8.30.2006

Spectators and Players, Laypeople and Seminarians

I like baseball, especially when I know the players. It is fun to be a fan, and follow the ups and downs of my favorite players and favorite teams -- whether that's MLB, or 13U, or High School ball. There are kids that I've been watching play since T-ball who are now playing competitive "travel" or "club" ball, and it is a wonder to see bodies, minds, and skills grow from that perspective. It was a blast watching one of those kids -- Matt S. -- hit home run after home run in the tournament in Steamboat Springs, Colorado this summer. Baseball is a good picture of life, and a good training ground for it, too!

The spectator or fan can see everything. If you really know the game, you can see a good swing. You can see a good pitch as the pitcher throws it. You know what the skills should look like, and you can praise them when they're great, and offer advice when they're not. You don't even have to have ever played the game to be able to develop an eye for what works and the ability to articulate it. But that certainly doesn't translate to being able to go out there and do what you "know" how to do!

We have a whole lot of spectators in the Church. And, of course, I can give the same exhortation that you'd expect me to give here with that kind of set-up: "It's easy to be an arm-chair Christian, but get out there and play the game yourself instead of just offering advice to the "professional players." God calls every single Christian to use and develop their skills in the game to accomplish His kingdom purposes." And that is TRUTH. But it's not my point here.

My point here is how often the "professional players" in the Church talk about discipleship, and about how each of us is called to use our giftedness and develop it for God's agendas, but how much it's just talk. They want to keep themselves in a special class. They value their schooling, their ordination, their experience, and they like to encourage those who are taking the same path, or those who have traveled it as far or further than they have. They give lip-service to the idea of lay ministry, and discipleship and mentoring within their congregation, and to the idea of the priesthood of all believers -- but they have an unconscious agenda that wants to validate their position and control by not actually empowering lay people to get out of the stands and into the game.

What really does motivate that reality? Is it the normal dynamic of narcissism that seeks to validate and support those most like oneself in order to validate and support one's own choices and situation and perceptions? Is it the normal "grass is always greener on the other side" perspective, that writes off the person I know well for the potential of someone else who has been recommended to me? Is it a desire to perpetuate one's own agendas, unchallenged by a layperson from within the congregation with their own relationships and perspectives, if someone from outside the congregation can come in aligned purposefully with the pastor who chose him or her for the purpose of accomplishing a fixed agenda? Or is it just the normal frustration we all experience as we work with real people with their real issues and failings, and instead of wanting to have to keep investing more agape and forgiveness and prayer into nurturing someone real's spiritual growth, church leaders covet someone "like them" who is already mature and capable of serving without that investment that real people require?

It's probably a mixture of good and bad and neutral motives that motivate clergy and laypeople to recruit additional clergy while ignoring laypeople within their communities who feel called to step up to some task or calling. But if I cut through all the possible motives, I arrive here: God calls disciples to His purposes. The Church, and its ministers, are supposed to be discerning God's agendas and putting feet to them. One of those agendas is discipleship, and discipleship requires both relationship and responsibility for exercising giftedness within the context of the needs and callings of the church community. Good motives are trying to best accomplish that. Bad motives are after anything other than this purpose: to accomplish God's agenda in this community and through this community.

There are certainly those within all the church communities that I have participated in that are excellent at using lay resources and at nurturing people to greater spiritual growth. In my own community now, both the ordained women and several other members on program staff are excellent disciplers and nurturers of spiritual growth and service. It is interesting to look at the longevity of staff that report to the different members of program staff, and also to look at the lay relationships of the different ministers in terms of whom they utilize to accomplish goals. In the big picture of accountability to Jesus, perhaps the greatest accomplishments are sustaining difficult relationships and truly nurturing God's purposes for those people He set down in one's lap -- more than the accomplishments of numbers in budgets or listings of other efforts to serve.

We hear great messages about mission and agape and discipleship. A church that doesn't deliberately nurture the vision and giftedness of all the people who come to them, but instead goes looking for better talent when there are people within the community who could be trained and nurtured to do what they feel called to do -- that church loses the power to proclaim any truth, because they have shown that they don't really believe it. "God wants to do something big here; so we need to find someone with the right skills and training. What God wants to do in your life and with your skills is to make money to support the real team and to put you on an advisory committee that will be able to give us input."

And so they send us back to the stands. So much for discipleship.

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