A Spirituality of Measuring
The need to measure: Leadership as movement and growth
One of the greatest privileges of leadership is to see and bring something that did not exist into being and life. To then see that new thing move forward, impacting and changing the lives of others is arrestingly beautiful. Then equally as important is looking at things that already exist, to see their potential and move them into more of what they might be. And perhaps the greatest privilege but the hardest thing of all is to know that the end of something has come. It is time to stop, for what Henry Cloud calls a ‘necessary ending’. Some things need to die so that new things can come to life.
A fundamental dynamic of leadership is, therefore, to give movement to things. To take stock of where something is and then see where it might move to. To then chart a course and make way for motion into something more, better, different. But it is not just about travel and direction to a new horizon, and location. Movement is also about growth and development. This is the need to discern the fecundity of a place and time and the actions that might sow, water and lead to development. Sometimes the most significant movement towards something more is where we already are. Leadership is therefore about conception, birth, creation, growth, maturation and the ‘necessary endings’ of things that fertilise the soil for others who come after us. In a Christian register, leadership is to be understood as a mode of spiritual formation with practices of participation in life, death and resurrection.
When my wife and I planted a church, it went from not existing to coming into being, growing and developing. I can recall, the few years before it’s planting, the many hours of commuting to my work and job in London, praying, imagining, and journaling about the church I hoped might come into existence. Now as I write this some twenty-five years since those conceptions, that church is alive and still growing. It is full of adults, children and youth, new Christians, maturing Christians, older Christians, and saints who have ended their journey with us and have passed into eternity with Jesus. This church that did not exist and now does, impacts our local community with extensive care for the poor, engages in mission locally, nationally and internationally. It trains, disciples, prays and offers care and healing for many hundreds of people. If it ceased to exist, it would leave an enormous hole in the fabric of our community and beyond. The instantiation of that church, it’s planting, and growth took many moments in time of movement and growth. And along the way, many many things have had to die, for it to come to life. It has felt like many times, that it might kill me. Indeed much about me has had to embrace many necessary endings.
Feedback and Measuring: The problem of measuring rightly
Fundamental to the conception, planting and developments of my church, were acts of measuring. For measuring is how we ascertain the current condition, potential and to change the state of something. We cannot know if something has moved and grown or indeed died unless we measure something. Measuring is fundamental to movement and growth. I remember like many people, my grandparents marking changes in my height by a mark on the living room door frame. Or how my grandmother could put her arms all the way around me, talking about the day when I would be too big for her arms to make that enclosure. I remember the bittersweet day when that moment came, and she declared me to be a no longer a boy but a young man. I also remember the trips to the shoe shop and the devices to measure my feet, and the strange experience of being told they had grown to a new size. I always and only asked one question - how much bigger will my feet grow? Until one day I was told my feet would grow no more. My childhood was ending, but something new was upon me. Measuring is how we know we have grown, moved and arrived at something and somewhere.
Margaret Wheatley knows something we have all experienced, that what we measure, why and how is not straightforward. We often measure the wrong things in the wrong way, and mistake measuring for behaviours and having done the right thing. To measure something does not mean we are close to what is really moving something, or causing something to grow, or on the other hand causing things to stagnate and die. Even the best measurements do not make for doing the right things better. Leaders can have access to the best measures and still undertake the wrong actions with wrong behaviours.
Margaret Wheatley explains:
But measurement is critical. It can provide something that is essential to sustenance and growth: feedback. All life thrives on feedback and dies without it. We have to know what is going on around us, how our actions impact others, how the environment is changing, how we're changing. If we don't have access to this kind of information, we can't adapt or grow. Without feedback, we shrivel into routines and develop hard shells that keep newness out. We don't survive for long.1
Wheatley alerts us to the difference between feedback and measurements. Feedback is the integration of measurements into a living system. Unless measuring is integrated into a more extensive process of feedback health and growth cannot take place. I have seen pastors whose poor behaviours lead to the decline and loss of people from their church. When faced with measurements of decline, they interpret those as God ‘pruning’ the church ready for growth. What is missing is a feedback process to see from those measurements that the pastor’s behaviours are leading to loss of growth and life. That there is something about the pastor that needs to die and find new life so that their church might see growth.
