Living Your Faith At Work

“Religion and Politics” are the two things we don’t talk about in public. Why? because they matter. Because our convictions are often deeper than intellect, and thus difficult to articulate at times.

What are your experiences of faith and work overlapping? Where have they been good? Where difficult or frustrating, even painful? How would you want things to be different if you were more consistent at living your faith at work?

This conversation will include:

  • Why are you engaging this topic? Are you…
  • Challenges in this endeavor
  • TALK – One good approach to this or any sensitive topic… – Tell, Ask, Listen, Know
  • Decide what aspects of your faith/ /spirituality/ will receive your attention.
  • How can any career/job become a vocation, “a calling”?

Contact me to schedule this overview presentation in your organization or for coaching to help you to deeply integrate your faith/religion/spirituality/core values into every area of your life and work.

Ministry of Spiritual Direction

(written as part of my application to the Perkins’ Certification in Spiritual Direction Program)

Scripture is filled with stories of people who serve as guides. Moses guides the people from Egypt to Canaan. John the Baptist directs the gaze of his followers saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” Jesus says, “Follow me…” Paul says, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” The spiritual life is about moving in a direction – toward deeper experience of our life embraced by God. As the stories in the Old and New Testaments suggest, this journey is one of twists and turns, peaks and valleys, dead ends and glorious vistas.

The journey toward oneness with God is simple, but not easy. Our lives are filled with competing claims from within and without. As Paul writes of his own experience (Romans 7) we hear the struggle of one who is sorting out the right path from the various options, seeking to make sense of powerful compulsions to choose this or that path – and he admits that he fails regularly, though not every time.

During his own ministry we do not see Paul humbly seeking the guidance of any human. He admits to having been brought up at the feet of the Rabbi Gamaliel (Acts 22:3) and to having traveled to Arabia and returned to Damascus, where he had previously literally been led by Ananias while Paul’s eyes were still covered with scales (Galatians 1:17). In this we see some evidence that Paul had those whom he considered wise guides in his spiritual journey, first in Judaism, and later in his early formation as a Christian. He even admits to surreptitiously meeting with Peter (and briefly with James) in Jerusalem without coming before the whole Jerusalem council of Christian elders (Galatians 1:18).

These examples illustrate some of what I understand spiritual direction to be. Spiritual direction begins with the premise that we are on a transformative spiritual journey, one made easier when we are helped by others who bring insights and knowledge to which we lack access otherwise. As the biblical journey stories demonstrate, this process is not a quick one, but is marked by seasons of days or years of exile, of fasting, paring down, chosen or forced deprivation, so that the participants might come to rely less on temporal supports and more on the eternal Spirit. It is noteworthy that in these stories some choose their guide while for others the guide seems actively chosen by God. Perhaps this apparent distinction is simply one of awareness and perception – in reality we are choosing, and God is choosing, simultaneously. Either way, or both, spiritual direction involves one being led, and one leading. Even when practiced in community, this one-on-one relationship is still primary in the direction experience. A group of peers may come together for spiritual support on the journey, but it is difficult for me to envision how several people gathered together could effectively direct one another. This would represent too many voices muddling things rather than moving us toward the clarity we seek in the midst of an already existent cacophony.

The nature of this directive relationship and the resources brought to bear will vary based upon the background of the participants. Christian spiritual direction will necessarily be in conversation with the Christian Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Along with this will come the “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) found through the Jewish and Christian theological and spiritual traditions. I personally am drawn to the Ignatian tradition and have worked with spiritual directors from that perspective. Among contemporary writers, Merton and Nouwen and Foster are primary for me. Spiritual direction will often present new authors or traditions to the directee, but this needs to be done with sensitivity and respect for where that person stands now and from whence she has come and how. The role of these authors is often to point us toward God with new language, articulating insights we may approach but cannot put in words. They are perhaps, like the “Road to Emmaus” story illustrates (Luke 24), walking companions who open the scripture to us so that our hearts burn within us.

Spiritual direction also must honor the diversity within the Christian community. Directors will each have personal spiritual practices that resonate deeply – these may or may not connect for a particular directee. Part of the early relationship is coming to understand these differences and determining whether a productive relationship can be established that supports the person seeking direction. If I as a mainline protestant lack knowledge of or appreciation for Pentecostal traditions, for instance, it may be very difficult for me to offer direction to someone who comes from and still feels deeply rooted to such a way of understanding God and self in the world. If the directee and I are both are open, this could be a wonderful learning experience for us.

