Brian McLaren skyped in to our class last week to talk about his new book "A New Kind of Christianity" (and which we all reviewed various chapters, including my post here.) At the end of the chat, our TA asked him if he Brian would like to offer us any advice.
He told us "The world is looking for saints and sages, not religious professionals."
And then he followed that up with this story, which I will quickly paraphrase to the best of my ability:
McLaren is good friends with his next door neighbor and their relationship has grown and blossomed so that he became close to his neighbor's family as well as his neighbor. His next door neighbor’s father grew ill and was dying and the neighbor asked McLaren to come visit his father in the hospital. One day as McLaren was walking to his car, he just got a strong urge to go see his neighbor’s father at the hospital. He sat there in the hospital praying and holding the father's hand. He left to go to the parking lot and before he made it to the car, his neighbor called. The neighbor’s father had passed away.
The world is looking for saints and sages and not religious professionals.
And I knew in an instant that YES! I wanted to do this. His story reminded me of countless other stories of mine, which, while not as dramatic, were places that I felt like I was doing ministry. These were not United Methodists, but still people who needed love. And I loved doing it. I love being with these people. As I heard that story, visions of how I could keep doing that, just that and be fulfilled, happy and joyful for the rest of my life.
Of course just as soon as these grand visions flashed through my mind, I immediately ran into a stop sign. "But how would I eat?" I asked myself. I don't want or need a paycheck for fancy things, in fact I am quite comfortable with the fact that my chosen profession won't lead to a lot of extraneous bonuses, but I rather like the idea of having a roof over my head, food on the table, and hot water for a shower. These visions of ministry --- I'm not sure if they would ever translate into these three essentials for my life.
I think that this internal conflict may be a microcosmic example of the macrocosmic problem with the mainline churches of today. I think we really, really want to be out there and being the holy people the world is looking for, but are worried about what we think are the essentials. We do want to do this, but we also want a church to meet, to pay our pastors, and Bibles in the pews.
So this is what I'm sitting with. How do we have an ecclesiology and an imagination that allows us to be both? Is it possible? I dearly wish and hope so.