… It’s not pretty, but then real and authentic discipleship I think is rarely pretty, normally the middle class superficiality that infects much of the western Church tries to invent a “clean and tidy discipleship that is easy to administer and not too costly”… yet real discipleship is messy, untidy, challenging and costly….
Yet this real discipleship is vital to having a living, breathing sustainable Church in the future…
We about transformed lives, but real lives, not just of the people yet to come to faith, but of us all…
Our our Church communities crucibles for discipleship and transformed lives?
I think as human beings we need those safe places to share, people who we can be real and authentic with (not just sharing the joys but also the challenges and the pain), where we can vocalize those questions that nag our souls, a place to be ourselves without the responsibilities we carry blurring our identity.
It is a big question which needs to be asked in Churches more is “who pastors the pastors?” -and the need from fellowship from your peers (and other Christians too).
Yet I worry as lay leaders rise up more and more, and people talk about “growing leaders” and “nurturing the gift of leadership” do we enable them to have places to be, other peers to share with, fellowship maybe from outside the fellowship, do we give them places to BE, opportunities to express their pains as well as their joys?
How can we develop a culture of self care of leaders (taking responsibility for our/their spiritual health) which can only (I believe) be done in the context of community and real, deep, authentic, loving relationships.
Are our Churches, small groups, relationships within our Churches, those places where people can be real.
How do we develop a culture of “doing life together” which is more than aspiration we trot out?
How well do fellowships cope with the reality of life? Of doubts? Of pain? Of disappointment? Of confusion -especially where God appeared to be leading somewhere and a doors been closed?
Often an important element of being free to be real, pray and share is often to do with being part of a wider fellowship than just the local fellowship, something of connecting with the wider body of Christ, sometimes communities can become very insular, almost incestuous, and we don’t benefit and receive blessing from the wider Christian Community Christ has placed around us.
It worries me when ministers don’t join up with other ministers locally, as this idea that they can go it alone and don’t need us is (in my opinion) dangerously naive, but also it is a bit selfish as just because you are fine, doesn’t mean you’re not being called to support someone else.
Are our Churches safe places? Often although we like to think they are, sadly they are often not as warm, welcoming, real, authentic, deep, accepting, unconditionally loving as perhaps we would like them to be.
Also, was struck by two questions, I was banging on about Church stuff and a friend asked “not interested in what’s happening in Church, but, how are YOU?” -How goes it with your soul?- We are not, and more than, what we do!
The other thing that struck me, is that when we share suddenly you realize just how much you are carrying as it has just become “normal life” for you, but actually when we take a step back at look at what you are carrying with fresh eyes you realize that the load you were carrying was actually abnormal.
In coming together as a safe place and sharing burdens, carrying them together before Christ, is where we find relief, healing and wholeness to keep going with what God has called us to do.
Then we realize bizzarely when we ourselves are healthy, and model health in the sense that people know we too are in accountable relationships and personal support, we normalize these for the rest of the Church family.
We all need one another, we all have burdens to carry, we are called to support one another, we are all part of a co-dependent body which needs each other, and what we are trying to build works for us as well as for others, the authenticity of the corporate Christian life lived out in relational community with Christ as healing working through his people.
You see it is in reality, in these safe places with others that the Kingdom is grown not just through us, but also in us.
Someone once said “two things you don’t want to see how they are made, laws and sausages”… but I think I’d add mature disciples to that list!