Community. God made humanity to long for it. Jesus created it among his disciples and the disciples set out to multiply their experience of it.
As I am entering a new space where I am going to be sharing my life with strangers/acquaintances for the entire fall semester, I am taking note of how the church could reimagine the idea of what it means to be a community. Honestly, we know we get it wrong a lot of the time. We let our petty quarrels, preferences and gossip keep us from life-giving community. We let our judgements lead before our love. We set unity on a narrow altar and bow down instead of making a bigger space for diversity. We would rather criticize leadership behind closed doors than open wide the door of our hearts. We are human and we thank God for grace, but that doesn’t mean we can’t look out and see who is doing community well and learn from them. Right now, I am looking out and taking notes.
Community begins with the leader and the leader’s mentorship trail matters.
When I entered the yoga community, the leadership spoke about who mentored them and traced the trail all the way up to the person who created this style of yoga. I wondered for a while why this matters, but then I reflected on why I chose to join this particular yoga community….I loved the spirit of the leaders. I wanted to be in their classes. I wanted to practice alongside them because not only did I love their energy, I saw that yoga was a lifestyle for them. Yoga went way beyond physical fitness, funky clothes, and flexibility. I wanted to learn what they learned and teach like they teach! I also respect them and all the work that they did to develop into the human beings and teachers that they are today. More than likely, they will credit their mentor for helping them in their journey because mentorship breeds humility and confidence. When the time came for me to sign up for yoga teacher training, I found it easy to say, “I want to be your student.” What if we had this same approach with our ministers? We have a lot of church options, but what if instead of solely looking at what each church offers (kids programs, youth activities, worship style), we looked at who we want to practice being Christ-like beside. Who do we want our children to imitate as they learn what it means to follow Christ? Maybe they aren’t the best preacher, maybe they are, but can you walk alongside them working out the faith journey together? And who did they learn from? Who are they reading, mentoring under and how can we trace that lineage? This will tell you where they came from but also where they are going and then you can decide if you want to go with them.
I love that I have yoga 2 teacher trainers. They are each gifted to teach with their own unique flare. They are different in their style and presentation but similar in their beautiful energy. Every minister just like every teacher has their thing that gets them excited and they want to share! Maybe their thing is a different style of music, a new spiritual discipline, study of scripture, pastoral care or the healing power of prayer. If we believe that God created this minister in God’s image, then I think we would want to take the opportunity to learn beside them. If we cannot open our hearts, then we miss out on the opportunity to learn something unique about God.
If we reimagine how we choose our leader, then we must reimagine what it means to be the people of God in the church. Naturally, if you choose a leader that you want to learn beside, then you become a student. Again, once I knew the style of yoga, the deep commitment of the leaders and the mentorship lineage, I placed myself confidently in their care as their student. And guess what? On the first day of training, they entrusted each of us to teach a small portion praising us even in our awkward attempts. How have we missed this step in the church? We choose our ministers and then tell them how to lead. We choose who we want to be our spiritual guide and then we criticize their attempts to challenge us to grow. I readily affirm that every person offers a unique gift to the community and should be given opportunity to share that gift, but this happens in the context that a person offers themselves as a student or teacher in training. The student continues to learn and grow under the care and supervision of the leader while being given opportunities to lead supported by praise at every awkward attempt. Then one magical day the student becomes the teacher. If you are already a leader in the church as a new minister comes to the community, then you recommit to learning from the person God brought to you for such a time as this.