Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Everyone and every context have a story

Written by: on September 10, 2019

Henri Nouwen, a Roman Catholic priest, professor, author, and compassionate teacher teaches us to do the hard work of being transformed by God as we listen and engage by reading, prayer, and cooperating with others in their journey.

Reading this text reminded me about the story an employee told me when he was in the army. John tended to get distracted. On watching one night, he was enjoying the scenery, the sounds, and yes, he became distracted. That’s not good on watch! His direct report captured John’s attention by saying, “Private, don’t do something, stand there!” Nouwen wrote, “To discern means first of all to listen to God, to pay attention to God’s active presence, and to obey God’s prompting, direction, leadings, and guidance.”[1] That may mean standing with others in a dark space.

I am afraid that to receive direct experiences with the Holy Spirit and our context that most of us will not enjoy that due to giving in to because we are easily distracted. It is hard work and sorting out whether the distractions are for our good or for worse can be inculcated into our rhythms of life.

“Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am — Parker Palmer.”[2]

Everyone and every context have a story. One way to respect and love those stories is to be authentic in our relationships. A growing number of our laity hear a message on Sunday from a pastor who has no idea of their context. Some pastors who deliver a message on Sunday without any idea of what it is like to enter his or her laity’s shoes. Sometimes stresses and strains in the laity’s weekly routine conflict with the opportunity for discipleship and service. As a fellow hearer, am I helping my hearers hear better?

If the pastor were in his/her hearer’s shoes, he or she might have a better understanding of their capacity for involvement; they might even be able to model balance. This is where I believe the co-vocational congregation has a leg up on discerning contexts. Their packed schedule having multiple income streams is not much different than the workaholic; even many of our hearers who have two jobs.

The co-vocational congregation has a unique responsibility and opportunity to see communities influenced by Jesus. Deliberately working together with their co-vocational pastor contextual stories can be discerned better. The healthy or sick but getting healthier, the congregation can do so much together. Henri reminds us that understanding the context is one aspect of discernment. Another aspect is to be transformed by the experience. We can feel so wrong when we do not understand the terminology (Oh some of the stories I could tell). And, yet, I propose that wrong really ought to be a step forward. Learning!

“To assist congregations, Transforming Pastoral Leadership suggests two processes that might help congregations discern God’s missional promptings as they move forward into God’s future and experience conflict as opportunities for transformation.”[3]

I propose to help determine healthy markers: practices and relationships that one can focus on to help the Church be outrageously successful in their community. Listening through stillness, research, experiences with others and making application of what God wants and the community needs is success; having a view that we aim to help transform even generations beyond our experience.

Each community is unique. Learning and working towards healthy impacts, a new and optimistic outlook on life. Re-habituating our communities with healthy habits, and to learn how to teach others these practices will help develop more holistic restorative processes.

Each person has something unique and special to offer as a human being as God intended. Doing the hard work of recognizing the many gifts a context has to for us through God’s love, a co-vocational, congregational leadership team will learn and be changed.

1 Corinthians 12:14 (ESV), “14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many.”

This is one of the simplest and clearest statements about our need for each other in the Bible. The body of Christ, or the people that are the whole of humanity, are a team. The body is not supported by one person, but by all of us. We are one, we are strongest working together in unity. Teamwork is the key to living life in harmony so that we can be and do God’s will.

I think Henri` Nouwen would recommend to us to engage the story not only to learn but to be transformed.

[1] Henri J. M. Nouwen, Discernment, (5) Kindle Edition.

[2] Ibid., 97.

[3] Quentin P. Kinnison, 2016. “Transforming Pastoral Leadership: Reimagining Congregational Relationships for Changing Contexts.” Eugene, Oregon: Pickwick Publications. http://ezproxy.nts.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=1287004&site=ehost-live. (Accessed: September 10, 2019).