And pastors know all too well about some of the measures applied to them to assess how their leadership and ministry is going. There are the often inappropriate ones, that can lead to a slow unhealthy death to our passions for ministry. There are the soul-crushing measures some church members use, that can finally become the straw that breaks the camels back, for burnout, depression and worse. Martyn Percy has suggested that clergy having affairs are often acts of self-harm, akin to a soldier shooting themselves in the foot, to find a way out of the cycle of pain from unbearable expections.2
When the places within us that need healing converge with the wounding and poisonous measurements by some, the result can be a deep pain, like a toothache that grows deep within our souls. I am prone to being a workaholic. I like working hard, but I often deal with life by finding my value in working more and try to feel in control by working harder and longer. That stems from a childhood of escaping the chaos of my work shy and irresponsible parents. Like too many pastors I can end up working every day and many evenings for weeks on end, and all with a strict limit to the Sundays I can be away that most of my congregation do not face in their work life. I have often returned from much needed annual leave to receive the triangulated, and slightly passive aggressive ‘just to let you know’ update from someone. Of how ‘others’ were asking why I was away again, and how ‘some people’ think I always seem to be away. I just thought you’d like to know is the sign off on such ‘feedback’. The inferences and implications of that kind of measure are soul destroying. That I am not attending to my role fully and I am shortchanging members who pay my salary. What people often mean by that kind of comment is that at the occasional times they are around they expect me to be there, for them. The hurt that ensues in these interactions is due to their dysfunction interacting with much of mine. And the result can be me pressing into working even more and harder.
Emma Percy reminds also reminds us that pastors can never get right what we do and that what we do often make no sense to the rest of the world, most of the time.3 Pastors are supposed to be primarily occupied with God and his occupations. But what occupies me all too often becomes my false measures for life and ministry. My aspirations on my work commute twenty-five years ago were not dreams of overwork to allay my insecurities about people’s expectations. They were singularly focused on God and his future intentions through me. I wonder what God-given dreams preoccupied you in your early and genesis days for ministry. Have they similarly been pushed aside by preoccupations with things you never dreamt of?
So how do we, recover what originally occupied us for our occupation. Is there a way to understand why measuring is so often out of kilter, to retrieve a mode of measuring that brings the feedback we need for the life, death and resurrection God wants to multiply within us?
Admixtures & Avulsions: Why we measure wrongly
I have performance reviews annually, and actively seek out feedback on how I am doing in-between. Is what I am doing connected to the vision and mission I am hoping to lead? Is who I am and how I behave getting in the way of what God wants to do in and through me? I covet that feedback. Yet all too often my sense of worth defaults around what I have achieved and is less about how I have been transformed. All the things I think I have moved forward or helped grow, become the measures of my value and worth. There is an old adage - that we are not what we do, and a correlated one, that we are human beings, not human doers. We know the hoary tale of how no-one on their death bed said they wished they had spent more time at the office. Mind you when my house is overrun by returning children who I thought had reached escape velocity, I have often withdrawn to my office for some needed space and peace.
But this understanding of being and doing, while well intentioned is wrong. First, because it makes the mistake of separating doing from being and second because it devalues doing by over-prioritising being. It is such a western thing, to reduce things to binaries, and opposite and in this instance pit being against doing.
The truth is that in many ways I am very much what I do. For what I do is who I am and who I am is what I do. Being and doing are more like an admixture or perhaps even an emulsion, where two things that do not usually mix on their own become something else when vigorously stirred together. Like oil and water to make paint. Pastoral ministry can be the forceful beating and mixing that blends doing and being together. An emulsion results with which pictures are painted and things come to life. This contrasts with the avulsions we make of doing and being, as we unnecessarily tear them apart.
