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Presidential Perspective: Good Work, But Hard Work

Philip AmersonHe walked wearily down the hallway toward me. A young student at Garrett-Evangelical, serving as pastor of a congregation in a nearby neighborhood, he was carrying a demanding schedule Noticing his bloodshot eyes, I asked, “How are you?” He paused, looked up and said, “It’s good being a pastor, but it is hard work.” This fine student and promising future leader told me about a new outreach effort and about the challenges of bringing together the good people from the congregation and neighborhood. There are scores of students like this young man walking our halls every day. Like him they are seeking to build social, educational and spiritual bridges – it is good work, but hard work. I also want them to know it is joyful work and not their burden to carry alone.

My mail that day provided two more letters about the event on congregations and schools hosted by Garrett- Evangelical at St. Luke’s Church in Indianapolis. I have received many letters and emails about the event. Each expresses a particular point of view or wants to make certain a constituency was represented. The requests are compelling, demanding, and often contradictory. Clearly we have touched a nerve. What should be the partnership between churches and schools? This will require wisdom, patience, and careful action. It is good work, but hard work. Can it be joyful as well?

Later, I was delighted to learn that Dr. Brent Peterson, a recent Ph.D. graduate from Garrett-Evangelical has been awarded the 2011 Outstanding Dissertation Award from the Wesleyan Theological Society. Brent’s dissertation was: “A Post-Wesleyan Eucharistic Ecclesiology: The Renewal of the Church as the Body of Christ to be Doxologically Broken and Spilled Out for the World.”

It speaks of the healing that comes through Holy Communion and the way this can heal the church and renew it as the body of Christ. The church is then sent out in the ministry of incarnation in the world. I think on these words, “Doxologically Broken and Spilled Out for the World.” To be broken and give ourselves up in praise and gratitude... for the world. This is our calling. Joyful good work, and it is hard work.

Not that our work is essential to our salvation, of course. It is not by our righteousness that we are saved. It is this release, this gift, this opportunity to be engaged for the world that is the cause of our joy and praise. Our call is simply to be the church. Several years ago I heard an Anglican bishop being interviewed about the financial difficulties his diocese was facing. “What will you do if legal actions result in your losing all of your property, and you have no more money?” The bishop paused for a moment and then, with a wry chuckle, he said, “Well, I guess we will find a table, get a bottle of wine and a loaf of bread and start all over again.”

Is it possible that amid all of our hand-wringing and analysis and efforts to find blame the real truth is that we have lost track of what is most important and life giving? Too many believe that if we do one more study, follow modern business practices, identify the five or seven or ten “best practices,” we will find the magical formula for renewing the church. Dr. Peterson’s dissertation points us in the right direction. As Philip Watson, former faculty member wrote, our true calling is to quite simply “Let God Be God.” In other words, we are to stop thinking it is our riddle to solve, our church to save, our congregation to revitalize. This is all God’s work. Now, we are privileged to have a hand in it. So, my counsel to the young pastor and to the folks who worry about the education of our children, or the decline in membership, or who seek some formula to renew the denomination is very simple: Let the Church Be the Church. Let us gather at table, be broken by the amazing gifts we receive, and then joyfully spill ourselves in mission with and for others. It is good work, and it is hard work... and, if we can let go of our measuring sticks and expectations and our need to blame others, it is profoundly joyful work.

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