Something new. Something different.


Do you remember those cartoons where a character has to make some hard decision (usually facing some kind of temptation), and a little demon would pop up on one shoulder and a little angel would pop up on the other one, and they’d argue over what the character should do?

That’s what I’ve felt like a lot lately. Like there have been two voices competing in my head over a very important next step in my life and ministry.

And one of them is saying, “Take the risk, step out of the boat, have faith!” and the other one is saying, “be patient, the right time will come, when it’s right you’ll know it, and it will be more awesome than you could ever imagine.”

And for the longest time I couldn’t tell which voice was the angel, and which voice was the demon.

Until now.

The story

I started down the path to vocational ministry almost 10 years ago. I knew I was experiencing what we in religious circles refer to as a “call.” Something outside of me was compelling me toward some purpose that I knew without a doubt was real even though I couldn’t quite perceive what it was.

So I did what you do when you start a journey. I took a step.

But before I could even take that first step, I had to choose which path I was going to step into. As someone who is a United Methodist both by my family of origin and my theological convictions, the path laid out by my denomination seemed the right way to go.

And despite my current struggling, I still believe that it was. And is.

I went to seminary, entered the clergy candidacy system, and earlier this year I was ordained as a Deacon, which, in United Methodist parlance, is a clergy order called specifically to ministries of justice and compassion.

As I’ve worked through this process, I’ve served as the pastor of a small local church and also in a position within our denominational structure that is very well suited to a lot of my gifts and talents.

But the whole time, I’ve known that there was something else I’m supposed to be doing. Some other way to bring all of the knowledge and experience and passion for life that somehow comes very naturally to me alive in the wider world around me.

From the time my discernment process began, the one clear message I always sensed Spirit telling me was, “Something new. Something different.”

The problem, I’m learning, is that what I’m feeling called to do hasn’t been invented yet.

But that hasn’t stopped the calling.

Something new. Something different.

A dis-ease of vocation

A good friend with whom I share a lot of this stuff and who is also experiencing a similar, yet contextually different, set of struggles, called it a “dis-ease” of vocation.

I’m totally stealing that.

Because that’s what it is. A “dis-ease.” A feeling that something’s just not quite right. A sense of discontent. Maybe holy discontent.

I’ve been through my own deconstruction of my faith and worldview, and I’m pretty firmly planted in a place of reconstruction (although to be honest the whole deconstruction-reconstruction thing is much more like a dynamic continuum than a linear point-A-to-point-B paradigm).

I’ve shed a lot of the religious baggage of my upbringing and even of most of the current expressions of “church” as we know it.

I have no regrets, no second-guessing of choices I’ve made along the way.

But now these two little characters are sitting on my shoulders, and they’re both pointing in the same direction, but saying entirely different things.

It’s definitely a dis-ease. And I think it’s spreading. I think a lot of us are feeling it, and wondering what the heck we should do about it.

Perspective

Another friend of mine went through a rough time recently. Through a series of very unfortunate events, this friend was in a pretty dark place emotionally and spiritually. It was one of those situations where I felt compelled to do what I could to help, but I also felt very limited because there were parts of the situation that were just beyond any of my pastoral training to deal with.

But in trying to help and encourage this friend, these words came pouring out in a text message one day:

For me, when I hit the impasses in my own life, it just starts with admitting that my way, my plan, clearly isn’t working. And asking God to start to put God’s plan into action, and to help me pay attention to the people and the circumstances that start to arise with fresh opportunities, and to stay connected to God so that I can be confident that I’m seeing and pursuing the path that starts to open up in front of me.

And as I read back over those words, I started to wonder if they were meant more for my friend or for me.

Where do we go from here?

Some well-meaning folks have suggested that maybe I just need to start a new church, or start something within an existing church. And that’s a tempting possibility, because there’s a structure already in place there. And frankly, a mechanism for vocation—to get paid to do what I do.

But I’ve been convinced for a long time that the institution of the church as we know it is simply not working for a lot of people, and it’s not going to magically start working for them again.

While it certainly still serves a purpose for many, what a lot of us are starting to recognize is that we need a fresh new start. Some new way for the life of Jesus to come alive in the life of a community.

We don’t need just a remedy for our dis-ease. We need a cure.

Something new. Something different.

In a conversation about all of this with one of my ministry supervisors, I heard words coming out of my mouth that were not, as far as I could tell, previously in my head. I told her I had considered waiting until some of our denominational conflicts get resolved before pursuing this dream of a new ministry when I heard myself say, “but I don’t think God is waiting, so why should I?”

That was the moment that I was suddenly able to stop the imaginary cherubs on my shoulders from bickering any longer.

It was clear that the only way my dis-ease was going to pass was to pursue a path into an unknown future, confident that it’s where God is calling me, excited for the possibilities, and scared to death that I might be wrong.

I’ve learned that about God. That when God authentically puts a call on your life, it’s equal parts exciting and terrifying.

But it’s time. Time to put the dream into action. Time to create something new, something different, that will offer shelter and safety and community for people for whom the traditional models of the church just aren’t working anymore.

I don’t know yet quite what this new venture will look like, but it’s starting to take shape. Despite my own uncertainty and lack of clarity, pieces are starting to fall into place. The vision is starting to become sharper.

And you, dear reader, are invited along for the ride, as I’ll be documenting from time to time the progress that’s being made here on the blog. I would dearly love to hear your feedback and any ideas you might have for what this kind of fresh expression of a faith community might look like.

Something new. Something different.

One thought on “Something new. Something different.

  1. Thank you, I also recognize the dis-ease of not being able to be comfortable in the very “normal ” work I have found myself in

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