This article appears in the President's Blog edition of the Calvin Seminary Forum
Have you ever heard of a “Last Lecture?” At many educational institutions, this is an opportunity for a retiring faculty member to give thanks and provide “one last lecture” of distilled wisdom to the community. It is a wonderful blessing moment between faculty member and community.
A decade ago, I decided to prepare a “last lecture” for the Council and Staff of New Life Church as one way to bless and encourage them as I came to the end of sixteen years of ministry in that setting. In that presentation, I spoke of the danger of “either/or” thinking when faced with the challenges of ministry.
Here is a list of the tensions that any church needs to acknowledge and navigate:
Community Involvement/Focus on the Church Community
Worship as “Shouting” before God/Worship as “Silence” before God
Clear Path to Get Involved/Multiple Ways to Get Involved
Pastoral Care as “only” done by Pastors/Pastoral Care done as the Church
As you can probably guess, I presented a “both/and” perspective where we seek to grow and develop common ground and see how God works through both.
For example, when a church is privileged to see people far from God come to faith, discipleship ministry is deepened and it impacts others. I have seen those who know the Bible well be energized by helping new Christians navigate the Bible.
Every church needs to develop their ministry in ways that fit their context and follow the unique calling that God has given them.
As I have listened to churches and pastors who are stressed by the challenges of ministry in a pandemic, I am concerned that many are confronting “either/or” thinking.
For example, those who are not ready to fully return to in-person church gatherings are sometimes labelled by others as “not trusting God enough” or letting the government tell us how and when we worship.
Another example, if we cannot sing without masks at church, others might raise the concern that “we are not following the Bible” or “we are going to lose what it means to be church.”
These words are real, life examples.
Either/or thinking and arguing fails to develop common ground because it fails to really listen to others who may disagree.
We live in divisive times. It takes work to listen and lean into relationships and it has only gotten harder to do so during this pandemic.
As we continue to move into the challenges of working and ministering together, may we grow in connecting, listening and learning from each other. God certainly wants us to be His witnesses in this time and that means we see the value of unity which Jesus still prays for us.