I was greatly encouraged by the many responses to my first Joseph Company Global blog. In the age of information overload, the last thing I want to do is further contribute to the problem.
HOLDING IT TOGETHER
It has become painfully clear after countless discussions over the years, we are all struggling to hold together the three key segments of our lives; Family, Career and our Spirituality. Institutional religion often creates an environment whereby we are reticent to transparently discuss the struggles we have with this dynamic tension. The fear of appearing unspiritual is burdensome and often leads to unhealthy behaviors. If you feel like you suffer from multiple personality disorder you are not alone. Most of us have a character we play on each of these stages and hate it. It is my hope the journey we are on will help reconcile these internal conflicts and bring a measure of peace and harmony.
THE BEGINNING OF THE JOURNEY
Years ago, when I first began to seriously pay attention to the spiritual side of my humanity, I found myself overwhelmed and confused by all the options. It seemed at the time religion was not altogether different from purchasing ice cream at Baskin Robbins with its then selection of 33 Flavors. In my confusion, it was suggested by friends I should seek out the counsel of a religious minister. This seemed logical given my perception at the time was ministers knew God better than the rest of us. I had been brought up to understand ministers were His spokesmen here on earth. I was also under the impression they had a special hotline to heaven. I can see some of the expressions on your faces! There is an opportunity here for a bunny trail which I am going to resist the temptation to go down.
The minister I ended up meeting with was a friend of my parents, well respected and someone who was to some extent familiar with me. In full disclosure, here’s why…I was once suspended for a couple days during my High School years for fighting. Yes, my halo was a bit crooked back then. I will have you know; I was not the instigator of this conflict. As I was leaving the school premises, I walked outside to see the passenger door of an unfamiliar, dark large car, seemingly open by itself. It was unnerving to say the least. I quickly turned around to see if a huge hairy mammoth Mafia guy wearing sunglasses was following me out to the car. The reason for my intense anxiety was it was rumored the kid who had attacked me was related to one of the underworld families in Milwaukee. He was what we called in those days a “Greaser”. He was not altogether different looking than “The Fonz” on Happy Days. I had not reacted well to his throwing me across the hallway with my books flying in various directions. All I remembered afterward was my friends pulling me off the top of him after knocking him down with a vicious tackle. You can imagine my relief as I lowered my head to see who was behind the wheel of that intimidating car, only to see my parents pastor friend. Whew! “Better a little heaven than a whole lot of hell” I thought to myself. While I didn’t get a bullet to the back of the head, I did get a stern lecturing and was told I had better shape up. Being he was ex-military, he dressed me down in no uncertain terms.
A PARADIGM IS SET
You can imagine my reticence years later when we met for a second time to discuss my spiritual state and future. I assumed I was still framed in his mind as that hopelessly pugnacious troubled kid with a short temper. After a few minutes of getting reacquainted, I was rather stunned when he said to me; “Bob, I’ve been watching you from a distance for years, are you aware you have a calling on your life?” For a kid who had been kicked out of St Alphonsus Catholic School in the 3rd Grade, I had no frame of reference for the word “calling”. Religion had been of no interest to me. My mind raced ahead trying to connect the dots. Was this calling he mentioned something like a pig call? Sooie!, Sooie! I vaguely remembered Jesus didn’t seem to like pigs very much so figured it might mean something else. I also considered the calling we got around 5:30 every evening when Dad arrived home and it was dinner time. Mom would ring the bell and we’d come running home from our football game in the street or emerge from the woods with our BB guns and pocket knives. It was a different time and culture back then. Was God calling me to dinner I wondered?
Finally, after my deer in the headlights moment, I sheepishly asked him what having a calling meant? He chuckled and said “oh, it means you need to go into the ministry”. Again, I was confused by the term and what he was suggesting. I knew it meant something significant as Ministers were respected figures in high government positions. I started wondering if he thought maybe I had the potential to go into politics. It didn’t dawn on me he was referring to a religious profession especially since I was no saint. As I was still confused I pressed the issue further asking him what exactly going into the ministry meant? “What does that look like?” was my follow-up question. He then informed me that I had two choices ahead of me. The first was to become the pastor of a church or secondly become an overseas missionary. Either way the road to this calling was through a Bible School and a few months later I was on my way to a pre-seminary education. The road had been mapped out and the paradigm firmly imbedded in my adolescent mind. Calling = Ministry = Pastor or Missionary. This was the Divine Paradigm I was given.
