Saturday, February 2, 2013

the tension in our ministry

How can I describe my friend Latifu to you?  I have known him for 7 or 8 years.  He is a subsistence farmer.  He can't read and he can't speak any Portuguese.  He is really short - less than five feet tall.  He was the one who wanted a church planted where he lives in the village of Nekwaya.  His wife is crippled in one leg and they have a bunch of kids.  I have slept at his home and he has served me rat to eat...  There is a lot to tell.

The other day, Latifu and I were talking about some of the struggles in his church.  I don't know why, maybe my face betrayed some exasperation, but suddenly he looked at me and said, "Please don't give up on us.  Please keep working with us.  My wife is crippled.  She is limited in what she can do, but I'm going to stick with her.  I'm not going to leave her.  Please don't leave us, even if we're crippled."

That got my attention.  It made me reflect on what we're really here to do. 
My job here is not to plant one single church.  My mandate was not to focus on one body of believers.  Our vision is to try and help a movement of churches flourish among the Makua-Metto people.  Our team works with around 50 small churches spread all over the province of Cabo Delgado.  So, that means that we must do a good job of encouraging emerging leaders - which takes time.
I feel like I have these two impulses in my ministry.  Sometimes they pull in the same direction and sometimes they feel like they'll pull me apart!

One pole is what I'll call the 'pastoral impulse'.  This is the voice that calls me to compassion and patience in discipling people to live in the way of Jesus.  For me it is personified by Eugene Peterson whose writings have taught me so much about being a minister and embracing the calling to pastor and shepherd a specific flock of people.  His books (especially Working the Angles - thank you, Tim Stafford) remind me that you can't do ministry in the abstract - ministry must be rooted in a people, a time, a place.  This pole calls me to emphasize pouring life and energy into those nearby whether they may be much good at passing it on, or not.

The other pole I'll name the 'apostolic impulse.'  This is the voice that calls me to think and act strategically - to focus my time and attention on those who are able and willing to pour their lives into others.  This tug reminds me that I have a mission, I have been 'sent' (that's what the word 'apostle' means) to Mozambique with a purpose.  I picture David Watson, whose seminars and teaching on Church Planting Movements (see, thank you, Sam Shewmaker), push me to look at the big picture and invest in people who are on board with God's mission.  This pole calls me to spend my time with the handful of people that I'm confident have the ability to go the distance.

These terms 'pastor' and 'apostle' are not ones used regularly in my own church heritage (Churches of Christ) - and I know the reasons why.  But they are good, sturdy words that have some sharp edges to shape with.  I am hoping that their lack of familiarity will give them some more power to mold me.   My hope is that these words will have something to teach me as we get better acquainted.

I heard Andy Stanley say something on a podcast that has been very helpful to me over the past couple years.  He says that when you are confronted with an issue in life/ministry the first thing you need to do is to determine whether it is 'a problem to solve' or 'a tension to manage.'

To be sure, there are problems to solve in life and ministry.  But I have a growing sense that the issue I'm describing is best seen as a tension to manage.  If I focused exclusively on the pastoral side and cut ties with the apostolic pole, I would lose out on the push for mission.  And if I thought only of strategy and ignored the cries for help from those less capable of 'moving the needle,' I would miss out on the fact that Jesus had so much to say to the last, the lost and the least.  

No, this is not a problem to be solved - It is a tension to be managed.

Some things in life thrive in the tension.  A guitar is worthless without the right amount of tension on its strings.  But, when the tension is just right, it is ready to be plucked and the notes come through loud and clear.

I can feel the tug between these two poles.  I see Jesus being 'pastoral' and having compassion on the crowds and the individuals.  I see him being 'apostolic'/strategic in spending hours and hours with Peter, James, John and their friends knowing that they, literally, are his only plan to change the world.  Jesus managed this tension well - and his life sang because of it.

May we live in the tension between the apostolic and pastoral poles.  May we manage this tension well,  and may our lives make beautiful music because of it.

Grace and Peace,

1 comment:

  1. Great insights, Alan. Your post brought to mind so many of the tensions we felt in Togo as well. Thank you.