Just Another Shark in a Suit?

I think Jerry Maguire is still my all time favourite movie.

I realise its never destined to be a classic, and some of you will find me unbelievably shallow about now because of this choice! But I find myself identifying strongly with the character of Jerry, who comes to a point in life where he finds himself asking ‘Who had I become?… Just another shark in a suit?…’

This jaded but successful sports agent with more clients than he can manage, suddenly does a stocktake on the shape of his life and in a night of frightening revelation writes what he calls his ‘mission statement’, appropriately entitled ‘The things we think and do not say’.

Impulsively he races down to the local print shop in the early hours of the morning and has them run off enough copies for everyone in his office. As he places a copy of his dream in the mail-boxes of his co-workers hoping to share his vision with them he says ‘I didn’t care. I had lost the ability to bullshit. It was the me I had always wanted to be.’

His ‘mission statement’ becomes the catalyst and the vision for where his life heads from there on.

In his night of realisation he came face to face with the startling fact that he hated who he had become – that he had lost contact with his true identity.

‘With so many clients we had forgotten what was important.’

In his quest to acquire more clients and make more money he had moved away from the core ethic of his business – caring for the athletes. The words of his father and mentor Dicky Fox echoed in his ears ‘The key to this business is personal relationships,’ and somewhere along the line he had forgotten that.

The answer was going to be fewer clients, less money and more personal attention.

It was a beautiful dream – a moment of calling back to what a sports agent really ought to be – one who looks after the best interests of the player, rather than a schmooozer who sees people as just another dollar sign destined for exploitation.

Do I need to point the parallels for those of us who have served in local church ministry?

And its especially true for those of us who have led larger churches, where people become faces in the crowd and we learn how to live with and manage that situation.

It was about 4 years ago that I had my own ”Jerry Maguire moment’, the culmination of several years of living a conflicted existence as a pastor who questioned the shape things were taking in his church and who he was becoming in the midst of it.

There is no question that it wasn’t all bad. In fact much of it was good. We were good people attempting to do good things, but somehow I had lost touch with the core reality of who I was called to be and what we were supposed to do. I had started to become concerned for things that really shouldn’t have mattered as much as they did. I was starting to lose touch with the things that really needed to matter and along the way I was increasingly cognizant of the dissonance of my life.

The journey that hasresulted in us living here in Brighton was sparked because of that need to come back to living with integrity and being who I was called and created to be.

If you remember the Jerry Maguire story you’d know it was almost the complete undoing of Jerry as he sought to stay true to his sense of calling. At times the dream faded to a distant memory and he was simply in survival mode, while he sought to look after his one remaining client and clung by his fingernails to his disintegrating life.

My own experience has been nowhere near the dramatic downward spiral that Jerry experienced, but neither has it been a fairy tale. Dreams are wonderful things and I doubt many of us would even consider getting off our backsides and trying anything at all were it not for the power of the imagination and the hope of a better future. But to leave the comfort and security of what we know to try and live in a counter-cultural way (both in society and in church culture) is both difficult and lonely.

There are many times when I am tempted to give the dream away and go back to the conflicted but secure life that I used to have. It is what I know best and it is what I did well for many years. But I am also aware that in doing so I will not be satisfied. I don’t think I have completely lost the ability to bullshit, (do we ever?) but I am hoping that the longer I try to live out of a sense of congruence with my calling and identity the less I sound like a sales rep for ‘church inc’ and the more I sound like someone who genuinely loves God and loves people.

Jerry’s is a story with a happy ending as ultimately those who laughed at him see the pleasure and the fruit of a life that is lived with integrity and seek to emulate it.

Of course life is not the movies and the chances my story will end like Jerry’s is somewhat unlikely, but I continue to be inspired by someone who didn’t just dream of a better way. He ‘hung his balls out there’ and gave it his best shot.

Then again, shallow as I am, I’d do it all just to get the chance to be that close to Renee Zelwigger!”

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