Connected community

As I walked to work the other morning I stopped for a few minutes to speak to a local family. The kids have been to toddlers, mum has brought them to some Christmas services in the past, we chatted about how both families have recently had members with Covid but how strangely most of us never caught it. What was unusual about this conversation? Absolutely nothing. But this lady has also taught 3 of my boys at the local high school, unusually she lives in the local community in which she teaches. The contrast with a number of recent conversations I’ve had with people about how they could never live and work in the same area struck me.

The rise of the professional is viewed as a good thing. Distance between where you work and where you live is viewed as a good thing. But I’m not sure it is, either for us as individuals or for communities. And it’s something that I think has not just infiltrated the church but undermined it. My contract contains a very specific clause that I need to live within so many miles of the church. In other words I need to live among those I minister too. I need to do life alongside of and in front of these people, both those who follow Jesus and those who do not yet know him. And yet increasingly the church minister is one of the only people who is expected to have such a community focused life especially in middle class churches. For many in our congregations commuting is the norm, in many cases for work, but in some cases for most of life including church.

I can’t help but wonder if that is one way Satan has subtly disconnected us from our communities and made reaching out with the gospel that much harder. If you commute any distance for work how will you reach your colleagues with the gospel? Will an invitation to come to church if they have to drive 30 minutes be more or less likely to be accepted? How will work colleagues meet other believers? How will they see gospel community life in practice so they don’t just write you off as an outlier? If 10 hours of your week are taken up with commuting how much time do you have to do other things?

I think the gospel calls us to connect the dots. To live in community, the expectation is that people will see your life and your witness – all of it, not just certain segmented parts which we allow them to see because of our proximity to them there – and be intrigued by the difference Jesus makes and ask. We short circuit that if people only see parts of our lives. There are issues to think through, there will be challenges of connecting community; if living alongside those you work alongside and teach or care for or manage. And I wonder if at root that’s our real fear, we like to turn off, we like to compartmentalise, but what if doing that is undermining our witness for the gospel? What if it means the community only sees the church on a Sunday and not interacting the rest of the week?

The gospel calls us to connect the dots in all of life.

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The essential of leadership we so easily miss

What does your leadership look like? What’s the one thing most essential to your leadership of the local church? What’s the thing that will make preaching a joy rather than a chore, that will sustain us as we pastor people? As elders what is the things we look for most in pastors and preachers and others that we put into ministry leadership positions?

I wonder how you’d answer those questions? I’ve been in ministry nearly twenty years and have had to watch myself and others too often orbit too closely to the withering sun of burn out. In part because of expectations placed on us by others and in part use to the unrealistic expectations we place on ourselves, occasionally leading to the creation of a messiah complex caused by both of those things. And in part because I wonder if we’ve missed a key lesson in leadership. If I asked you what made David a great leader what would you say? Where would you go to prove it?

Leadership guru’s might look at his delegation, his past experience of shepherding that prepared him so well for leading a recalcitrant flock like Israel, his warrior like spirit, the trust his people put in him because of past victories won. But I wonder whether they or we would ever turn to the Psalms to see what actually enabled David to lead Israel well. You can explore this in pretty much any Psalm David wrote, in the Psalms when he’s under pressure like Psalms 52, 54, 56, 57 when he’s on the run or being hunted down or betrayed or in a jam. You can see it in the Psalms when he’s expressing his greatest longing. We see it really clearly in Psalm 16. Just stop and read it.

No really. Stop and go and read it!

What strikes you about that Psalm? There are loads of things and we haven’t got time to excavate it all we’d be here all day and I’ve got a sermon to prepare. But what runs throughout the Psalm, and through so many of the Psalms David composes, is that God is his refuge and the thing he wants more than anything else. God is his greatest good, his portion, his blessing, he is able to rejoice because he has God and enjoys right relationship with him. What fuels David’s leadership? Relationship with God and the joy he find therein.

That’s further backed up by David’s confessional Psalm, Psalm 51. Where he confesses his sin and pleads for restoration not to leadership but to the rich sweetness of the relationship with God which he has so enjoyed. This Psalm is all the more staggering when we realise David sinned and hadn’t even realised what he had lost, it wasn’t until Nathan confronted him that he was led to confess. It is so easy for our relationship with God to drift and atrophy bit by bit until we find ourselves in blatant sin and using and abusing those God has given us to shepherd. But it is that sweetness of joy in God that David longs for restoration to.

Yet all too often we forfeit the joy of our relationship with God because we relate to God as minister first and person second. We focus on our leadership at the cost of what will sustain leadership – the joy of our salvation. 1 Kings 19 and the incident post Carmel with Elijah teaches us that we need to rest and eat well if we want to serve God well. That there are times when we just need to stop and enjoy what God has given us, refuel and rest. And David teaches us that if we want to serve God well we do so best out of a deep knowledge of God that means we run to him for refuge, we look to him for joy and we hunger to know him more.

In all our busyness the danger is we miss this, we forget to set aside time for this. When it’s the greatest gift we can give those we lead, be it our families or our churches. Elderships and churches need to make this a priority for our pastors and leaders at every level if we want to see pastors leading well. We need to make sure there is space for this in ministry, knowing that every individual has different ways of approaching this and resting in God. Pastors need to prioritise this if they want to lead well, because too many ministers minster out of a sense of duty not joy, on the edge of burnout not out of a sense of joy in God.