Even though I love my new work, there are days in which I miss being an active part of a faith community. As I continue to think and write about twenty-four years of parish ministry, I easily engage the moments of sheer joy. The common denominator for these moments is lives changing in the good news of Jesus Christ. These moments were both corporate and personal moments of change.
I remember being part of a faith community that helped build a home for a young woman and her children. The joy of the transformation of that experience continues to touch my life with the hope that life can be different. I recall the joy of a faith community that helped a homeless man leave the streets for new life in an apartment, regular work, and a new family called church. His life radically changed, and his joy touched countless people. I remember people coming to faith in Jesus Christ, and I can still feel the water of those baptisms on my hands. And I remember people coming back to faith after many years of wandering in the desert.
As I reflect on the joy surrounding all these moments in which life changed for people, I realize that the main thing in all these moments is God's transforming and forgiving love in Jesus. This love is our main thing! Gabe Lyons has written an excellent book, The Next Christians, in which he writes about the "first things" and "second things" in our lives. As people of faith, the "first thing" in our lives is this transforming and restoring relationship with God. The "second things" have to do with styles of worship, church polity, programs, and serving the community.
The problem we face in the church is we have a tendency to make the "second things" "first things!" If our relationship with God, through faith in Jesus, is the "first thing," then our worship, church polity, programs, and service will be filled with a vitality and joy that will spill into our communities. But if the "second things" become the "first things," then our ministry will lack direction and we will lead people into burdensome activity that lacks joy.
When Jesus is the "first thing," Jesus' way will become our way and faith sharing and social justice will run deeply in our lives. The Apostle Peter writes, "Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you're living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy" (I Peter 3:15). So, what if this faith of ours was never meant to be something that is added to the rest of our lives, but is actually meant to change us from the inside out, so that we live our real and lasting lives for the restoration of the world?
Maybe that's the shift we're beginning to make; Instead of being a part of our lives, Jesus is becoming more and more who we are. The work will be hard, but we will experience joy.