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Lycra Suits and Certainty



I have a strange childhood memory that I’m slightly embarrassed to admit.


Here goes . . .


Long before I became a Christian, I distinctly remember thinking it would be great to be a vicar. I know, I know, that’s a pretty odd thing for any child to think. But it’s the reasoning I have never forgotten. In my childlike way, I was convinced that if I was a vicar . . .


. . . I would always know what to do.


I’m not sure where this idea came from, but I suppose I simply saw vicars as people who were full of moral certainty. If anyone knew what to do, it would be them.


As a small child, the world can be pretty confusing. How nice to always know what to do!


IDENTITY


Reflecting on my childhood, I think this rather odd idea may also have been tied to identity. All the vicars I knew put on a special outfit, a bit like Spiderman—although his was a red and blue rather swanky lycra number and most vicars avoided those colours. Nevertheless, their outfits gave them an immediately recognisable identity. I liked that. And then all they had to do was perform in a way expected from someone wearing the outfit. Spiderman saved the world. A vicar gave talks, shook a lot of hands, and drank tea. How hard could that be?


Yes, I know I was naïve. I was young!


But fast forward forty-something years, and I find myself in the curious position of actually being a vicar. Well, in my church they call me a pastor, but it’s the same thing. Over the years, I have come to understand that life is far, far more complicated than my childhood self could ever have imagined. Indeed, as a theologically trained pastor, I probably have more questions now than I did then. So, the ‘certainty’ piece was certainly wrong.


The identity issue, however, is more interesting.


For example, I have sometimes reassured myself with sentiments like this one: ‘I’m glad I’m a minister, because my job keeps me walking with Jesus!’ I suppose what I mean is that my job actually requires that I spend time studying the Bible and spending time with Jesus, and that’s great. What a privilege! It’s a little disturbing to admit this, but I sometimes wonder if I would still be walking with Jesus if I’d opted for a job outside the church. Would other things would have crowded him out? I don’t know. I hope not.


This idea, however—that my job keeps me close to Jesus—doesn’t bear much scrutiny. If my time with Jesus is only something I do because it is ‘part of my job’, then there is something profoundly wrong. It’s the wrong way round. ‘Being in ministry’ shouldn’t be the thing that keeps me walking with Jesus. Surely, my ministry should flow out of my relationship with Jesus. It shouldn’t just keep me hanging in there. Instead, my walk with the Lord should be the source, the wellspring of my ministry.


This should be obvious, but I fear that many in full-time ministry forget it.


In a curious sort of way, my childhood insight into identity brought me closer to the truth. Christian discipleship is all about identity. It’s about who we are, and that doesn’t come from signing up for vicar school, but when we turn to Jesus and follow him. After all, he calls me ‘a new creation’. He gives me a new identity and a new beginning. With or without the cassock! (Though I don’t actually wear a cassock.)


WALKING WITH JESUS


As I walk with Jesus day by day, and am united to him by faith, I am being changed. I am growing. As his Spirit works within me, and as I feed on his Word—both understanding it and applying it—I am being transformed into the likeness of my Saviour. And this brings me back to my initial thought about knowing what to do. It’s not that vicars know what to do more than other Christians. The truth is, all those who grow to be more like Jesus gain an increasing sense of what to do in any situation. This is what it means to grow in wisdom, which as we know begins with the fear of the Lord.


It may seem obvious, but my job as a church leader doesn’t, of itself, keep me close to Jesus. Anyone can be a minister and become overwhelmed and lose their way. Putting on the outfit will never change that.


In truth, healthy, joyous, obedient ministry only flows from a direct, ongoing relationship with our Saviour. This will always be true. It is from the outflow of this relationship—and his work in our hearts—that we minister to others.


DANGER! FAKE MINISTRY AHEAD


The danger for some of us in ministry is that we are closer to my childhood idea. Instead of living joyfully from our connection with Jesus, we rely on the outfit. We know what’s expected and we have learned the skill set necessary to do the job. We can lead a service, counsel someone, preach a sermon, and we can do all these things while our spiritual life is cold and thin. We have enough ‘muscle memory’ to keep going through the motions.


Over time, however, these outward behaviours, these ‘shows of ministry’, will neither bless others nor be good for us. We will increasingly find that running on empty is damaging to our health, our relationships with others, and most of all our relationship with God. (It’s worth adding that our primary role at Living Leadership is to support leaders, and we are especially eager to support those who are struggling in their roles. If you feel like you’re running on empty, then do get in touch.


WARNING AND ENCOURAGEMENT


So, brothers and sisters, this is just a reminder that we neglect our own spiritual life at our peril. We underestimate the importance of our own spiritual life to the detriment of ourselves and of the people we serve. As it happens, I don’t wear any special outfit that marks me out as a pastor—unless you count check-shirts! Instead, I am clothed with something far more important—righteous robes I don’t deserve and the full armour of God.


You are too.


So enjoy your outfit, and be thankful it’s not lycra. I’ve heard it can chafe 😉. The clothes we wear, the ones that really matter, are a gift from our gracious God. And remember that these beautiful clothes—our righteous robes—come with an undeserved new status: beloved child of God. So, whilst I cannot promise certainty, I can assure you of something much more important. When you delight in your Saviour, when he's the wellspring of your life, you will find a source of security and joy that will power your ministry.


For the Lord is your Rock, your strong tower, your fortress.


Whether you happen to wear a cassock or lycra on Sunday . . . or not.

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