Get Out!

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"Where is my office?"

In his documentary called "Godspeed"Matt Canlis tells us about his first day on the job as a parish* assistant in Scotland. He was a ministry student and had found part-time work at a nearby parish church. On that first day he went to the door of the church, knocked, and asked, “Where is my office?”

Rev. McDonald, the church’s pastor and Matt’s new boss, responded, “Your office?”  

Matt paused and then tried again. Perhaps it had been too much to assume that he had an office in the church building: “Right, sorry,” he said. “Where is YOUR office?”

But this question also seemed to confuse Rev. McDonald. “My office?” he asked Matt.

After a moment Rev. McDonald walked Matt over to the church sign, the one facing the road in front of church. He pointed to a telephone number, which was painted on the sign. It was Rev. McDonald’s home phone number. “There is no office,” he explained to Matt.

“So where do I work?” asked Matt.

This was Matt’s best question of the morning, and Rev. McDonald’s response to it set the course for Matt’s ministry: “Start walking. Get out into the parish.”

It turns out that Matt’s work was to be done among a people, the people “out there.”

IT'S NOT AS EASY AS YOU MIGHT THINK

A couple of years ago a group of five Christian Reformed pastors, including myself, began a project designed to move us into this kind of ministry**. We called our project “Get Out!” and we hoped to become pastors who spent less time in our offices and more time in our neighborhoods.

It’s not as easy as you might think, for a variety of reasons:  

  1. Our Christian Reformed tradition has, in the past, understood faith as an intellectual response to God and well-educated ministers as important for connecting people to God on that basis. It’s the kind of history that can put subtle pressure on today's pastors to stay in their offices/studies, reading and writing.
  2. Our seminary training decades ago, for all of its strengths and beauty, had not prepared us to be alert to the needs and opportunities beyond the walls and the members of the church.
  3. Some of the people who pay our salaries are less than happy when we’re not completely available to them because we are busy with people who don’t pay our salaries.
  4. Getting out of our offices means yet more work, and few of us are eager to add yet another “thing” to our already-busy schedules.
  5. Getting into the neighborhood requires new openness to God’s leading, and all of us are, because of the Fall, naturally allergic to God’s leading.

All of that being said, our group did learn that it is possible to break out of old habits.

It is possible to start living a life that resonates more fully with Christ’s command to “Go!” One of us joined a club for people who love flying remote-controlled model planes, in order to be a testimony to real peace and real joy in that setting.

One of us joined the local Chamber of Commerce and signed up to greet people at community events. Another began praying specifically for individuals in the community, and inspired us to do the same. One of our conversation partners taught us the value of going to the same restaurant frequently, getting to know the staff, and finding ways to bear witness to God’s love.

There is one important thing that we have not yet done: Develop a helpful response for congregation members who object when we spend time with people “out there.” We want to “Get Out!” in partnership with these very objectors. We hope that they might come along with us and see that “out there” isn’t actually as out there as they might think!

Maybe you could help us by offering your thoughts in the comment box below.In any case, we keep wanting to get out of our offices regularly and engage the people of our broader communities—in obedience to Christ and for the blessing of our churches and communities.

We want to go where Rev. McDonald was pointing.

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Dave,

This is a neat story. It is what is needed to make our churches relevant to their context. Here is a related post that underscores some principles of good community engagement by folks who have demonstrated their effectiveness. 

This post isn’t just for Pastors, we as Lay people need to “get out” too! Good post David!

Of course, you could always start a Meetup group for similar effect. Check out https://youtu.be/XDRExfv9Hic to hear Paul VanderKlay discuss this topic.