THE PARADIGM IS ENTRENCHED
Bible School was an amazing time of discovery for me as I had very little knowledge of the Scriptures. In fact, I vividly remember my first day at school. The lecturer asked us to find Luke 10 in our Bibles. After some help from the guy next to me I eventually found the passage. As my eyes wandered across the pages I noticed the words “The Parable of the Good Samaritan” and was so excited I blurted out “I didn’t know the Good Samaritan story was in the Bible!” I had heard the story a few times as a kid and the guy reading the story said it was in something called a “Gospel”. I had no idea what that was. Who uses that word other than in church? I surmised it must have been in something important as a dude on stage behind a large piece of furniture was reading from a really fat book and was doing it in a rather solemn tone. I wondered if a Gospel was a magic book with spells which if read wrongly might suck you into its pages where you’d remain until a new spell could be found to release you! I was thinking like Harry Potter before Harry Potter was a thing.
Nonetheless, that day in Bible School under the cascading laughter of the other students, I learned a Gospel was a book in the Bible that contained my favorite childhood story. Along with a great many other things, I was trained in school how to read the Bible. I was told where to look, what to see and how to interpret it. There was no room for diversity of perspectives. A paradigm was passed down to me and I became a respected member of a sub-culture which expected absolute loyalty and as a good soldier of the faith, to walk and talk the groups theology and ideology. There was also an established hierarchy which firmly placed those in ministry at the top. The next 15 years of my life would be focused on fulfilling this calling and carefully walking it out. I followed the formulas which had been handed down to me in exact detail.
THE PARADIGM IS UPROOTED
I enjoyed this season of my life and the prestige which came with a ministry position at a church. I received deferential treatment as did my colleagues across the spectrum of religion. The elite “calling” formula was so entrenched in the church sub-culture, I found myself deluged by people desperately wanting me to put them on church staff. They too wanted, or more accurately needed, to fulfill their calling. Not putting them on staff was seen as a rejection of their destiny and had a shattering effect on their self-esteem. It was only years later I would realize how complicit I was in perpetuating this false narrative. Ones value to God is not predicated on one’s position at a church or being in any form of ministry at all. In my own insecurity and need for significance, I had continued to maintain the elitist attitude which has plagued ministry people from the beginning of organized religion. I had set myself apart as special. It took a few years but I learned the hard way that I was as broken and dysfunctional as everyone else. Maybe even more so!
Along the way to planting churches and being a part of God’s special squad of soldiers, I discovered something which started to unravel my neat ministry paradigm and sense of being elite. The more I read the Bible and the more of human history I studied, I realized two things;
1) Most of the people God used are not in the ministry
2) Most of what God does happens outside the walls of institutional religion
As you might imagine, this had a rather disconcerting effect on me initially. I was not only disoriented I was sacred as I was a student of church history. I knew what happened to people who chose to think differently in religious circles. I knew for some in the ministry world I would be viewed as a traitor and my reputation being ruined was a necessity to keep me quiet. The problem was the more I studied and researched, my initial discoveries simply continued to be reinforced. There was something God was up to which was far more expansive than simply building churches. He was choosing some of the most unlikely people to do some of the most extraordinary things in some of the most unconventional ways. God was not just God of the church, he was God of all nations, the earth below and the heavens above.
As you might imagine there wasn’t a great deal of interest in my shifting paradigms from my ministry colleagues. In fact, I was told I was completely missing the mark. Despite their repudiation of my paradigm, whatever was going on in my soul would not leave me alone. I needed to talk this out and began gathering Businessmen and Pro-Athletes around to listen to my discoveries. In time, I would find myself meeting with people in Government and the Arts & Entertainment world as well. As we built bridges of trust, I found myself being asked the same question over and over again in one form or the other. “What the heck does what I hear on Sunday at church have to do with the rest of my world during the week?” It soon became clear we were in our own version of the “Lost in Translation” movie. The biblical narrative was being presented in a way where all the people God used were seen as being “in the Ministry”. This has historically been a common perspective though the record shows very few of those who changed the world were actually from the priestly sector or had religious training. One of the unfortunate fruits of institutional religion has been the “us and them” dynamic between the clergy and the laity. The astounding discovery I made back then was how the “them” was in reality who God used and continues to use in changing the world!
Over the weeks and months ahead we plan on using this blog and other formats to continue to share our thoughts, perspectives and paradigms about how God is at work in places you might not expect, using people you might not expect, in ways you might not expect. In fact, one of the places He’s at work now is right in front of you. The one He desires to use is you! Yes, little old broken and dysfunctional you. Would you believe you are the perfect candidate for God to use in changing the world around you!