We make such unnecessary avulsions when we claim we are all about the people and not the numbers or vice versa. And we are prone over ontologising aspects of Christian life and being, that we don’t extend to the rest of life. ‘We are the Church’ is as inane as ‘I am my family’. To be a family is to do family, and to be the church is to have a related doing. The breaking apart of doing and being is often the ground from which measuring wrongly is generated.
Measuring is part of human life, to make meaning, find understanding, for growth and development. To measure my shoe size is to simultaneously get feedback on how I have grown or stopped growing in the rest of my life. The balance of a student loan, square footage and price of a house, and even number of people in a church tell us many things about doing and being.
Then we have the problem of measuring with the wrong measures. In particular, we face western consumer measurements, of wanting bang for our buck, value for money, getting what we paid for. These measures are perhaps the most pernicious and damaging for how pastors are assessed and how they assess themselves. Many of the most withering and enervating measurements I am on the receiving end of, stem from a consumer matrix. From the ‘I’m not getting fed’ to the ‘I don’t like the choice of doughnuts/cookies/cakes we have at our services’.
For we are measured and will be measured by God. All of us, not just pastors and leaders. God and Jesus tell us so at many times and in many ways. We are and will be judged and weighed, with an evaluation of what we did, how we did it and who we were while doing it. God went out of his way to let us know about this measuring and gave us feedback in his word as to how he will use this measuring. Do not be deceived, God will not be mocked by our own self-assessment, for we will indeed reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7). Jesus tells us many parables of measuring, of things that were lost, then found. Of multiplication and restoration. Of the number of loaves and fishes, the numbers of disciples who gave up following him and how many continued in pursuit. Matthew 7 is a chapter of such measurings and assessments from Jesus. We have planks and specks - judgements, Bread and Stones - worth, Narrow and Wide - qualification, True and False - according to reality or not, Wise and Foolish - safe and unsafe. It is painful to read how Peter who once rushed to pursue Jesus closely, ends up during the passion and crucifixion of Jesus, ‘following him at a distance’. The measure of physical distance between Jesus and Peter was the measure of the gap between Peter’s being and doing.
Quantifying and measuring have to take place around the Christian life, with assessments and judgements of those measures. Measuring is a spiritual issue and vital for this life and the one to come. So how do we measure well, as Jesus would have us do? I offer some responses, as reflections for a kind of spirituality of measuring. Something to map against what we do and are, that we can use to navigate better the landscape and dangers of measuring. And so to then perhaps move things, and grow things along with ourselves as they should be, and better know when some things have also come to an end.
I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. - Phil 3:11
Sensatus: The Register of Christian Measuring
When I was a much younger man, and studying for my theology degree, I learned about the Apostolic Fathers. These were the Christian theologians of the early church, who had been discipled by the twelve disciples of Jesus, the Apostles. Polycarp was one of the most memorable, not least because his name evoked associations with a fish but also because he was reckoned to be the last surviving person to know one of the apostles, as a disciple of John. Polycarp was only one step removed from touching Jesus - he knew the man who knew the man.
But he was also memorable, most of all, because of the graphic accounts of his martyrdom. In those accounts Polycarp prays and offers himself as a sacrifice, giving thanks for the privilege of being martyred. When the execution flames do not kill him, he is stabbed to hasten his death but bleeds so profusely that the flames are extinguished. And where others saw and smelt burnt flesh, some Christians saw and smelled baked bread, others saw gold, and others smelt fragrant incense. This was no trick of grief, or a transcending ability to see beyond burning flesh and ghastly smells. There was a real transmogrification of the gruesome into something precious, where a barbaric act became an act of worship. In the executioner's fire, this man’s lifetime of practising and experiencing the death and resurrection of Jesus was revealed. As the fire burned away his flesh, his real-life, hidden in Christ life was laid bare.
We all know there is nothing quite like the smell of freshly baked bread. For us as with Polycarp what smells strange to others, can be transformed into a welcome sensate reminder of a different reality. The losses of ministry are many, some bone-deep, some sharp and cutting, some a collection of never-ending papercuts. Nights of worry, the weariness of conflicts, barbs of caustic comments, soul-crushing betrayals, and the regular background of overwork, can press us into frayed, tattered, and lifeless beings. Or they can be our fresh baked bread and fragrant offering. There is a toll ministry takes on us, and should, as we live alongside and move into the spaces and places where people have come to the ends of themselves. Our bodies become the register for our leadership, carrying and experiencing things long before they are consciously understood in our minds. This is where we can if we are mindful of it, make up in our bodies the sufferings of Christ, sufferings that lead to resurrection experiences. We need to reflect on our embodied and incarnate experiences and discern how they point to and participate in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. There is within the Kingdom of God, a place where what seems to kill us in ministry can be turned into something precious.
So many of my friends, people who trained alongside me for ministry with dreams of changing the world, have been consumed and burned out by that ministry. Pastoral ministry is often a series of unprocessed griefs.4 Not processing them consumes us wrongly. I believe one day, my friends will, in the fire of resurrection, have the charred ruins of their ministry reignited. Their original hopes and dreams will be revealed as precious and eternal gold. I long for judgement day, to stand witness to their resurrection and smell the fragrant offering of their loss and its translation into new life. Pain and ignominy will become the candle wick that releases sweet-smelling incense, as they stand ablaze and in full view for eternity. But there is an opportunity to experience death and resurrection now, to process our griefs along the way. For our leadership, the moving of things, growth and lack thereof, can find its primary measure in this register, like Polycarp, of the life death and resurrection of Jesus.
Yet we live in a culture that knows nothing of grief, including our churches. In the western church, we seem to have no ability to cope with any loss/suffering, when our faith is primarily about processing loss and suffering supremely and it being transformed. The more prosperous we have become, the more we are surprised by loss and pain. The imaginations for consumer life are of perpetual escape. Escape from boredom, and escape from processing pain of any kind. Leisure, lifestyles, holidays and endless pursuits can distract us from our pain. Our pains have a master exit plan, for early retirement to somewhere like we have been on holiday. Until we realise we take our pain with us and it builds up until it finally overwhelms all distractions and locations. For Christians, the primary imagination for life is not escaping to Eden, but for Eden to come to Golgotha, in the midst of the worst we and others might face.
I was at a 24/7Prayer conference and heard a beautiful young woman, share her story of the loss and death of her mother to cancer. This young woman could have used her financial inheritance upon her mother’s death to buy a house and move into normal aspirations for life. Instead, she took it all and used it in South Africa to fund a community space where drug addicts could find Jesus, process their pain and experience new life. It was breathtakingly captivating to see that level of participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. It was like catching a glimpse of when Mary poured her inheritance, her jar of perfume over the feet of Jesus. This young woman's pain and loss we poured out to literally bring Eden to a Golgotha in South Africa. And as she shared, she was radiant, transformed, an inner beauty and resurrection vitality eclipsing her youth. This processing of pain is our birthright as Christians, it is available to all of us, yet so often it remains unclaimed. To be a Christian is to as Oliver O’Donovan reminds us, ‘recapitulate’ the Christ event until the parousia. In other words to daily participate in and experience the life, death and resurrection of Jesus until he returns. It is a beautiful story to imagine, retell and extend with our experience of it.
False imaginations: The wrong things pastors often rest in
What do we rest in, what does our imagination take flight to, to sustain us when things are difficult and painful? That reveals what we really think life is about, our real measures and what we measure life by. My imaginations might not be for holidays and early retirement, and I can then fool myself into believing Jesus is the measure for my life. But if I am honest, He all too often is not. If I pause and ask, when do I rest, what measures need to be in place for me to be at peace, something more insidious is revealed? If our church had more income, more people, more new Christians, fewer conflicts, higher Sunday attendance, then I could rest a little more. Then I could be secure and at peace. These are the false imaginations that capture the minds of many a pastor. Perversely, the inverse is true, there are pastors with a kind of reverse snobbery who delight in having fewer people and less money as a measure of validity. That is just the other side of the same coin.
Most pastors and Christian leaders I know, start measuring because they want to see fruit, and growth and impact. New Christians, new disciples, people serving on teams, people in midweek small groups. These and related things require measuring to know if efforts and actions are giving rise to the hope for goals and growth of those. Things we want to see move and grow as part of the Kingdom are so important we should measure them and also weep over the lack, and unused potential we see.
But it is a short step to the size and success of something becoming the basis for our identity and security. I am a church planter. Church planters, always compare their church with the size of others. What size their church is and how fast it has grown, or not as the case may be. I might take a false comfort that my church is unusually large compared to local and UK average church sizes. I can at the same time feel a failure being part of a church movement where the size of my church barely registers against other behemoth like churches.
Measuring the size and growth of a church is vital, to church planting. Yet too often planters end up reaching fewer people than they hoped for, failing in their aims because they are unwilling to engage in feedback around what their measures might tell them. Then I have seen others grow quickly for somewhat dubious reasons, the numbers helping them turn a blind eye again to what is really happening. Small and slow-growing can be healthy, or it can be the opposite. Larger and fast growing can likewise be healthy or something unsustainable fueled by dangerous elements.
I do use some essential measures for my church, to get feedback around its health and growth, to compare with our vision and mission. There really are some superb resources to help undertake this well.5 Yet no matter how I try to measure the right things for the right reasons, my insecurities lead me into false and ancillary measurings. This is part of all human nature, to find our worth in what we do, in ways we should not. Pastors are not immune to this. If the enemy is a prowling lion seeking to devour us, he paces around the thoughts and the moments of our measuring of growth and movement, whispering lies to us. I have to my shame known moments upon hearing of the decline of the ministry of others, of a frisson of delight, an unbidden reflex, that flutters too deep in my soul. And when listening about the ‘success’ of others, I have had disdain and a sneer pass across my mind, as something ugly in me has envied what others have. Why do they have when I do not, I am smarter, work harder, deserve more, is the swirl of thoughts and feelings that pass in a split second through my being. Jesus, it seems was aware of these kinds of struggles and offered us a different way of measuring and feedback.
Matthew 13: Which soil would you choose?
To be a minister is to be a worker in the fields of life, to plant, water, nurture and harvest. Jesus talks about yeast, seeds and soil, of how growth happens. We are called to plant what we can in the soil we have with the resources we have, and that God gives the increase. Yet we so often compare the soil we are with the soil of others. Church planters dismiss someone planting a bigger church than their’s thinking to themselves, if I was there in that place with their resources I could sneeze and grow something even bigger.
This temptation to compare soils, and the falsity of this was something I heard Martyn Percy diagnose. Martyn addressing some church leaders I was with, had us read outloud from Matthew 13. We heard again how some seed landed on the path, some on rocky ground, some amongst thorns and some in good soil. Of how some seed is snatched away by the worries of the world, some has no roots, some is destroyed by deceit and wealth. Martyn then asked a diagnostic question. Where is the best place to plant, which soil would you choose, where would you send someone? Our instinct and reactions were for the good soil, the place for maximum impact. At least that was my immediate instinct - I want the best soil.
Martyn paused and responded, “But Jesus does not tell us to plant in good soil”. It was a moment of cognitive dissonance, where my world tilted at an angle, as my inconsistent measures were exposed by the words of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit undid something in me. Jesus tells us to plant in all the world, but he does not ask us to plant in good soil. He does, however, say know the soil you are in. For God is interested in all places and all soils. We are called to know what seed we are planting, and what the makeup of our soil is.
So measuring is soil sampling, testing, knowing where to break up, water, fertilise, and plant. And to do this to get the most from the soil we are in. That is why we need to measure and learn how to measure. This parable of Jesus frees and empowers us to, on the one hand, measure robustly, and on the other avoid the pain of wishing our soil was different. What is the soil like where you are? What could it grow and what stops it from growing? Here in this parable is where measuring is integrated with feedback, that we desperately need. It is participation in the cycle of harvest for the rhythm and pattern of life death and resurrection. This alone might help many a pastor to delight in the growth they have and avoid despair at comparisons of the growth of others.
