There is an inverse correlation between how busy we are in church and our opportunities to connect with those outside the church.
This summer, I intentionally freed up my schedule, took a break from teaching classes, and put "walking the neighborhood" on my weekly calendar.
Such a practice had at least three results. First, I got to know my own neighborhood better. Second, it brought me into contact with neighbors, some of whom now attend our congregation. Third, since I blogged about it, many in our congregation thought more intentionally about mission, walking the neighborhood, and community ministry. I know this because they told me so.
This fall I created a very different schedule. I've been teaching four classes per week (a theology course at Nightbird Books, two bible studies, and a study of the Augsburg Confession with high schoolers). As a result, two evenings per week are fully booked with classes, and my days are full of other kinds of preparations, meetings, visits, and rehearsals.
I love my job, and I love both of these patterns of spending time. It's thrilling to teach classes like these and have willing participants. In fact, while in seminary I would have told you my primary calling was to teach, and so hosting a slate of classes like this is, in some ways, like a dream fulfilled.
However, here's my confession. I miss the summer, and the chance to do theology not as a classroom and book discussion, but as ethnographic studious presence with my neighbors. I don't think I ever would have thought this was true ten years ago, but now I actually think I'm called more to be out and about than in and within.
Of course, the metriopathic way is best. Pastors need to strike a balance that works for them. I teach classes in order to help form our members in faith and equip them for the work of ministry. That's important. But if I'm not out modeling what it is that equipping is equipping them for--ministry with their neighbors--then I've left the most important aspect out.
Not to put to fine a point on it, but Jesus knew the Scriptures really well. However, what is recorded in Scripture about Jesus, mostly, is that he spent time with people, walking and talking and visiting their homes.
And praying on mountains and other remote places.
Paul knew the Scriptures, but he spent time building tents with others and talking in public places. He spent time on boats and traveling. He wrote letters to communities he was currently distant from.
If I design too many "internal" events for our congregation, then I even invite our membership into the same pattern of "in and within" that I myself am concerned about. Most lay people are natively out and about more than I am, unless we over program.
I have an opportunity this spring to restructure a little bit, and I plan to do so. I'm coordinating a 5k race for the school, and I'm keeping my eye open for volunteer opportunities with non-profits I care about. I also plan to get out and walk more (walking in spring in Arkansas is a little cooler than August, I've learned).
In other words, I need to do less in order to do more, and I need to disconnect in one way in order to connect in another way.