A Mixed Up Minister?
What insights does the book of Jonah have for ministers today?
Led by The Revd Tom Stuckey, a former President of the Methodist Church.
Water, water everywhere!
When someone asks you to run a leadership programme for 15-21 year olds there are lots of things to consider. Most people would perhaps freak out at the prospect of working with 15-21 year olds, as teenagers can be a tricky age group with which to work. A friend once told me as she considered a career in teaching that she felt perhaps a career in the police force would be more appropriate, stating, “Well, if I’m going to be working with them, I at least want to have the ability to arrest them!” Being an ex-secondary school teacher myself, this was not actually the bit that freaked me out. But “leadership”? What exactly is that? What is a leader? God had called me into training the leaders of the future and yet I was not really sure what leadership was. I knew what I thought leadership was; the person at the front, the person leading the way, the one with the big voice, the job title and the charisma - this was leadership, right? Yet something told me that this was not leadership; Jesus most certainly was not all of those things. As I stared blindly into the calling Jesus had for me, I did as anyone would - I prayed:
Me: “Lord, hi, I wanted to just double check with you on something. You see, I know you called me to London and I know you have plans and a purpose for me. And well, remember when I said I wanted to do anything to serve you, well, this really wasn’t what I had in mind… you see, I’m really not qualified and quite frankly don’t know what the heck I’m doing! ”
God: “Good, now let me show you how…”
So, God confirmed it, he wanted me to run FRESH– a leadership programme for 15-21 year olds. He wanted to work through me to equip, resource and teach the next generation what being a great Christian leader looked like. As I asked God to show me what that looked like, He gave me Ezekiel 47– a beautiful exploration of what I believe God sees discipleship and leadership as today.
Ezekiel 47 begins with a picture, a vision, of God’s temple in Jerusalem. A huge area of land with many different chambers and structures, each compartment separated for its purpose. The main building, the temple itself, sat in the centre of the grounds. This holy temple held the room called the ‘Holy of Holies’, the very place where the Ark of the Covenant was, the very place where God’s presence dwelt. Can you image that? The very presence, the very character, absolutely everything that God was and is was in that place. Not surprisingly, only the very elite, the high priest, could even dare to enter such a place. This place, His holy temple was the place and symbol of ultimate perfection.
The passage goes on to describe the water streaming and over flowing with generosity from every orifice of this holy temple. The water is pumping rapidly through north, south, east and west gates into the river beneath. The temple, the temple where the very glory of God dwelt is throwing out water uncontrollably. In Ezekiel’s vision everything flows from this place. Everything comes from our perfect God.
Central to raising up this generation of leaders is raising up a generation who are deeply rooted in Christ - who love Him, who want to worship Him with their lives and who want to know Him intimately. If this generation is going to follow Him and serve Him, it must know Him and be deeply connected with Him. Ezekiel 47 describes the water flowing from the temple as progressing, from ankle deep, knee deep, waist deep to all consuming. FRESH encourages a commitment to intimacy with God for a lifetime. I often share my own baptism story: I associate my baptism with a wedding day. When I got baptised I said to God “this is it, I’m in for keeps. Divorce is not an option, no matter how rocky this gets, I’m in”. Even as I sit here writing, this commitment I made is being challenged, but I hold firm to the promise I made to God and the one He made to me and grow in intimacy with Him as I do this. I’m in it for the long haul and we build up our young leaders to enter into the same journey with God. Studying His word, prayer, soaking in the Spirit, confession and worship are all central points to FRESH as we encourage them to grow more in God. But these disciplines alone do not guarantee intimacy. Only a life, devoted to following Christ develops intimacy that goes ankle deep, knee deep and waist deep until it is all consuming.
Thankfully I meet lots of young people passionate about God. Many of our FRESHers literally bubble over as they describe their desire to serve God and make a difference in this world. Most of them follow this up by asking me what theological school is best to apply for. I love the conversation that follows – you don’t have to be a minister to serve God utterly, entirely and radically. Please do not mishear me: I’m not discouraging them from becoming leaders in the church, but do we believe that God works in the church or through the church? This is how Paul put it to the church in Ephesus:
“His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms. “ Ephesians 3:10.
If Christ is working through His church (and that means each one of us), then He is at work where we are at work. The water that flowed from the temple in Ezekiel is flowing out of every tiny bit of the temple and in all directions; it flows everywhere, it is not confined to the Holy of Holies. God is working in every sphere of life: through family, health services, business, the arts, entertainment. He works through the media, in Government, through education and religion. God is at work in all of these spheres with the sole purpose of redeeming them back to Himself. That means that as our young leaders seek to serve God and see His world changed, they can do this wherever they are. Every teacher can partner with Christ in restoring education back to the way Jesus always intended it to be. Education can really become about gaining knowledge and experience of the world and understanding others in it, in order to contribute to and make a positive difference in the world, instead of it becoming about hitting targets, leagues tables and outstanding Ofsteds. Every journalist and media professional has the opportunity to partner with Christ when they choose to tell the truth behind a story, act honestly in their dealings and not airbrush pictures that depict lies. Every married couple that decides to stick at the marriage and not file for divorce demonstrates God’s love and grace and His heart for his people. Politicians can partner with Christ in proposing legislation that leads to justice not oppression. Every doctor can partner with Christ as they bring healing and wholeness to people’s lives. What a beautiful picture of seeing His Kingdom come. This is Christ at work, this is the Gospel. Jesus says He came to reconcile all things back to himself (Colossians 1:20). He uses his Church, in all their contexts of life to do just that. 10 years ago the church really grasped how to leave the building. It started social action and evangelism streams and it worked. But the future is this picture right here, a picture of our young people, growing up to be people who are leading the way in all different spheres of society. It is a generation which has the attitude of ‘as I go, I will preach the Gospel with my mouth and by my actions; really asking God – What does redemption look like in this place where you have placed me?’ - and then partnering with Him in seeing it happen.
The final part of Ezekiel’s vision is the miracle. “The water flows towards the Eastern region and goes down into the Arabah where it enters the seas. When it empties into the sea, the water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the water flows. There will be large numbers of fish because this water flows there and makes the salty water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live.” (47:8-9)
Have you ever put fresh water into salty water? What happens? Does the salty water become fresh or does the fresh water become salty? The fresh water becomes salty, not the other way around. But in this passage it doesn’t. In God’s purposes things don’t happen as they should. The fresh water is what changes the salty water to be fresh water too. And this is the beautiful picture of the miracle of God. As our young leaders walk and follow him, as they grow in intimacy with him, as they work in their sphere of life and partner with Him in seeing His Kingdom come, change occurs. I’m sure as we look around our world, we can see the wonderful things that God created but we also see what’s wrong with the world and picture the way it ‘should’ be. Often our families, work places and communities are the ‘dead sea’ in our own lives, the place where there is no life. In this passage however, God promises life! Where the river flows there is life! Rather than our young leaders being contaminated by the world around them, I see a generation who are making huge impact in others’ lives. That is the miracle.
As we teach this way of living on FRESH, I have seen many young people empowered and released into their leadership potential. They realise that all God needs is one person utterly surrendered to Him to do His work. They realise that they are just one person, but that one person can make a heck of a difference in the world. As a result of one person’s life changed, so many of our FRESHers have changed the lives of their communities, their schools, their universities and work places. They have seen God’s Kingdom come and I have witnessed it. I’m very excited about the Church’s future - we have an awesome generation of leaders on their way. Are you ready for them?