Ongoing Growth Plans

Every year my denomination sends the members of its ministerium a form requesting our report of what we’ve done the previous year for our growth. There are specific questions from several categories. And the form also asks who we’ll share that information with after we prepare and send it.

The point is to have us let the Covenant know if we’re taking our selves seriously. Most of us possess life-long credentials, so the mechanism captures our efforts in continually nurturing the gifts in us, the gifts of us.

When you’re released for ministry of word and sacrament, it assumes that your previous experiences will be shaped by new and subsequent experiences. What we did in becoming servants of word and table, we’ll keep doing as we stay before the word, the bread, and the cup.

As I reported to Ordered Ministry a month or so ago, one of the experiences on my form is my residency in clinical pastoral education. Of course, I’m reading in this residency. I’m doing a fair amount of theological reflection, attending to pastoral formation and identity, and serving as a minister in a medical setting. I’m also teaching in a seminary and that immediately keeps me thinking about spiritual practices and ministerial ethics since I’m teaching out of those interior resources.

These experiences both equip me for my own growth and for my immediate and continued service to the local church and to the community of the denomination. But these things are a part of my plan. They are work, technically. If you asked Dawn, she’d tell you that I have all these jobs. But, in a sense, I have one vocation.

I am a pastor. I am a pastor when I meet a couple to create a genogram during premarital counseling. I am a pastor when I study the scriptures and write curricula for small groups. I am a pastor when I sit and listen. I am a pastor when I hear a story and hold it to myself. I am a pastor when I learn my congregation through weekly prayer requests, when I intercede for them, when I consider the things God has yet to do in them.

I do pastoral things when I teach here or there, but it’s all part of one vocational stream. And that stream requires that I give attention to my growth. I should be intentional, and that intentionality is my responsibility. Not my church’s. Not my clinical supervisor’s. Not my spiritual director’s. Mine. So I’ll give sustained attention to my ongoing growth in order to stay faithful at the work of Christ in me.

If I don’t, I’m not being a good minister or a good person. In other words, my growth matters. My depth matters. It matters for the work I do, but more importantly, it matters because these practices (of teaching or praying or leading or keeping quiet) make me into the person I choose to be.

What about you? How do you take responsibility for your growth and development? How are you becoming your self? What’s your ongoing growth plan? Do you have a rule of life? What are the things in your life that are there specifically to expand, nurture, and form you? Can you point to things, to relationships or partnerships?

What is one specific act you’re engaging in for your continued deepening? If you can’t name one, get to it. You’re doing your very self an injustice. You’re also robbing the world of a better gift.

Creating Saints

I’ve been thinking about the creation of saints, the way saints are made, and it’s been a head swirl of a time.  I’ve been both captivated and sullen, giving my ears to the interviews between Charlie Rose and leaders in the Roman church, for instance, and struggling with questions in my own ministry of what a saint looks like and how many we have and who is so far away from the word that they themselves would laugh.

It’s a basic question.  After all, I spend my days doing ministry.  I spend a lot of time pushing, coaxing, praying, encouraging, and teaching people–all because our work is about creating saints.  Not in the Roman tradition of course.  There are no robes, no newspaper articles, no banners or flags or printed billboards.  There aren’t interviews of all the people these saints have met, notes about every conversation, explanations of the details of their miracles.

There are miracles but they’re boring, unseen miracles.  They are the daily events that God must be underneath but that Presence is so far that is silly to call them by the same name.  They’re too terrestrial, these miracles.  But we make disciples in churches.  We talk to people and recognize the gifts that only God could implant.  We create saints.

And creating saints in my way of practicing is both encouraging and debilitating.  It’s draining and fun.  It’s hard and people are ungrateful while, at the same time, in some other way, there’s nothing more interesting and full and enlivening.

Creating saints brings no cameras or coverage.  There is hardly any notice of this mundane task; even colleagues may not notice or understand since our services are so specialized and context-bound.  There is less fanfare.

Creating saints means dinners away from family, vacations at weird times when they come, taking days to recover from an experience of self-giving, or never having normal Sundays, even while Sunday is the momentous occasion of remembering what it’s all about.  Creating saints is waking up with someone’s name on my tongue, someone who’s life was given to me in 2 hours and in a way that it’ll make me intercede at odd hours.  Creating saints means insomnia and isolation because of confidentiality and appreciation for a long laugh that my son just can’t control.

No one wants to see that on television.  It would be too boring, too close to real human experience.  It’d be better to read a good novel.  At least you could close the book and move on.

James K.A. Smith on Real Formation

Mile Marker

One of the most crucial things to appreciate about Christian formation is that it happens over time.  It is not fostered by events or experiences; real formation cannot be effected by actions that are merely episodic.  There must be a rhythm and a regularity to formative practices in order for them to sink in–in order for them to seep into our kardia and begin to be effectively inscribed in who we are, directing our passion to the kingdom of God and thus disposing us to action that reflects such a desire.

From James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation