I was reading in Luke's gospel about the disciples of John and their errand to see Jesus. John sent them with a specific request to find out if Jesus was the one for whom they had been waiting or not. In his response, Jesus speaks about John as the greatest man who has ever lived. Quite an accolade. But Jesus goes on to say that even the person considered to be the east in the kingdom is greater than John. How does that work?
Well, it's clearly not a put down of John, Jesus wouldn't do that to him, and equally true is that it is not an aggrandisement of insignificance either. Perhaps the point is rather simple to state but hard to grasp and apply. Perhaps the point is that significance in the kingdom doesn't come from ministry position or the lack of it.
For twenty years I've been a leader of a congregation. Sometimes I've felt like the leader, but I've always understood my role as being part of a leadership team not the only leader. Sometimes it's been hard to convince the congregation of that principle. Twelve months ago I gave up trying and although I sought a painless way out, in the end we went through probably the most painful time of our lives in ministry (and believe me we've had a lot of painful moments over the years). Since December I've preached once and I can probably count the number of times I've been in church on one hand. Scary when you think of the hours it consumed before then.
I can't say I ever felt any great sense of significance during those twenty years, so its's not that that I miss. In fact I seem to miss very little. But being a minister at least gave me a sense of purpose and even value. It gave me a way of measuring my contribution to the kingdom and that's something I no longer have.
I don't have an uplifting message of self-discovery to conclude this ramble of thoughts. It's a bit like a joke without a punchline, a morality tale without a moral. I guess you'd call it a work in progress as I continue to work out what it means to be a follower of Jesus without portfolio. I have a dream, a vision of something that's way beyond my ability to make reality, and I'm humbled to still be asked to serve families at a time of loss and grieving.
Have I lost my sense of significance? Well not really, I never had one in the first place! What I think I've lost is a sense of direction and purpose, or maybe I've gained one because my purpose and direction is no longer determined by the constraints of what has been defined historically as ministry.
Who knows. I'm just glad that even if I'm the least one of whom Jesus was speaking, I have a place of significance in the kingdom of God that far outweighs my apparent significance in this life.