As an introvert I tend to arrive a little late at parties.
Arrive late – leave early – recharge… But this morning I showed up for a ‘party’ that first started around 30 years ago. I was in my early years of ministry when I made my first application for accreditation with the Baptist churches of WA. I sat the interviews, entered the accreditation stream, but then hit a roadblock in the form of a requirement that I spend a year studying Biblical Hebrew. I had just completed my first year of study, of which one unit was Greek – a subject I got an HD for and worked hard in, but also a subject that sucked time away from the other learning that I really wanted to do. I knew all the rationales for the study of biblical languages. I just didn’t agree with them and I was concerned that 2 of my 3 years of study would be preoccupied with studying subjects I saw as of lesser value, but of great demand.
I asked for an exemption from studying Hebrew and it was refused, so I simply dropped out of the accreditation process. The church I was in wasn’t concerned about it and I wasn’t overly concerned myself. It was my preference to just to throw myself into study and some really valuable learning, so that was the route I chose.
In the years to come my argument was that that if I apply for a job in a church or elsewhere and I get knocked back on the basis of my lack of accreditation then I’m applying for the wrong job with the wrong mob. I still believe that. If in any job discussions we get to arguing over my legitimacy as a Christian leader then we are probably bound for many more arguments down the line. Best to step away now.
So why jump in now, 30 years after it all began?
It began with an invitation. Would I be interested in considering accreditation?…
My first internal response was simply along the lines of ‘I haven’t needed it and I doubt it will be an issue in the final years of Christian leadership.’ And that is probably true.
But by the same token one of the things I have come to realise over the years is that this is ‘my crew’. Any time I get to thinking of moving churches or aligning with another denomination I just come back to the sense that the Baptists – for better or worse – are my people. And – for better or worse – I am one of them.
We are in this together in some way.
So as we discussed the process of accreditation it sounded very easy. Basically fill in some forms, ticks some boxes, a conversation / interview and then all done. There really wasn’t a reason not to, other than the knowledge that I would be putting myself under the authority of a group of people and agreeing to follow some of their requirements for PD and the like. I did ponder that for a while, but my perception of the requirements are that they are common sense and good practice – things I would likely do anyway – rather than an onerous imposition. I am also conscious that in this highly regulated and at times suffocating environment I may at some point be required to have some documentation that legitimises me. So perhaps it’s a useful thing to do too?…
‘Ok let’s do it.’ I said. It felt a bit like signing up to get my skipper’s ticket after I had already owned a boat for 3 years – a few scoots up the river – an hour of ‘be aware of this stuff’, sign some forms and all done. You can now officially do what you have been doing for ever!
As it turned out the process was significantly more laborious than I originally anticipated due to some unforeseen issues on my end that I needed to attend to. It took longer than expected and at times I found myself asking ‘is this worth it?’
It’s probably a difficult question to answer, but I guess I answered it affirmatively because I kept going. Why?… I think because something inside me said ‘this is a good thing’ and even though my own circumstances made it laborious I felt I should persevere.
So this morning I was accredited as a Baptist pastor in WA. Not much changes in my world. That’s simply how it is. It was nice to be affirmed in my calling by an external group of people, but I felt like I was also saying ‘I belong here.’ and ‘These are my people.’
Surprisingly as the service began I actually felt quite emotional. I knew we were going to be asked for a ‘2 minute testimony’ about our calling to ministry. I gave that 2 minute time absolutely no thought before the moment we arrived so in those first few minutes I found myself reflecting on how I came to be where I am now and what it is that God has called me to do and I was caught off guard with the emotion of it.
As I went up to stage I said to Danelle “I feel bizarrely emotional. Pray I won’t be a dick.’
But sometimes in the process of trying to synthesise information and experiences you come back to your true core identity and it can be both inspiring and overwhelming.
I shared that my calling to ministry began after a basketball / mission trip to the Philippines. I came home convinced I was going to be a sports missionary in the Philippines. As it turned out one of those things happened. I became a missionary – but I didn’t realise it for a long time. In my world missionaries did their thing overseas – not here in Oz.
The Philippines thing didn’t work out, but while I was at Bible College my home church were on the search for a youth pastor. I didn’t know much about pastoring, but I applied and got the job. I fumbled my way thru for 5 or 6 years before heading up to Lesmurdie.
It was in the interview for the Lesmurdie role that I was asked ‘so what is your calling Andrew?’ I don’t know that I had ever really thought that thru in great depth, so I answered off the cuff. I said ‘I want to be able to communicate the Christian faith to ordinary Australian people in ways they can understand’, and as I spoke the words struck me with force that I did not expect. I had just touched a nerve in my own heart.
I thought to myself ‘that’s it!’ I had never spoken those words before, but I have never forgotten them, and it has formed my calling and identity ever since. Alongside it now is the calling to lead and develop Christian communities that make sense to Australian people – that fit our culture and aren’t simply replicas of what we have seen in other places.
A few years later while in the same church – after around 10 years of pastoring – we had a prophet come to one of our staff meetings. I thought he was a bit off his trolley and wasn’t warming to him at all as we sat and chatted. I was enduring the afternoon as he sought to ‘prophesy over us’. He spoke to the other two pastors first and then when he came to me he said ‘I see a picture of a beach with many people lying on the beach and many people enjoying the water, but there are also people drowning. Many of the people on the beach and in the water don’t see the drowning people because they are too caught up with enjoying themselves, but you see them – you see those who are drowning and you want to rescue them.’
Bam… Nice one Mr wacky prophet – you just nailed me.
He captured what I was feeling in a way I hadn’t been able to describe. As I pondered this words it dawned on me that I had always struggled to be a ‘pastor’ – it had never felt like me. Happy churches that catered for themselves and pretended to do mission just made me angry. I saw the people outside and that was where my heart went naturally. I was a… a… ‘missionary?’ A missionary? Really?
Maybe I ‘heard right’ way back when it all started. I just got the location wrong.
From there came church planting, Forge, all sorts of missional adventures and experiments and of course this blog. It was the time in my life when I have never had as much energy and passon and even though the craziness has settled, what remains is a deep and lasting commitment to mission in Australia – to seeking to under this culture and connect the story of Jesus with ordinary people in ways that make sense and that resonate deeply. The from there to create churches that are not about ‘lazing on the beach’, but that are also concerned for those on the outer.
So 30 years on from where I began I am now official. – with certificate, card and new Bible.
But a pastor?
Nah… A missionary? Oh yeah!