For some, openness to other religious and spiritual traditions provides additional resources and companions for the journey. Much wisdom is to be found beyond Christianity and Judaism in Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, African and American spiritualities, to name a few. It may be that these are brought into the direction process by the directee who has a casual interest or a deep sympathy for the history and culture from which those beliefs and practices arise. The director will want to help the directee listen for what is life-giving and redemptive in those traditions and seek connections with the broad and diverse river of Christian faith and spirituality.

As an ordained pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a natural part of my vocation is offering spiritual direction to parishioners and others in the community. As I preach and teach and interact with people around town, they often have occasion to seek further conversation in support of their spiritual journey. It may begin with a conversation in person or by email regarding something that was stirred by the sermon. Or they may simply reach a point in their life when it is time to begin another part of the climb up the “seven story mountain”. As people pass through transition times – adolescence to young adult hood, beginning a family, having a family disrupted by divorce or death or other crisis, career change, “midlife crisis”, “empty nest syndrome”, retirement, declines from old age – they often want to reinterpret the place of God and self in the world through a spiritual lens. This work is supported by spiritual direction.

My own calling draws me toward people who are asking questions, who understand themselves on a journey which will not find its final destination in this life. I believe that mystery, paradox and ambiguity are inherent in the spiritual life, and exist within the Christian scriptures. “Systematic Theology” has always seemed something of an oxymoron to me – how can we presume to systematize time-bound human words about a God whose ways are not our ways and thoughts are not our thoughts, existing both within and outside of time? How can we summarize the theology of the bible in pithy phrases when the bible itself represents a long and difficult development of theological understanding from a pantheistic “our God is the strongest among the many gods and everyone goes to sheol when they die” to a variety of New Testament understandings of “eternal life and bodily resurrection through the grace of the one and only God, beside whom there is no other, who by the way is not just one but three-in-one”? God’s name as given to Moses is like a Zen Koan – “I am what I am” or “I will be what I will be” and the very notion of the trinity is shrouded in incomprehensible mystery. These instances seems to be to suggest a God who actively resists our efforts at systematizing, categorizing, codifying, and cataloguing for all time what is true and what is false, what is good and what is evil, who is redeemed and who is damned.

My own spiritual journey has very much been “working out [my] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) – well, perhaps not fear and trembling, but certainly awe and humility. I understand my call to ministry in general, and spiritual direction in particular, to be about supporting others who are on the journey. It is difficult to offer direction to people who don’t know they are lost, or who are not searching for a better path, or to walk the path they are on with peace and grace and hope. I’m reminded of the scene where Jesus says to the Pharisees, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (Mark 2:17) I hear a note of irony in his tone – all of us are sick and sinners, it’s just that some (Pharisees) are oblivious to their own state and thus not receptive to what Jesus seeks to offer them. Similarly, spiritual direction can be offered, but not forced or coerced.

My ministry is marked by several characteristics which those around me recognize. Perhaps the first is the aforementioned openness to ambiguity. My anxiety is not raised by it, and so I am able to create a safe space for others to wrestle or rest, as they choose, until they find a place of equilibrium. This capacity of mine causes frustration for some in the midst of administrative processes in the church where people want to be told what to do and how, or just want to “make a decision already” without taking time for prayerful reflection and God’s unfolding revelation in the midst of the community. There certainly are times to direct by telling people what to do and how – generally spiritual direction is not one of them except at the very early periods, when new skills are called for. When asked to teach them to pray, Jesus offered his disciples a concrete and specific and simple response. Other times when speaking of the kingdom of God and life of the spirit he spoke in parable and metaphor filled with ambiguity and open to a diversity of interpretation.

Another practice of my ministry is what now is called coaching, a way of asking powerful questions and doing “appreciative inquiry” to help another person explore place and path. In my ministry I have always sought to accompany others and help them build their own capacities for life, faith and ministry – including ways of seeing and experiencing the spiritual in life. I think all life is spiritual, whether or not we recognize or embrace this reality. Part of spiritual direction is helping people to see with the eyes of the heart (Ephesians 1:18) to recognize God in the whirlwind and in the silence (1 Kings 19); to learn to ask, “Where is God and what is God doing?” This work of learning to think theologically is, I believe, an important strength that I bring to my work of spiritual direction.

Lastly, I would emphasize my work as a writer, and my ability to put into words what others are thinking but have trouble articulating. Whether in conversation or through poetry and essays, this skill offers, like other spiritual writers of present and past, new ways to view past and present experiences, along with a window into possible futures. Working toward the Certificate in Spiritual Direction will give me an opportunity to continue this work of reading, reflecting and writing within a community of likeminded sojourners.

In June I will begin the Doctor of Ministry Program at Perkins. My project direction is toward a “center for suburban spirituality” where people come together to practice spiritual formation, theological reflection, personal emotional and relational growth, and ministry discernment and development. This is a “beyond the church walls” kind of ministry that includes but is not limited to folks in a particular congregation – many of whom would currently classify themselves as “spiritual but not religious”. I’m interested also in what spiritual direction might mean among these folks. The work toward a Certificate in Spiritual Direction will complement and help strengthen my DMin experience, providing a different way of approaching these topics. Along the way I would hope also to be able to support my peers in the certificate program as we form a community during our time together, developing relationship as colleagues and as sisters and brothers in Christ.

Learning to serve the poor

When I was in college I was fortunate to serve as Mission Intern at a big-steeple downtown church. When people came to the door seeking financial support, I was their liaison with the church. I had afternoon office hours and a monthly budget – I always exceeded both. Each month my supervisor would meet with me, show me the budget and how much I had given away, point out the overage and grimace in a way that expressed compassionately, “This can’t happen next month.” “I know,” I’d smile back, both of us recognizing that it probably would, and it did. I also coordinated the church’s running of a Saturday Soup kitchen, using the model known as Second Helpings – where restaurant food is collected, deep frozen, and reserved to those in need. A small group of us from a campus ministry, full of the idealism and indefatigable spirit of the young, cornered the senior pastor of the above mentioned church and said, “We’re going to start a soup kitchen, and we’d love it if you all help.” Without missing a beat the pastor responded, “We’ll do it at our place!” and sure enough, over time that’s exactly what happened.

These experiences, along with time spent as a volunteer coordinator for a Habitat for Humanity chapter, left me frustrated. I kept feeling like we were putting on band-aids, doing triage, but not helping people to address their foundational issues that put and kept them in need of help. I wrote my senior thesis on “The Socialization of the Homeless: A Call for Change” wherein I argued that the homeless in general, and the poor more broadly considered, need more than for someone to hand them resources; they (like all of us) need to participate in a community of support where transformation can occur and inner capacities can be discovered and developed to their fullest capacity. This is also the argument made by Robert D. Lupton in TOXIC CHARITY: How churches and charities hurt those they help (and how to reverse it).

Dignity is a key theme for Lupton – he emphasizes maintaining and even enhancing the dignity of the poor through all policies, programs and practices intended to help alleviate poverty. This also results in heightened dignity-with-humility for those who serve – doing for is dehumanizing for those with power as well as those without. This focus on dignity then leads to numerous shifts or outright reversals. from “doing for” to “doing with”; from focus on need to focus on relationship; from emergency assistance to development assistance; from focus on meeting our needs to meeting the needs of those being served; from “charity to parity”; from “going on tourist mission trips” that displace local labor and leave little long term change to sending skilled community developers; from food pantry to food coop; from gentrification to re-neighboring; from “experts” leading to community leaders leading with “experts” (i.e. people with knowledge, skills, resources and networks) serving in support capacities. All of these shifts result in heightened dignity for all involved.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions”, a phrase oft used in literature and perhaps originating with Bernard of Clairvaux, certainly applies in this present context. Churches and charities (and governments and individuals) mean well. We need to look at the unintended consequences of our actions before we take them. We need to act in partnership and community with those being served. We need to develop opportunities for reciprocity wherever possible. We need to build on strengths while filling asset gaps.

I am also now fortunate to serve in a community where some people understand these premises and are seeking to develop community awareness while enacting policy and developing program. We have much to learn. Jesus called the adults around him to learn from the children; I think a parallel principle applies here – the poor have much to teach those who would want to help them. Needing help does not make one helpless – meeting needs unilaterally does.