I track many things now as a pastor. New people, how many people move away, leave, how many are serving, giving, the ratio of attendance to our address list, giving per person, participation in small groups, engagement in community projects and mission, numbers of people on Alpha and baptisms etc. Not because I am obsessed with numbers of people, although a few more would be nice…But because I try not to shy away from the hard data of the farmer who examines his soil. I want to sow better, where God has placed me. Because I am obsessed more than ever with something. The same thing that propelled me at age nineteen to embark on training for the ministry I do now, the same things I dreamed about when commuting to work in my mid twetnties - that others who don’t know him might come to know him, and those who know him might know him better.
Spirituality of measuring: sound, and touch
There is a thread to pull now, of the sensate, of paying attention to the body and our senses. To integrate this with experiences of death and resurrection in Christ. As we inhabit this Christocentric sensate identity, we might better measure the textures of ministry life. And in doing so, we might become better occupied, and re-occupied with what God’s attention is on for us
The Measure of Touch
I love being a pastor. I am and do many things. I teach, lead, manage, but first and foremost I am a pastor. It is the calling the captures and orders all my other occupations. There is something you cannot teach in a book about pastoring, and that is pastoral presence. There is an art to being present with someone, knowing what distance to move away, draw close, or maintain with them. When people are upset and angry, sometimes distance is required, for them and you. Especially at times when you feel the conflict between them and you, people once joined closely to you, the threads that once bound you now frayed and vibrating with distress, anger, resentment. Then there are times to come closer, to welcome, acknowledge, greet, meet, accept, and touch. Closeness is the participation of incorporation into the body of Christ. It is a holy thing, when people are separated from themselves and God, by guilt, shame, fear, pain, grief, distress, and loneliness, to sit with and close to them. Sometimes a gentle hand on an arm, sometimes an embrace, and occasionally to weep and collapse with them as they slide to the floor in their grief and loss.
When I was a much younger man, I was at a worship conference anxious to know if the Lord saw me, my situation and cared for me. One of the speakers, a pastor who I knew a little, walked past me as I was mulling over my sense of distance with God. As he walked past he paused, and placed his hand on my chest, ‘so good to see you’ he said. That simple act of touch bridged and earthed a gap within me. In an instant, I felt grounded in the body of Christ, at home, secure and welcome. One touch and I knew God was close to me. Touch, grip, pressure, contact, bodies in locations to and membership with each other, is one measure of the body of Christ.
When I first became a Christian, my only experience of touch was restricted to a few domains. Firstly the hugs of my parents and grandparents. But also the regular violence of physical abuse around my mother’s emotional storms. There were also my fumblings as a teenage boy with some girlfriends, and then the violent, full body contact of rugby training and matches. Those were my limited experience of bodies, presence and contact. When I became a Christian at almost 17, I had my first experience of a different kind of touch, a body of Christ touch. As a new Christian, I believed everything my pastors told, me which included the need to be in a small group, midweek, to be cared for and for my spiritual growth. I remember not being entirely sure of what all that was, but that is sounded like something good for me. So I took myself off to the strangest of things I had yet encountered in my life. I found myself sitting in a circle with strangers, all older than me, in someone’s lounge.
I had no idea what to do, or say. So I listened. After a bible study and discussion, there was a time near the end, when we waited in silence, instructed to do so by the group leaders, so we might then hear God speak to us. I remember being so excited, that God was about to speak! But how was that going to happen? Then someone shared that they felt God was telling them that someone in our group was struggling with a few things that the group needed to pray for. I remember hearing the description of these struggles and realised that they were ones I was facing. How did they know this? And there were many other struggles I had, that this group did not know about. That my father had abandoned me, that my mother was in bed with depression, that I was caring for my baby brother, while my other brother was out all hours and up to all kinds of trouble. And I was trying to continue with school, wondering what future I had, if any.
