Hello from Little Rock, AR where I write from the staff break room at the Flecher Library. I am down in AR to help my friend Sarah register for wedding gifts and to meet her fiance. I arrived back in Alexandria two weeks ago for an intensive two week practical theology class. I must admit, I was not looking forward to the class. I falsely assumed that practical theology was simply putting ministry into practice and that the class would be redundant to my hands-on experience. Boy, was I wrong. Practical Theology is a study of the context of applied ministry. It points out the complicated web that must work together for ministry to happen. It involves sociology, theology, human development, biology, etc… One of the biggest take aways from the past two weeks (and there were many) is the fact that ministry involves many systems working together in order to do our best on behalf of God. You will note that I did not say “… to achieve a positive outcome on behalf of God.” This distinction is important and deliberate. Another big take away -one which may seem like common sense, but one that struck me nonetheless- is the fact that as ministers we can only offer ourselves and our gifts and then we must release the results to the Almighty. (I will explain how I came to this understanding later on.)
As part of the course we had the opportunity to volunteer for a social service agency in the DC/metro area for 15 hours. I chose Bread for the World for my site and I am so blessed that I did. (www.bread.org) Bread for the World is a hunger advocacy initiative aimed at eliminating hunger by addressing its causes through public policy advocacy. This year their annual letter writing campaign is focusing on asking senators to reinstate the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit which are set to expire at the end of the year. These credits were responsible for bringing 6.6 million families above the poverty line in 2005. Low income is one of the root causes of hunger and this year this is the issue which Bread will combat with the hope of helping families to afford nutritious food for their families. (I could go on all day about this fantastic initiative so please email me if you would like information on how to help!)
My job with Bread was to research two new denominations of Christians to help Bread form a possible relationship with their members. Over the past two weeks I got the opportunity to learn about some of my brothers and sisters in Christ and to provide these details to the people at Bread who will use my research to inform their communication with officials at the national level of these denominations. Where my “ah-ha” moment of realization about releasing the end results of my ministry to God came in was with my difficulty in knowing that I was going to turn over my results and may never know if Bread was able to successfully form a relationship with their members. I would not be the one making the calls and forming the bond. Like so many times in our lives, this was another time when I did my best and now have to let it go.
This makes me think about times in my own life when someone has said something to me that caused deep reflection and possibly life changing revelation, but the statement on the surface seemed innocent enough. The individual who shared that moment of listening and insight likely has no idea that something they said changed me in such a profound way. That is what Practical Ministry is all about. Practical Ministry in the series of events and circumstances which enable the Holy Spirit to move in the lives of others. As ministers we must equip ourselves with knowledge in a variety of subjects and then we must be open for the movement of the Spirit and the opportunities She provides. We must practice a ministry of availability, presence, and attendance. And we absolutely must be constantly able to give the end results up to God because that end point can only truly be witnessed by the individual in communication with God.
A major part of this class was about learning more about ourselves. We took the Myers-Briggs personality indicator and structured much of our reflection around what insight into situations our personality results provided. I must admit that I am predjudiced against this tool in some ways due to its over application in the modern American work environment. I have been “typed” by each place I have worked since college. I have studied it extensively and I despise when people say things like, “You’re such a J, chill out!” (Yes, it has happened.) I even expressed my dislike of the tool to my small group and the first thing one of them asked me was what my type was. (She was 1/2 kidding, but still!) However, upon personal, out of class reflection, I was able to draw insights from even this tool when used in the context of ministry experiences. I am an I. N/S. F. J. (Introvert, Intuitive/Sensing, Feeling, Judging — N/S because there is not a clear preference in this area. I am primarily an N -large picture oriented- except in that I am very concrete and like many details.) When I look at the ministry I did with Bread I can see how my N/S combo tendency worked to my advantage. I found many details about the denominations that I was researching, and my big-picture view helped me to sort those details in ways which will be applicable to Bread’s mission. Rock Star? I think so.
So what do I take from all of this: I am blessed with a new world view after Christmas break. I was not liking Seminary and wanted to go home all fall long. I loved my classes but I am SO introverted that the constant forced socialization was exhausting and painful. Coming back to the Holy Hill I was sad, but also ready. I realize that this is where God is calling me. Right this minute, this is where I belong. And so I will push myself to expand my circle, and I will permit myself to hide when that is what I need. I learned that I truly missed some of my classmates while I was away, and so, even though I am slow to make friends and let people in -perhaps I will be making friends in this place. All in all, I am trying to take things one step at a time and I am learning to start from a place of comfortable “I don’t know.”