Subordination

In his book Bishop, Will Willimon says, “Leaders in the church are subordinate to the mission of the church.”

I served in a pastoral role for 25 years. During all that time, I, as pastor, was subordinate to the mission of the church. Fulfilling the mission of the church was more important than fulfilling me or making me happy. My whole professional life was subordinated to the mission of the church.

Maybe we’re not very controversial yet. Let’s see if I can push that direction.  I’d like to claim additionally, that even my non-professional life was subject to the mission of the church. Of course, that’s one of the things that makes the pastoral life stressful. We’re always on. There is no clear distinction between work and non-work. I represented Jesus and pursued his purposes all the time, every day. In theory anyway.

I’d even go so far as to say that even now that I am not serving in a pastoral role my life is still subordinated to the mission of the church. True, “mission of the church” is now less clearly attached to a particular congregation. I serve the mission of the church through my students and academic colleagues – even if the word “church” is never mentioned. I’m also still “on” 24/7. Even in the summer time I am accountable for how I represent Jesus, whether in the churches I attend, in my community, with my students (I stay in touch with several through the summer break), and in the wider world.

Are things getting stirred up yet? Let’s take another step.

If we take Willimon’s statement at face value, we notice that as it stands it doesn’t mention “pastors.” It talks about “leaders in the church.” As an ordained elder, even though I appointed beyond the local church, I am a leader in the church. But even those who are not ordained, those who are not appointed by the bishop, those who are lay leaders in the church – they, too, are to live lives subordinated to the mission of the church. Does this mean they need to quit their day jobs and be at the church all the time? Certainly not – not any more than this subordination to the mission requires pastors to be at the church all the time. Rather, whether are ordained or lay, if we are leaders in the church, there is a sense in which we are all always on. Our whole lives are subordinated to the mission of the church.

If our lives are going to be subordinate to the mission of the church it sure will be to our advantage to lead the church to clarity about what that mission is. Most of the churches I’ve been in could dream up enough activity to fill the lives of just about everyone. We’re experts at “busy” – we’re Americans, after all. But the mission of the church is nothing like, “Look busy! God might be looking!”

Are you clear on the mission of the church? Or are you just busy? Experiencing the power of God as God fulfills the mission of the church through us is awesome – highly rewarding. Mere busyness, however, just leads to exhaustion and burnout. Find the mission. Find your next step as a part of it. Step into it in faith.

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