Learning to Lead

Ever since I entered pastoral ministry I have struggled with the idea of self-as-leader. What does it mean for me to be a leader of a congregation? Who am I as a leader? What are my strengths and weaknesses for leadership? How do I lead with others whose roles are different? How do I hold my own self-understanding along side the expections others have of me?
My greatest anxieties and failures in ministry have been around these questions. The more I grow in my comfort with the questions themselves, become able to talk about them with others, and even draw some conclusions from them, the less anxious I become as a person and as a leader.
God called me, during college, to a vocation of Christian service and theological reflection. Over the years, it has seemed that God desires for me to live out that vocation in service to the church as incarnate in a local congregation, and thus far in pastoral staff positions. Unfortunately for all, for most of my adult life I have been growing into this with inadequate mentoring/ advising/ counseling/ coaching, and so have been in a default position of figuring things out as I go, which has left damage in my wake in my own life and in those around me. This was not my desire. I left seminary knowing that I needed mentoring as I had in college (but not during seminary, for the most part). In my first fulltime congregational ministry I sought out such mentoring, but received less than I hoped for or needed. Since then, I have been blessed to have colleagues and friends sow blessings of insight into my life and ministry sporadically and unsystematically.
Through CPE, PCS training, and my experience working with New Church Ministries as a Barnabas~Coach, I have grown in my skills at coaching myself, and in extending this ministry to others. While I was serving in Gladewater I received the following feedback about my PhD application to the University of Chicago, “You really come across as a resident theologian style of pastor more than a college professor.” “OK, Great!” I thought. “Let me in the program so I can receive more training as a theologian.” It was not to be. God, in divine wisdom, kept us in Texas, close to family and friends, and in an environment where I have been privileged to continue to minister and grow. In counseling several years later, I wrestled with the distinction I drew between a teacher and a leader – I felt called to be a teacher, or more accurately felt that to be my identity – “I am a teacher” – while I continued to think I heard congregations (and God?) calling me to be a ‘leader’, which seemed different.
Lately, I have been experiencing ‘effectiveness’ coaching and supervising ministry interns and others. I find this to be the most rewarding ministry I do, along side preaching. There are many things in congregational ministry that I can do well because of some combination of innate ability and learned skill. While I am doing them, I even find some enjoyment in them. They do not, however, make my heart sing. They are not a part of my calling as I understand it.
I think we (institutional mainline church, at the very least) fall into a trap of defining a particular staff position as a set of tasks, and then ‘hire’ a person to do those tasks, with little conversation about gifts and calling. The result is significant frustration among staff and laity alike. It just now occurs to me that a part of my problem in Midland (where I served 14 months as an associate minister just out of seminary) was my inability to recognize this, and my inability to see what the life and hope for my ministry could have been as a result. The personnel committee was absolutely right that G. had gifts and abilities, and right that God probably wanted him to use them in congregational life and ministry. What we all failed to then do was to say, “Therefore, Kendrick, let’s reimagine your role here to create space for others’ gifts to be exercised and for you to thrive in the use of your gifts!” OMG! What pain so many people have suffered because of that one simple failure! I was clear from the outset that I really didn’t want to be a youth minister – though I was happy to have that as a part of my portfolio, I felt called to much more than that – to experience the breadth of congregational ministry. If we could have given ourselves space, we could have gotten there, and I would possibly still be living in Midland. God has certainly used the results of that failure to bring new growth in me and in the congregations and communities I have served. Which doesn’t mean God willed that it happen that way- God would prefer, I believe, that we do things the easy way, but in our stubbornness we refuse, and so God’s will is done in the redeeming of our suffering and failure to diving glory and for the furthering of God’s kingdom.
So, the challenge before me is to grow in the ways God has SHAPEd me for service to Christ, Church, Community and Kingdom.
My personal, specific calling is to:

  • participate in a community envisioning the future for the congregation and community, drawing us to be the Kingdom of God
  • think, write and speak theologically for church and community,
  • coach and direct others toward spiritual growth in life and ministry.

My gifts, passions, abilities, personality and experiences have and are preparing me more each day for this work. When I step outside these roles, I disrupt someone else’s path of doing their ministry, and fail to thrive in my own. Thus the Body, as Paul speaks, is not healthy because each part is not healthy nor is each part working fully as God intends (Ephesians 4:16).

My hope and desire is that the more clearly I can speak these things among congregational leaders and the community at large, the more clarity we will all have about our various roles in the life of the church and how God desires us to live out our faith together. A dear friend was able to say to me just recently “Teaching is my ministry” and thus she was able to say that she therefore needed to say no to various other ministry opportunities. What an empowering gift.

As I grow closer to health and maturity in my own personal faith and the living out of it in ministry, I feel more alive. I am more at peace, and thus better able, I think, to create a space around me where others can also make this journey and move toward peace. I believe, as I said above, that as I am able and willing to be open about these things with others around me, a community of knowing in common will grow toward maturity, with each person living into their own personal, specific calling from God for life and ministry.

To you, my reader, I extend a warm invitation to enter this conversation with me.