Pastoral ministry is one of those odd ducks where you generally are not taught to feel that you’re okay. Whether you’re Wesleyan, Reformed, Roman Catholic, whatever, there’s always some space for improvement that seems to take precedence over engaging who you are in the here and now. Pastors seem to always be the first to think they need to be more, do more, say more, and act more and there’s something helpful about this. A restless dissatisfaction with the status quo has the ability to lift us and launch us into the places that God Almighty calls us to. All the same, while it’s good to desire progress, the journey of faith doesn’t happen in the “then;” it happens in the “now.” For us to really make that journey our own, we thus have to find ways to sit with, be with, and rejoice in the messy, crazy, and otherwise bizarre thing that is “us” in the here and now.
This is a theme that was brought home to me in a recent continuing education experience. I’m blessed to be a part of the Next Generation Leadership Initiative, sponsored by the UCC Pension Board. Recently, I took part in an NGLI experience that trained me in Family Systems Theory. If you haven’t ever learned much of Family Systems Theory, I’ll sum it up by saying this: it’s heavy. Like “Andre the Giant is sitting on your chest while hefting a boulder” heavy. Basically, you are invited to learn who you are, why you respond to things the way you do, what that says about you, and how that relates to others, God included. Like I said, it’s not for the faint of heart! I found this training particularly hard, as I am a “type-A, over-achieving, over-compensating, over-everything” type of person. I push myself. I tell myself that I must improve, physically, mentally, and spiritually. To put it in UCC context, “God is still speaking, so I better be listening for that voice that calls me forward!” Needless to say, this weeklong training was a bit like a puree cycle for my psyche, but in the best of ways.
Though we were in class for about 8.5 hours per day, there was always a bit of time at the end of the day to watch the sun set over the desert mountains. (We thankfully were receiving our course just outside of sunny Phoenix, AZ; so it wasn’t all entirely terrible!) Each night, as I watched the sky light up with purples, pinks, reds, and oranges, I would process just who I was in the now and just who God was in light of that. Oddly enough, I would always hear that little voice — you know, that one that’s either incredibly obnoxious or soothing, often both — in my soul tell me “who you are now is more important than who you will be. Who you are now is who I am living through and working through every day.”
Obviously, that’s a broad summary of a week of piecing things together bit by bit. Still, this got me thinking about creativity in ministry in a way that I hadn’t previously. Our “mess” is our best option to showcase just who God is in ways that are out of the ordinary. Our mess, be it personal, political, corporate, whatever, is where we were called to and is, in its incredibly weird way, our own creative ministry to engage or ignore. I can’t say what this looks like for everyone, but I can say that it’s something that calls us to live in a way that doesn’t yearn for the forward time, but dives headlong into our current time and engages all that messy creativity that screams: “God is alive, God is real, and here is why.” So go be a glorious, beautiful, incredibly messy you; but if you have to study Family Systems Theory, make sure you do it some place with a hot tub and mountains, because it helps.