I love people and have always found myself gravitating to be in the company of others. So, in a way, ministry life is perfect. I have that opportunity in front of me all the time. I love the dynamics of people in and out of the home, connections with extended family, interacting with those who are so different to me and learning from those in churches connected to ours.
At the risk of blowing my own trumpet – I’m good at it too. By the grace of God, I often find that people are restored and empowered as they spent time with me. I am by no means perfect, but God has gifted me with people. It’s what I’m called to. However, as I have walked out this calling over the last ten years I have also realised that my greatest strength can also be my greatest weakness.
At university I used to have this huge rucksack. It would fit all my clothes and valuables in for me to travel the regular journey from Sheffield to Newcastle. It was great, because I could pack it full and collect all my belongings together, but unfortunately it was so big that I would struggle to stand up with the weight of it on my back!
It has been like this for me with leading people. My compassion and longing for them to know they are loved has fuelled me to effectively collect people in my rucksack. Every now and again the weight of what I have collected causes me to struggle to stand. I have regularly found that I’ve over committed to people, promised too much, and then under delivered. Leaving me feeling even worse.
One of things I have had to learn is that even though I love people I don’t have an unending capacity for them!
Then again neither did Jesus.
From scripture, it would appear that Jesus invested the majority of his time into the twelve disciples. Yes, He interacted with crowds, but His primary involvement was with twelve and even within that twelve there were three who were closest to Him. Three who he chose to take into environments to create faith. Three who experienced the incredible power of the transfiguration. Three who eventually became the pillars of the first churches.
This offends me. I don’t like the idea of exclusivity or inner circles. In fact if I’m honest, I have spent most of my life both longing to be part of them and being really annoyed by them. That’s because one of my core values (that I owe to my earthly Dad) is the deep belief in the equality of humanity. Everyone is valuable. Everyone can teach me something. No-one should be excluded. I believe this core value comes from the heart of God. So, this creates a tension for me. The pattern that Jesus used for his time and investment into people and this deep core belief that almost seems opposed to it – How do I marry up the two?
To be honest when I first started to encounter this teaching on the ways of Jesus I was so offended I didn’t follow it and I just carried on collecting people in my rucksack. God had to take me to the depths of exhaustion for me to realise that following His ways in this area of my life was the only path I could follow to sustain leading as a healthy missional disciple.
In Philippians 2 we read that Jesus gave up everything to really become like us. That means He gave up His heavenly ability to be with everyone at all times. He took earthly capacity empowered by the Holy Spirit. Now don’t get me wrong His earthly capacity was still pretty awesome. There were days on ministry where they didn’t eat and the disciples were totally exhausted and yet Jesus kept going and said that “His food was to do the will of the Father”. BUT looking at the ways of Jesus and the general patterns that he lived we see that he chose twelve with whom He could really ‘share life with’ and three who were trusted and invested in to a greater level. Though Jesus loved everyone equally, the investment of access and time were not given equally to all who knew or followed him. I think God has designed all of us like this deliberately – simply looking at how He has placed us in biological families demonstrates this principle.
One helpful tool I have learnt to adopt to try and mirror this pattern of Jesus is ‘orbits’. I try to imagine my life having three concentric circles creating an orbit system around me, similar to how other objects in the universe orbit around each other. I have chosen to prayerfully assess who I should be in each orbit with in each season. Close, medium or long. I try and think through who it is that the Lord, not pressure or expectation, is calling me particularly to be with? To really invest in and give time to? I encourage others to do the same with their lives, empowering them to be proactive in their relationships.
To think that I can provide everything for everyone is simply unrealistic, and not in line with Jesus’ lifestyle. My “boundary” has become a helpful reminder for whom I am investing in and saying ‘yes’ to, rather than feeling like I say ‘no’ all the time.
Everyone has some kind of access to my life, I have been given a flock to shepherd, but not everyone has the same amount of access. I just can’t give that. Nobody can! In accepting my God-given, yet limited, earthly capacity I have actually found that it gives the space to release those I invest in to take up their place in leading, loving, and investing in others in our community.
I still wrestle over this. I’m still not comfortable with the challenge that following the ways of Jesus brings to the core of how I relate to people. But, I am committed to following Jesus’ way and trust that choosing to invest my capacity where he asks me to means I will see His supernatural shepherding of the Church.
Andy and Annwen have 3 children, Caleb (12), Toby (10) and Elly (6)