Calling outside of the church takes a different kind of spiritual discipline to keep up than calling within the church.
It’s a discipline they don’t teach you in seminary: being both pastor and lay person in the church at the same time as deeply growing spiritual being. Or is that even possible?
When I was the pastor, my job description included preaching every Sunday (except the four Sunday got off a year). I had to come up with 2,400+ words to say about God, faith and our life by Sunday morning. No exceptions. It was a built in discipline to think critically and theologically about scripture and community life.
At first, this task both delighted and overwhelmed me. My seasoned colleagues said, “It will get easier. Don’t you worry.” And it did. Once I got in the rhythm it was harder to take a week off. Not only could I come up with a sermon every week, but it became the place where I worked out my own spiritual musings. My own theological and Biblical wrestlings came forth from within my sermons (even if my congregation didn’t know it).
Now, as my calling has taken me outside of the church, I no longer do this. I preach once a month to every six weeks supply preaching for pastor friends out-of-town or filling in on an interim basis in smaller congregations without a pastor.
So where is my theological struggle worked out today?
If I want to keep learning, if I want to keep growing, then I have to keep my mind engaged. With our travel schedule, I’ve had to find my spiritual life outside just attending just ONE church.
And it takes discipline.
It takes discipline like initiating reading a book on spiritual practice with a friend and discussing it together though no one tells you to do so.
It takes discipline like engaging your preaching friend’s sermon prep process, even if you will not be asked to speak on the passage.
It takes discipline like seeking out people of faith that challenge you– even if you have to make a journey several states over to visit them.
It is so much harder to do outside the church (when one community isn’t at your disposal), but it doesn’t mean it is impossible. And it doesn’t mean that rich spirituality has to be found in a box checked, “Hi, my name is Elizabeth and I am a member of this small group at this church.” It can be found as opportunities present themselves to embody church in daily life.
I’ve been reading Addie Zimerman’s new book, When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love and Starting Over (it’s an amazing must read for any of you who grew up in evangelical land as I did).
One of the phrases that has stuck with me so far from this book is something that Addie’s husband, Andrew says about church.
The two of them were “shopping” for a new church as a young married couple and kept hitting walls of frustration with the traditional church model which to them felt over packaged, inauthentic and all about awkward conversations around coffee pots in the corners of Sunday School rooms.
Addie keeps trying to find the perfect church while Andrew wasn’t so wrapped up in the structure kept telling Addie his motto: “But we are The Church.” Or in other words, church is not something we go to but something we experience every time 2 or 3 are gathered in Christ’s name. (The two eventually joined a house church).
It takes discipline to remember that church is not noun but a verb. And that as we set out on this path to follow Jesus, there is not just one way to live out our faith.
We might spent our whole lives figuring it out and then realizing we were wrong and figuring it out again.
We might do it within the membership roles of a congregation. Or we might not. Jesus still loves us the same.