Two years without formal ministry or mission. I yammer about this and related matters as follows:
Around two years ago, I stepped away from formal Christian ministry. Ours was a micro-church and our congregation focused on exegesis of Scripture, our theology Reformed. Since that time, we’ve regularly attended worship services with first one congregation and now another, closer to where we live. Regarding congregational commitment, I’m committed to worshiping with other believers who evidence a Reformed understanding of Scripture.
The fellow who preached at the first congregation had a Reformed theology and an approach to preaching that was similar to my own –
A passage of scripture is like a room and the preacher’s job is to talk about what’s in the room and if something’s left out of that description, the job’s not done. The congregation, guided by the Holy Spirit, figures out for itself what, if anything, to do with what’s in the room. It’s a good idea, if you have the ability, to go so far as to talk about where the fabric on the drapes was sourced and about the pattern on the rug – it’s derivation and meaning. Exhaustive is good. Superficial is bad.
There might not be an obvious or attenuated application that preacher can make clear in a sermon. What matters is that the passage of Scripture is an expression of the mind of God and listening to it, reading it, getting hung up on what it’s saying is transformative to the believer. Might also be transformative to the reprobate by turning such away from the things of God.
That made for some long sermons, and the guy at the first congregation usually started his off with a 10 minute re-cap of the previous week’s sermon. That was my only complaint about his sermons. The re-cap. He and his family returned to the mission field – we never became friends, but I liked them and have prayed for them since they left.
The congregation we’ve been worshiping with the past several months has a preacher who’s also Reformed and does exegetical, to a degree, preaching. His messages tend to be heavy on application. The second guy seems like a decent sort – a normal, non-self-aggrandizing individual. What I like about his work is that he uses Scripture to interpret Scripture. His sermons start on time and end on time – I like that, too, although it’s not super important to me. Regarding sermon time – it takes however long it takes to deliver the message.
Regarding my own life sans formal ministry or mission, I’m okay with it. I never was fully convinced that I met scriptural qualifications for elder. In the grossly problematic category, I find:
- Do I manage my own home well? Not as well as I ought to – I procrastinate too much.
- Is my child an unruly heathen? Yeah, sometimes I really wonder whether the kid’s numbered among the elect. I have explained the Gospel to him and taught him to search the Scripture, to pray without ceasing and call upon the name of the Lord.
- Am I the husband of one wife? Dunno. About a hundred years ago, in California, I lived with a young woman for a couple of years. We were never formally married, but we lived together and expected the same level of commitment each from the other in terms of fidelity that’s expected of spouses. But we never pretended to be married. We stayed friends for a long time afterward and there’s more to the story but not for the telling here.
- Am I pugnacious? Sometimes I flare up and express anger in a way that could lead to fisticuffs although I have no interest in forcing submission to my will or views.
I remember when I left government work – nothing important, but work that vested me with the authority of the state in some instances – I felt naked without identification in that employment. That cloak of authority.
Leaving formal ministry was a little like that only when I did, I knew I wasn’t walking away from the faith or the obligation of service to my eternal sovereign. That said, I think I’m unlikely to formally join another congregation or to engage in a formal “ministry” w/in any such conceptual structure.
In some respects, I think I’m unreachable by what passes for air-quote Christianity as so much of what that entails is irrelevant to me and my family. Sometimes I wish there was some relevance or that I had some sense of belonging in a congregational group, but I’m not willing shelve my discernment and freedom in Christ.