So I responded, God had spoken to them about me, so I put my hand up. People shuffled their chairs and gathered around me. Then for the first time in my life, someone laid hands on me. I remember that moment like it was yesterday. My body flinched slighty, a reflex perhaps from previous abuse, and an act of protection from these strange people. Then someone read over me, Jeremiah 29, and I heard for the first time the beautiful words, that God had a plan to bless me and prosper me, and not to harm me. These strangers in an instant became my new family, as I wept, their touch, and hugs conducted me into a new identity and God’s purposes for my life. I am still pressing into and living out that incorporation today.
The Measure of Sound
Many years later, and just a few years ago in my past, I found myself laying down in our church centre, on a sofa, utterly overwhelmed by my life, and ministry. Indeed I was so overloaded, physically and emotionally, that I had a tension headache, and then something I rarely get, a migraine. I was amid legal battles against my local government for my autistic daughter's care and education. My local government were determined to ruin me financially, and I could see no light at the end of the tunnel. The burden of securing care for my vulnerable daughter overwhelmed me. Then at the same time, our church was going through a very challenging time, that was also overwhelming me. With my church planting new churches and the migration away of people for that, we had fewer people and a substantial fall in our income. My tendency to overwork had kicked in, catalysed by battling for my daughter, and I was beyond exhausted.
As I lay on the sofa, my hands over my eyes, hoping my painkillers would kick in, I feared I could not lead the meeting I was due to in a few minutes. Deprived of my sight, with flashing lights, and my hands over my eyes, my hearing took priority and was heightened. I listened to the arrival of people. I heard laughter. I then heard the clink of glasses and wine being poured, the slowly growing murmur of voices, like a rising tide that flowed around me. I realised how precious that sound was. The decades of that sound, of the people of God, gathering, filling up my hearing, and my life. I love that sound, and as my head pounded I thought it would be a wonderful sound to hear before passing from this life to the next. But perhaps less so for those who might find I had died in the room next door at the meeting. What if this sound was a precursor and taste of what is to come? Hearing is believed to be the last of our senses to stop working when we die. I wondered if moving from this life to the next, might involve hearing similar sounds come to eternal consciousness, of gathering with the saints, wine glasses being charged, and hugs and embraces welcoming me into eternity. Maybe my senses in eternity will be established in reverse order to the loss of them in death, my new life in Christ coming into focus through sound before sight.
The measure of Sight
Last Christmas, we moved around in the school hall we usually meet in, opening into a side room, to make room for more people. I was at the back, helping greet people, guest and regulars, and showing them to seats. The room was packed, the most we had ever had. Lights sparkled, screens displayed worship. Singing rose up around me, as we shared the good news of Christ come at Christmas. The sight of a room full of more people, caused faith to well up in me. I knew this was Christmas, with lots of people away and lots of guests who might only come at Christmas. But it was a picture and sight for my faith for my church. Our church had been growing, with new people, new Christians, more impact in our community, and more baptisms. This move around, and this moment, with all I could see, caused my eyes to see with faith, what might be every Sunday in the not too distant future. More people. Not more people to make me feel more secure, but more from the soil my church is in. This was an early harvest of a future crop that was and could come into being.
So the pastoral life is sensate, sound, touch, smell, colours. Jesus on seeing the unseen Zachias, calls him down to meet and eat with him, in his home. A woman bleeding for years touches Jesus, and he acknowledges her. At the cross of Christ, his body broken for us, he beckons us to come close to sit at his feet. The cross is the place of blood, sweat, tears, faeces and urine. It is the location of Golgotha, on the rubbish dump of human life. Rotting refuse all around. But it is the place to smell the nard, the perfume poured out on Christs' feet. Then there are resurrection hands to touch, and an open side, a garden and beauty. The pastoral life is the experience of the cross and resurrection, again and again. No wonder it is exhausting and exhilarating in equal measure.
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1 What Do We Measure and Why? Questions About The Uses of Measurement, Journal for Strategic Performance Measurement, June 1999, Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers. https://www.margaretwheatley.com/articles/whymeasure.html
2 Reasonable Radical?: Reading the Writings of Martyn Percy, 61.
3 What Clergy Do: Especially When It Looks Like Nothing, Emma Percy
5 For example see http://TheUnstuckGroup.com