The Greatest Ministry You Or I Will Ever Do Is…

I’ve been in ministry for over a decade a now, and I’ve seen quite a bit; From border-crashing in Central Asia to performing with a live band in front of 40,000 as a missionary, from seminary studies in the edenic Vancouver to monastic living among the quiet woods & mountains of the Pacific NW, from pastoral ministry amongst the suburban poor, to the glamors of church planting amongst “postmodern” trendsetters in hipster cafes, I have repeatedly found the greatest ministry I will ever do is amongst those who will give me no accolades, will not “grow” my church as the formula goes, will not advance my scheme, my agenda or my empire, and yet will give me Everything in return:

I facilitated what I consider “art therapy” (I’m not professionally licensed) among the handicapped / autistic community of my church. I focused on colors with warmth, to get us in touch with the nurturing dimensions, even capturing some of that “placenta” affect;

The response? Great success! There was good engagement and the tactile learning experience of pushing paint around on a canvas was placating, and I will even go so far as to say, a “spiritual experience” for all of us. Perhaps I will post the finished product soon, which I hope to display prominently at church…

So, in light of these thoughts, I’m re-posting the following which was written several years ago – thoughts on the same theme of what is “true ministry”:

One thing that always makes me smile is when I hear church planters talk of what kind of people they will gather together in their new churches. “We plan on gathering the hip, urban trendsters who have turned their back on the church”. One proposal I read listed Subaru owners and indie rockers. I can’t help but smirk because I relate to this. You want to gather the “cool” folk. It’s so what we want and it’s actually so off-target. Reminds me of a line from one of my fav movies, Tombstone:

Doc: What did you want?

Wyatt: Just to live a normal life.

Doc: There’s no normal life, Wyatt. There’s just life.

Likewise we hope to gather the “normal” people without issues, dirt under the fingernails, psychological problems, you know, normal, hip, young trendsters like us. But there are no “normal” people. And for that matter, there are no “cool” people. There’s just people. Somehow in our desire to go to the poor we look for the exotic, when in fact there’s a need to pastor such common folk right in front of us. Like:

trailer owners

Wal Mart shoppers

middle America

Nascar fans

country folk

rural dwellers

the elderly

So oft missed is this last demographic. The post modern pastor almost never looks @ the elderly or the shut-ins probably because they have nothign to give back to us, can’t contribute to the growth of the church, or for that matter to the offering. But that is why they are so necessary. Because no one visits them in this age of retirement and disability homes. We commit them, the white coats take care of them and we wipe our hands clean. There’s something anti-church in that. So thank you to Pastor Jay in the pic above for pushing me into the door of the local Rehab facility. The smells, and the undecipherable speech, and the oddities eventually won me ever. Some of the most precious ministry happens at the retirement center.

How Do You Sabbath, Sabbatical, Rest, Play, Refuel, Re-energize?

Today’s talk on Sabbath & Burnout  was not new; it is a talk I give every year, and it is completely necessary. After the service I sat in circles and listened to stories of people burning / burned out by life, work, circumstance and so on. It was tragic. The overwhelming sense I had as I pronounced the closing benediction was God saying, STOP. TAKE A DAY OFF. – and that’s exactly what I said. There is a way to burn for God, or for work, what we do, our passions in life. And then there is also a thing called foolish burning. Many times I find that we are our own enemy; the unstoppable drive is like a tank, bulldozing over our own health, our relationships, our well-being.

So I’m re-posting these thoughts below about burnout and depression; mind you, depression is not always emotional; I believe there are also physical depressions (a depressed body or a depressed immune system), spiritual depressions. And I think these thoughts below, posted from my years in seminary, are very instructive and helpful…

February 19, 2009

Darrell Johnson gave a stirring talk on depression among the clergy today – and personally I think he should blog. So I transcribed some notes and reflections – from my own experience mingled with some of the theologies he presents concerning this “shame-based killer”. I’ve come to see depression among the clergy as a form of self-martyrdom – an unholy dying (in some cases, not all) – because it is often at our own hands, and before the idols of our own hero-worship (ourselves). More thoughts here:

Depression is symbiotic.It is never exclusively an inside-the-skull thing, Dr. Packer talks about the three-ness of human being; body, mind, & spirit (he doesn’t hold to the soul/spirit bifurcation). When depression hits, it is so often on all three fronts @ the same time, even though we can’t see it right away. For me the formula was like this:

Body – deteriorating health / not taking care of how I eat, sleep & exercise / unhealthy rhythms (or no rhythms at all)

Mind – continually denying myself and depriving myself of my inner-most needs and joys. This is a form of self-induced schizophrenia.

Spirit – not having a clue as to what I was made for, what I was called to, how I was designed. What a shame that this is so epidemic.

Depression is intense. I’ll never forget those plunges I first felt sitting on the 7 train on the way home working in NYC, exhausted. It sucked, quite literally.
Depression comes about by Great Expectations – Darrell’s insight here – we think we are more than we are – saints – in the hagiographical sense. The problem begins not in our striving to be great but rather in our idolizing; thus the original sin is placing human beings on pedestals and trying to attain these impossibly high notions of greatness.
Depression can come from “sedentary habits” – DJ cites Spurgeon here. I’m still guilty of this. Hoping between semesters to lose some pounds and get back in shape. Hold me to this.
Depression is better prevented, not cured. We’re better off pre-empting this killer than trying to deal with it at its height. No one likes having their hard drive crash only to be survived by that one, lone, blinking light of the will.
Depression is treated by “pacing” – this is me. Actually I get this from a quote from OM founder George Verwer who says that “burning for Christ” is a good thing – but we are to burn as coal – long and deep – and not like petrol – which flares up like a flash in the pan and fizzles out fairly quick.
A moving story of depression – as told by Gerry Sitzer, A Grace Disguised. DJ recommends this book by a prof @ Whitworth in Spokane who witnessed the deaths of his mother, wife and daughter in a split second. Moving story.

Anyways. My thoughts. Does this sound familiar to u?

Art and Incarnation: Mako Fujimura

We had a discussion among our staff about the art of Makoto Fujimura this morning. He’s a New Yorker. He’s a Greenwich Village artist (my old haunting grounds back in the day @ Parsons School of Design). He’s asian (yay!) And he’s a Christian. So it intrigued me to watch an emerging figure who represents two worlds I inhabit, as an Asian-American as well as a Christian within the arts. So I did some homework only to find this little endorsement here to the left that he receives from CT mag, and to find out that he’s received some accolade from some great sources. See his blog here and professional page here. So I’m thrilled for this guy who is making a statement in numerous ways – as an urbanite, a religious person, an ethnic person – just thrilled. But the one question that seemed to echo in our group was: Continue reading “Art and Incarnation: Mako Fujimura”