About the Author

Steve Wingate

9 responses to “Everyone and every context have a story”

  1. Joe Castillo says:

    Each community is unique. Learning and working towards healthy impacts, a new and optimistic outlook on life. Re-habituating our communities with healthy habits, and to learn how to teach others these practices will help develop more holistic restorative processes.

    Well said, Steve. That reminds me of how the church has the responsibility to mirror unity to the world to which the Lord has sent us. We have been called to fellowship—not to tear apart. The church has fallen short of modeling the community of Christ to the world, as it is common for church communities to destroy genuine fellowship. We do not have a community if we do not love each other in spite of our differences.

    • Steve Wingate says:

      I am facing the question during the past couple weeks, “Do I really love unconditionally?” It is a good thing to say, yet for me it is not do I or not, but am I I growing in this unified mission of our Savior and Lord.

  2. Shawn Cramer says:

    I had not been exposed to the term “co-vocational,” so I appreciate your insight. Am I right to guess by that carefully chosen word that the meaning of vocation and holistic thinking are areas of passion?

  3. Steve Wingate says:

    Shawn, I think so. So much is written about bi-vocational pastors. Pastors with multiple income streams (my focus) or fully funded, are to be who God called them to be regardless, so I tend not to buy into two different vocations. A vocation is a call. We all have one call, one mission (Matthew 28:19-20). That mission is carried out differently through context unique visions.

    A friend of mine who graduated from PDX Seminary authored the title the Working Priest. In the tribe I am in the multi-income pastor is labeled bi-vocational. I think co-vocational fits a healthy description like Working Priest, because there is no separation. I believe this is the wave of the Church. I aim to get ready to support the co-vocational pastor (somehow!).

  4. Greg Reich says:

    Steve I appreciate your insight. Though I understand your desire to unify the calling aspect by using co-vocational I believe the deeper issue for many pastors that work outside of the church is that in many circles they are seen as inferior. Many times co-vocational pastors are not seen as affective leaders because their churches can’t afford to pay them full time. Much of my teaching in Canada is oriented toward students that will most likely never be fully paid by the church they serve do to the size and location of the community the churches are in.

  5. Dylan Branson says:

    Steve, this is something I’ve been reflecting on as well in the past year, about how there shouldn’t be a separation in regards to the idea of a “working priest.” Like you mentioned earlier, how often does a pastor know what his or her congregation is going through when he or she is often locked away within the church building? Oftentimes this creates a sort of disconnect that creates unrealistic expectations or thoughts.

    Something that struck me was when I was reading Francis Chan’s latest book, Letters to the Church, where he talked about how in the house church network he helped start that ALL of the pastors in the church also held full time jobs so that they could still be in the everyday life of the community. Because they were out in the world, they were actively transforming it with their presence through the power of the Spirit as salt and light. They came to learn and understand the real issues people were facing, not what they thought they saw from behind a pulpit, and came to love the people around them. This strengthened the community within AND outside the church as barriers were removed.

  6. Chris Pollock says:

    Hi Steve, appreciate your thoughts here. Thank you. I have never heard the words, ‘Don’t do something, stand there!’ This just sounds so backwards, I had to read it a couple times. So backwards for us who have live the rush of doing, who fear the stance of stillness while others may rush ahead accomplishing all kinds of things. Where is there peace? And, perhaps from a place of stillness, even to be in it for a moment, we can identify our place as a part of the ‘something more than us’ (ie. the team, the body) a little more clearly! It’s a quiet place where much is happening. It reminds me in a way of the ancient Spiritual practise, Examen. Thank you for stirring up a little more thought on coming to stillness! God bless you today!

  7. John McLarty says:

    If transformation (being made new) is the goal of a relationship with Christ, then it seems natural that the intersection of our stories is a natural place for that journey to begin. I’ve just returned from a week in Honduras where I was reminded once again of the powerful interconnectedness of human beings, if we are willing to look for the image of God in each other. Though I will not likely remember many names, the people I encountered leave a mark and perhaps a bit of me remains with them and we are now part of each others’ stories. And we get a deeper understanding of what it is to be members of one body.

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