Creating Space

I like hearing testimonies of how individuals experience the call to ministry.  This week I had the opportunity to listen to a round table discussion including three pastors sharing about their journey into full-time ministry.  The sheer variety of ways that people experience the call tends to make these stories engaging, sad and funny all at the same time.  It always amazes me how the call comes so uniquely to each person.  For me, this has always been an affirmation of how God respects and honors our individuality.  It is good to know that God is not in the “cookie cutter” call to ministry business.

It came as a mild surprise when a common call theme emerged.  Each one of these people talked about other, more mature leaders who created a space for them to exercise their talents and gifts.  They also recognized that it was risky, in some cases even dangerous, to let young potential leaders lead.  But in all cases it was the willingness of the established leaders to create a space for young positional leaders to lead that became the moment when the call to ministry was solidified.

It is easy to talk about “raising the next generation of leaders.”  It is quite another thing to actually do this.  It requires risk.  It means that things will not always work out perfectly and some things will go horribly wrong.

Isn’t this what Jesus did?  He found 12 folks willing to be his disciples.  He risked everything on them.  They certainly weren’t perfect at the beginning.  They argued about who was the best.  They wanted to call down fire on people who didn’t agree with them.  They ditched Jesus in his hour of need and one even betrayed him to death.

But Jesus was willing to create a space for them to become leaders.  Eventually they rose to the task (read Acts).

Maybe church leadership isn’t as much about perfect worship and impeccable preaching as it is about creating spaces for emerging leaders to test their call to leadership.

Space

Last week I met with a group of church leaders. Near the end of our time together, I asked the following question, “What do you do well?”

One person immediately responded, “We provide breathing space. This is what we do well.”

At first I wasn’t sure how to respond. I didn’t get what was being said. What does breathing space mean?

Luckily I didn’t have to wait long for clarification. Other folks quickly jumped into the conversation.

“I have felt the freedom to be me.”

“People have been patient with me as I have struggled with God’s call on my life.”

“I could be angry with God and wasn’t condemned for feeling this way.”

Hearing stories of how people were given the space to work through their faith without manipulation and condemnation was powerful. Allowing people to truly walk their own faith journey is a rare event in our culture.

We often ask, “But what happens if they come to different conclusions and understandings than me? Or think, “It is important that Christians know the truth and that truth better line up with my truth!”

This is why we have confessions of faith. It gets everyone on the same page. It creates unity.

But I cannot help but wonder if we sometimes confuse uniformity and unity. Do we all have to agree before we can be unified or does something powerful happen when we give people breathing space?

Read Acts 10. Who gets converted: Peter or the Centurion? Maybe conversion is what happens when two people come together, share their faith journeys, and both end up in a place they never expected.