Please describe the characteristics of the church or organization you would like to serve, and the unique gifts, skills and experiences you would bring to the position:
I am seeking a church that embodies the following:
- The Sermon on the Mount/Plain. Given the radical nature of this text this might include a willingness to help relocate a prisoner from Guantanamo and/or start a youth ministry for gang members.
- The mission of the twelve. I would like to be in a community that boldly travels light. This means not being so bound to CDs, endowments, and savings accounts. It also means that we’ll have to leave the church grounds and go to strange places — a lot.
- Tax collectors, prostitutes, and all manner of sinners. I’d like to serve with the unrighteous. I like being with the self-confessed, undeniably broken, those with no illusions of their ability to save themselves or others. A cut to the heart realization of a need for God’s grace and mercy is not a bad place to start the work of the Kingdom.
- The First Converts. It would be helpful to confess that only our baptism truly unites us and then invite the Holy Spirit to compel us to eat and fast and pray and share all we have with one another.
- Peter and Cornelius. Devout, prayerful, unafraid to act on visions from God, courageous to speak truth to power, all these characteristics would make for a lively pastorate and, no doubt, add to our number those in category number three.
I don’t bring much as I come to this kicking and screaming (think Moses, Jeremiah, Amos, and not so much Mary — any/all of them), Peter or Timothy. I do bring a relentless sense of call that keeps me in the church even while questioning God’s wisdom in choosing me. I am not afraid of failure. I’ve experienced it. God has brought me through it, redeemed it and used it for his purposes. I seek to tend and feed the sheep even as I challenge them and me to not just bask beside the still waters but enter into the troubled ones as well.
Please describe your present call and accomplishments:
I am currently the solo pastor of a small, rural, 200-plus-year-old church. I am responsible for tasks big and small. I have spent a lot of time in hospitals (all floors from the ER to the Psych unit). I go with elders and take the Lord’s Supper to a woman in a nursing home who has no idea who I am and will not remember that I’ve ever been there, and yet it is one of the most important things I do. I take teenagers bowling and teach the middle school aged Sunday School class. I have the honor of preparing worship and preaching almost every Lord’s Day. I love that, even when worship is as chaotic and as well put together as those fly by night carnivals that pop up overnight in the Wal-Mart parking lot. I have been known to clean the church bathrooms, sometimes with a happy heart, sometimes begrudgingly. I have, more than once, put up a screen in the chancel. While I’ve been in this church a lot of new people have come. Some have stayed, some haven’t. Most of the people who were there when I got there are still there. I have had to bury some of God’s saints whom I’ve loved and whose families I love. It is always a painful and profound privilege. I have baptized babies that I now have the joy of sitting on the floor with during the children’s sermon and hugging at the door. Few things make me happier than seeing them eagerly run down the sanctuary aisle.
When the time comes for me to leave there will be three new church signs that I can say we got while I was there. Those signs will remain long after I’m gone. What else will remain? I’m not sure, but I’m confident God has used me and there will be at least a handful of children whom I’ve helped to love in Christ’s name and who equate Jesus and his church with that love. Oh, I also fold the bulletins. Neatly.
Please describe your leadership style:
I should say that I empower and equip others while building consensus. In addition, and at the same time, I am still able to take a stand, make difficult decisions and inspire the congregation to take great risks of faith. That would be great were it so, but, really, my leadership style is a cross between Jonah and, umm, Peter. I need God to tell me things more than once and not so subtly. I can be, alternately, overly eager, and blatantly afraid and denying. I have run away but eventually I’ve come back. Sometimes I actually do what God says and people respond, and I don’t always rejoice in their faithfulness but grumble at God’s mercy. There have been times when I’ve taken the path of least resistance, gone along to get along, and allowed the system to sacrifice an innocent rather than face the conflict that would have ensued had I spoken up. I am ashamed of those times and, on good days, I’ve learned from them. Subsequently, I care less and less about being liked and more about being faithful. I have to be careful that that doesn’t morph into unkindness, self-righteousness, or hard-heartedness. I feel that my worship leadership is strong and that it affords me a place and a power to encourage change that is in accordance with Scripture. I have to enter that space prayerfully and humbly and fearfully because it isn’t a place to showcase my abilities or share my opinions, it is a sacred space to yield myself as fully as possible to the workings of the Holy Spirit in order that God’s Word may be boldly proclaimed. God brings any transformation that ensues. I am to welcome and perhaps discern how to direct it, not attempt to control or block it, being mindful that Christ came to serve rather than be served. Foot washing is an inescapable part of the job.
What are the key theological issues currently facing the church and society, and how do they shape your ministry?
The church is David wearing Saul’s armor. The church is encumbered with things that are valuable and esteemed by much of society but don’t further the mission of the church. We’ve taken on the armor of relevance, pragmatism, entertainment, and success and, as a result, we’re immobilized. None of that armor is helpful because it causes us to look inward and obsess over how others think we look outwardly. If we were to take off Saul’s armor and trust that God has given us the skills and tools we need we would be freed to feed and tend the flock, baptize in the name of the Triune God, and let the oppressed go free. We have in our pouch the Word, proclaimed, written, and incarnate. We have the sacraments and the Holy Spirit. We have the body of Christ, the church, and the gifted members of it. Our “success” is measured by how well we are known by our love. We are to be clothed with a different kind of armor, not the kind that protects and isolates, but the kind that makes us vulnerable, free and agile, the armor of truth, righteousness, peace, and faith made evident in compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and forgiveness. These qualities make the church different from what surrounds it and these are the qualities that a society that is superficially hyper-connected but bereft of flesh and blood community needs.
I long for affirmation and outward accolades even though they are treasures that do not last. I have felt exposed and afraid without Saul’s heavy armor but I have also experienced the joy that comes with being clothed in Christ. Knowing what it is like to be so double-minded, I hope my ministry invites others to come as they are and allows them a hospitable space to remove some of what is weighing them down and take up that which is easy and light because it truly fits.
What do you think — will CLC find any matches?
Jill Duffield is pastor of Tirzah Church in Waxhaw, N.C.