I’m currently on my way to attend a conference targeted at women in ministry leadership, and focused on how best to advocate for and accomplish change in the circumstances of women globally. I am convinced that as we improve the lives of women, we will improve the lives of everyone in their communities. The challenge is daunting and I’m hopeful that the conference will inspire me with new ideas on how I can best participate in seeing this change happen. As I’ve prepared for the conference, one question has remained stubbornly unanswered. Invariably at these types of events you have the opportunity to meet a number of new people. The dilemma I have been staring in the face for the last couple of weeks is how to identify my profession when introducing myself. How do I answer the question “what do you do?” This is a uniquely American activity. In many other cultures it is considered rude to ask another person about their work. The polite thing is to wait for them to bring it up, if it’s mentioned at all. At the moment, I really wish the conference was taking place in Europe so I could avoid this question.
I have spent more than twenty years as a minister in one capacity or another. I’ve held roles leading women’s ministries, worship ministries, home group ministries, teaching children, leading the missions ministry….well, you get the picture. The only role I haven’t held is senior pastor. A bit of a tangent here, but when you think about it, senior pastor really is an odd title for anyone who is a Jesus follower. At what point did we decide there should be seniority of position among those who are striving toward reflecting the image of the One who “made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant?” (Phil. 2) I have an earlier post (“A Quiet Life”) that discusses some of my ideas about the nature of celebrity in our culture and its impact on our understanding of how to be a Jesus follower. I’m working on a follow up to that.
To return to my original thought, I have spent a considerable amount of time in various ministry roles. Currently I am on a self-determined “sabbatical” that has lasted a little over eighteen months. I chose to leave my role as a minister but find that I still refer to myself as a minister when asked about my profession. I’m wrestling with the question of when do I stop referring to myself as a minister. As I move through this part of my journey, I’m discovering just how much of my identity has been established by my work, both sacred and profane. (If you know me, I’m sure you can imagine the wry smile I have as I consider which of my roles has been the best embodiment of sacred.)
I find it ironic that my internal senses have equated leaving the Church with leaving the ministry. I have preached sermons that included the explanation that every Jesus follower is in fact a minister of reconciliation (2 Cor 5), that every Jesus follower is in fact a priest in His kingdom (Rev 1). Yet, I’m challenged to see myself that way when I no longer have an “official” title to place under my name on a business card. Ironic, indeed!!