Thoughts and talks with Joel on the Mission – and the Mission of the Church: Part II

…If you view the Church as a crop that has to be planted, cultivated, protected and harvested, as well as providing the seeds for other crops, you’ll also hold to the interpretation of the Apostle Paul’s metaphor of 1 Cor. 3:6 “one planting and one watering but God giving the increase;” that the Church is only a collection of people – which often then becomes more of a thing that has to be planted and cared for, and the particular people as potential contributors or threats to the group.

As the Pastor of this plural entity you’ll also probably be concerned about what kind of people come to you – come to the Church. That is, people who can contribute or people who may threaten the Church or drain it’s resources. As the pastor you’ll be excited and feel blessed by people who have prominent positions, education and resources and be taxed (if not actually discouraged) by those who come with “problems.”

Likewise you’ll be discouraged when people leave because they can no longer support the Church, no longer stand with you and the other members in growing and protecting this plural entity that is the mission or parish. And probably feel at least a little relieved when the problem people move on.

If however you interpret the Apostle’s teaching to be talking about not a thing but individual people and the purifying, therapeutic, healing faith in Jesus Christ within the heart of people – then you will see the Church and the role of the Church and people very differently.

You will not see a thing, a building or field – you will see souls. And if you see souls you will ultimately see the reality of the Church as the body of Jesus Christ. And these souls, unlike the building and the resources and everything associated with them, will live forever. And the state and condition in which that soul that has come to you will live forever will depend on the state of his/her soul when they leave this life – when they leave your care. It doesn’t matter why they have come to you any more than it mattered to the Good Samaritan why the man on the side of the road was injured. God has brought them to you to care for their souls.

It doesn’t matter what resources they have or what they can do for the mission or parish any more than it mattered to the Good Samaritan if the wounded man had the money to pay for his care and convalescence. It’s not about us, it’s not about a thing – it’s about a soul in need of healing God has brought to us in exactly the same way he brought the wounded man to the Good Samaritan.

As is seen in so much Christianity today – of which Orthodoxy sadly doesn’t seem to an exception, success is measured by large buildings and large programs and lots of people.

The therapist of souls however is concerned only about those things as they facilitate the healing process – which they certainly can do. The Good Samaritan brought the wounded man to the best facility he could afford. The difference is not necessarily in what the therapist has to work with, in terms of buildings and programs and numbers, but what he uses them for…Are they for the healing of  souls or self preservation and perpetuation. Is the “thing” the end or is the soul the end.

To the shepherd of souls success is not part of the paradigm – rather, it’s his faithfulness to the calling. Buildings, programs, numbers are only as relevant as they are relevant to the healing of souls – his first and then those God brings to him. As has been said to me by a very wise man: ”you cannot give what you do not have.” The therapist of souls will always be concerned with the health of his own soul because it is from this health that he will administer the therapy to the souls of others.

For a decade I watched my mentor interact with every person he came in contact with (or very nearly so) as a soul that he could potentially help or harm. Likewise, for all of his Orthodox life he has been completely comfortable (still is at 86 yeas old) doing the daily Matins and Vespers services alone if no one shows – which used to often be the case…It’s not a waste, it’s providing him the means, the health, to give to others when they do come. “success” is replaced with faithfulness to do the services and do them in repentance – which is the basis of their efficacy.

In exactly the same way, in my personal journey without a single exception, time and again (for over fifteen years), my spiritual father has guided me by either giving or withholding his blessing, with silence as much as with words, exclusively as it relates to the healing of my soul. He would no more think to protect or advance the mission or parish at the expense of my soul any more than the Good Samaritan thought about anything other than the care of the wounded man.

This is the vision I’ve experienced in the care for my soul from these men. This is what Joel wanted to experience in the services and therapy of the Church this summer; as well as to work with me to lay a foundation of therapy for others. I think he would say he accomplished the former – I know he accomplished the latter.  We came to the conclusion as we reflected on the work we did together that the mission is only as relevant as it heals our souls and provides the context for us to work to heal others.

This is why we, for the most part, have been fine for the last several weeks mostly doing the services alone…Just as we have been excited by the souls that God has brought our way. The numbers, the buildings, our ideas and programs are only as relevant as they are to the souls that will be cared for. But that’s easy to say – as with most things the “doing” is going to be much, much more difficult.