This past week Renee and I were at Camp Crestfield where I was the chaplain. Each week at Crestfield an ordained pastor from Pittsburgh Presbytery is present to lead devotions for the staff as well as to work with the staff in the planning of the evening worship services.
A few really cool things went on. The first was to see some of the same staff who Renee and I worked with two summers ago and to see how they’ve grown. It was also really cool to see some of the campers who I had in my groups two years ago who were there again this week.
Renee and I also had the chance to really relax for the first time in a while. As much as I love my job, when I’m here I am focused on it nearly all the time and it seems I am either (1) doing something (2) trying to relax from doing something. I actually did a great deal of reading this past week, which I haven’t been able to do in a while. I also had a ton of fun taking part in activities with the various family groups and leading Vespers in the evening was a great experience as well.
In any event, Crestfield was once again a great experience for the both of us and I can hardly wait until next year to go back.
Do not ask me why I didn’t realize this until tonight… but when I share my testimony/faith story, I talk about how I left the world of science and technology in order to follow God’s call into ministry. But, that’s actually not true…
Really all that happened was that my hobby become my profession and my profession became my hobby. Originally I was going to be a computer geek at work with church as my hobby. Now I’m a church geek at work with technology as my hobby.
Last week Emergent Pittsburgh hosted Ian Mobsby for two events – one focused on worship and the other focused on the Trinity and the structure of the church.
The event on worship was a nightmare for me in many ways. My personality type (Myers-Briggs) contains an ST – Sensory Thinker, as opposed to Intuitive – Feeler. I sense that if you did a poll of people at the event on Monday night you’d find that the majority of people were intuitive – feelers, and that’s to be expected. I sense that many of those who are interested in things “emergent” tend to be more the intuitive – feeling type. Anyway…
One of the things that Ian talked about was how worship, as opposed to being an attempt to satisfy God with a response, is a formative experience for people. I’ve observed in my own ministry that what people draw the most from are the lessons in which they experienced something – when they felt a real sense of God’s presence. The problem is, as someone firmly grounded in the Neo-Orthodox tradition, I have been taught to tremble in fear at the thought of relying on experience (and with a lot of justification, even if I do say so myself). However, I’ve come to articulate something that I think gives experience its rightful spot.
The role of Christian leaders is to prepare people for, lead people in, and help people interpret spiritual experiences.
This may seem self-evident, but I think the preparation and interpretation part are really important. At Youth Specialties in 2006 Kenda Dean interpreted the story of the calling of Samuel by pointing out that while it was Samuel who heard God, he needed Eli to tell him that it was God’s voice. I think this is a good way to look at contemplative ministry. Much of experiential worship tends to be individualistic – while the whole community may take part, usually they are silent activities. There is nothing wrong with this – but it is important that others in the community help each other interpret what they experienced.
Everything we do in ministry is essentially (or should be anyway) a spiritual experience. But contemplative experiences are especially valuable because they take the emphasis off the “pastor” or “teacher” or “leader”. The leaders become facilitators or guides, rather than communicators of truth. It gives the Holy Spirit space to work and for people to hear the Spirit speaking in shear silence. Personally I know that I am far more relaxed leading contemplative experiences than I do when I’m in a more traditional “teaching” role. As opposed to relying on authority of a leader, contemplative exercises allow people to experience God’s presence for themselves.
Prepare, Lead, Interpret.