Or should it be light from the ends of the earth?
One of the books that I am reading for class this term (which just began yesterday -- welcome to my blog during the school year!) is The New Global Mission by Samuel Escobar. Thus far I am a little over three chapters into the reading, but am finding quite a strong response welling up within, so here you go...
A major focus in Escobar's book is a challenge to rethink what it means to participate in Kingdom growth. One of the sad truths about the way our culture often does mission work is that we focus on growing churches or denominations. Escobar challenges us to evaluate how we are equipping women across the board as well as the oppressed or marginalized groups in the third world for ministry and mission. Allowing the voices of women, children, oppressed and marginalized peoples throughout the third world would curb our tendency toward top-heavy, or what Escobar refers to as “culture Christianity” (p. 59). This reading, and indeed this class on Church and Mission in a Global Context comes at a fairly critical point in my vocational consideration.
As a woman who has felt the calling to ministry since I was a young child, I have found in recent years that the three denominations I have opened ordination conversations with are more interested in promoting their version of theology than of making disciples of Jesus the Christ. The “non-denoms” that my husband and I have been visiting lately are showing that they are no different in this regard. It seems that most churches do not recognize their neighbors down the street, and they either overtly or show through subtle hints and membership requirements that they are the true church. Now, I could be wrong, but I doubt that this was Jesus' call in what we call the great commission. My point in writing this is not to condemn these churches as they currently stand, but rather to acknowledge that I see things differently and I would like to see us open to other ways of doing church while all seeking to love and serve the same Lord.
If you have been following my blog up to this point, you probably know that I am currently seeking a community of grass-roots origin, and wondering what my role will be in such a group. Having been called to a pastoral role from a young age, yet finding myself clashing with the current culture of the western church, I have felt fairly alone in my seminary studies despite being surrounded by fellow seminarians trying to find their way in the Kingdom. I did not know until recently how beneficial my willingness to share my struggles and spiritual lament has been to my fellow seminarians and professors. Perhaps it is best to work through these issues together as we each, in our own contexts, strive to remember what it is to live to the fullest measure.
My husband and I have had some experience with a smaller community, but since it sprouted forth out of a typical congregation, we found that for most who were involved it was simply an interesting experiment, and many have returned to their “old ways” of doing church. Remember several months ago when we looked at the bio-hazard symbol and my icon found at the top of this site? The inward focus which was not part of our Lord's original gift of life has overtaken us, and it often infects our churches.
I strive to fight that infection with the help of Sophia-Spirit but, like the apostle Paul, I find that it is a difficult battle to wage. Still, like Escobar, we are looking for a different, outward-focused way to follow Christ. He says that our passions may be re-ignited by interaction with the two-thirds world (p. 69) and the missionaries who are flowing forth with a “new expression of Christianity” (p. 15). I hope that he is right because I have been greatly disheartened by the processes and requirements for the western church leadership and recognition of ministers. Perhaps the light that we need cannot be found within our walls. It might not be the ends of the earth that needs the light; it might just be that the Light needs to come from the far corners of the earth so we can find our way back to the side of our Beloved and live to the fullest measure.
There’s nothing easy about saying goodbye to an old way of thinking. Thus far, Escobar has not set the conditions to allow for proper lament, but my life has. My journey leading up to, and throughout, my seminary years thus far has brought me to a place of great transition and, although there is room for lament, in the midst of it is potential for great joy. One of the videos we watched for our discussion this week spoke of "giving up". Although it was focused on giving up our resources so that others might have greater potential to thrive in the mission field, there is a different way that we may need to “give up” as well. I know that for me, this means giving up an old way of seeing “pastor” as a job title and instead embracing a pastoral way of living no matter my occupation. What might it mean for you?