03 December 2012
What I wish I’d known when I started out in Church leadership
When I became a Christian leader, I wish I'd known that my vocational choice wouldn't guarantee certainty, which can make life difficult. It's hard to fulfill one's duties as a minister of the gospel while wondering if what we boldly proclaim as truth is actually true at all... (sorry, PCC, but I'm going through an atheistic phase... any chance of a couple of weeks off?)
Doubt is a mosquito that I can never quite kill, and if past performance is anything to go by, I never will successfully swat it this side of the New Jerusalem. Most of the time, doubt rumbles rather than roars, the vaguest trembling of the ground that I stand on, distant, irritating, troubling even, but not turbulent enough to create a earthquake that Richter would be interested in. I do';t lose my faith, I just occasionally mislay it.
But every now and again I have a full on faith attack, with is more like a tsunami than an earthquake. They strike without warning, and are triggered by such random happenings.
Sometimes it's the superstitious statements that Christians make that make Christianity suddenly quite implausible, and for a moment the whole faith construct seems as rickety as a coffee table made by a fifth-former in the woodwork class. You can't outgive God, they say. Really? Then why not give every penny you possess and become utterly destitute (at least temporarily), if that's really true...
God is in control. No, He's not, at least not in the sense that everything that happens is because He wants it to. If that's not the case, then why do we pray your kingdom come, your will be done, if in a bizarre que sera, sera kind of way, everything that happens is because God wills it? Things have gone wrong, so you must be doing something right is often trotted out by those who have an excessive view of spiritual warfare that may mean that Satan is, in fact, camping in my bathroom. I'm healed says the person who very obviously isn't, but they say it because they think that they're letting the side down if they don't.
Or it can be a brush with death, which I had just this week, with the passing of a very close relative who was one of the best parts of my growing up. When I heard of her death, the Easter message seemed empty. I didn't feel comforted - I felt that I was desperately trying to be hopeful, but it wasn't working. The possibility of there being another place, somewhere else in the universe, that she had traveled to - it all seemed about as likely as the Easter bunny or Santa, wishful thinking. My faith was not rammed by a weighty locomotive filled with brilliant new-atheist arguments, but shattered by the hint of a satanic snigger.
It seems to me that faith gives us the ability to rise above the default human condition of feeling abandoned and alone. If I had choreographed the Easter events, I wouldn't have had Jesus yelling, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" as one of his last statements. That didn't sound too good, did it, seeing as Jesus had announced that he and his father were one? Very bad as a parting shot, I'd say. I wonder what those who heard him say that made of it, without a team of forensic commentators standing by the explain it all in 3 points of alliterated sermonic clarity.
Perhaps Jesus was fully embracing the basic human condition: lostness, bewilderment, and a feeling that heaven is ignoring us much of the time. That on the cross, not only was he challenging the power of death, but identifying with us in the experience of hopeless, desolate life. Three days later, of course, he rose to let us know, once and for all, that we are not abandoned or left destitute.
And that leads me to another 'parting shot' from Jesus. Before dying, he said "You've forsaken me". Before ascending he promised, "I'll never leave you". And faith leads me to believe that that statement is true. But my occasional faith attacks/where are you God crises don't mean that I'm a rubbish Christian, just another human trying to get into step with what is true. And I wish I'd known that this was part of the pathway that all of us, even leaders, tread occasionally.
Adapted from Seriously Funny 2 by Jeff Lucas and Adrian Plass, published by Authentic Media