Evangelical Christians have a long history of highlighting climactic and decisive moments. In our highly dramatized rhetoric we’ve stressed the need to be prepared to say just the right thing when the moment arises, to stand boldly for the faith when challenged or pressured to compromise.
I grew up hearing this sort of preaching all the time. Looking back, I think it made me devalue mundane faithfulness.
What about day-in and day-out virtues like honesty, kindness, charity, self-control? What about the faithful friend who rarely says anything profound but is always available? What about the person who shows up regularly and cares about his work over a lifetime? What about the husband or wife who will never write a book or give a seminar, but is faithful for the life of a marriage? What about the parent who has sacrificed career opportunities for the sake of serving family?
And how many climactic moments in life are there?
Just wondering . . .
16 thoughts on “Climactic Moment Spirituality vs. Mundane Faithfulness”
Looking back, I think one of the best moments of my Christian life was when I found myself having to resign from my position as a pastor. (It was a devastating experience at the time, I have to add.) I did not have to “perform” any more, and indeed I had nothing to perform. People stopped calling me pastor, and I became just another “ordinary” person.
I knew that all that I had to do was to remain faithful as a follower of Jesus in everything I did – being a husband, being a trusted worker at work, etc.
I don’t always do it well, but I try my best.
Some years later I got involved in various ministries again, both paid and unpaid. The hardest thing is again that I have to demonstrate that I have performed well. That is, I need to show that there are climatic moments and success stories in my ministries. Faithfulness cannot be quantified, they say. And I am expected to provide figures and number to demonstrate that I have achieved my goals. I have done those and I can show that I have achieved my goals. But I struggle with the notion. Faithfulness seems to be secondary, if not practically unimportant, in today’s world. Indeed I wonder how long I can survive in this culture.
I completely know what you mean about being out of “professional” ministry. So very freeing, indeed!
Very often it seems that you’re finally freed up to be faithful — or to just focus on faithfulness rather than, as you say, demonstrating that your performance is up to par.
Mundane faithfulness most definitely runs against the grain of our culture in so many ways and for so many reasons.
Needed that man… thanks!
“And how many climactic moments in life are there?”
As many as I want there to be, given I put the right “spin” on it. This climactic spirituality mode is like a different way of viewing reality–like a Choose Your Own Adventure; I want to construct a particular persona or aura, so I look back in my life and reinterpret events (or acknowledge events I’ve already misinterpreted) as climactic moments of self-definition. And these events are almost always over-spiritualized and attributed to direct divine causation.
Later on in life (as if I had much to go off of, heh!), reevaluation just may lead to embarrassment, frustration, and an unhealthy distrust of anything that may start sounding climactic-ish; when the bubble bursts, it dampens everything.
Nailed it, Jon!
Preachers are not helping us by narrating their mundane lives as if they’re far more exciting than they actually are. I’ll never forget the time I was part of a situation with a well-known preacher. I heard him talk about it afterwards and he embellished it so extremely I was stunned! I began to question all his other anecdotes about his amazing life and eventually realized that being Christian just isn’t like that at all. It has everything to do with just showing up, being reliable and faithful, putting on Christ in the grind that makes up everyday life.
Ha! That’s a little awkward. I know what you mean, though. It’s a shame that I automatically begin to question preachers who begin talking about their spiritual lives in that manner because I really do want to hear about how the leaders in the church go about their day-to-day walk; I just want them to tell me what it’s really like, not what they want it to appear as.
It may indeed be a shame, but shouldn’t we highly regard those whose lives we get to see daily–the mundaneness of them? We’re in an odd day where most of our learning comes through books, mp3s, videos, of people we never meet. Is there not something wrong with that? Or pastors whose lives we never see. In such scenarios, we’re left feeling that if our lives aren’t spectacular, then there’s something wrong with us. But if we knew those folks, we’d see that their lives are filled with mundane interactions just as much as anyone else’s. There really aren’t any superstars, just well-oiled p.r. machines. . .
Thanks Tim, again something to ponder. Do I accurately portray the Christian life with how I live, preach, lead…
I trust I will be found faithful consistently and let God decide when and if the climactic moments come.
I think it is important to know that just because we are requeiered to have product and chekc it of the list it doesnt mean its counter faithfulness i think its mixed some of it is for cesar that is for people,which involves righteos new self and the dark side,ammon in different proprtions in different people and some of it is for God,that is to say we dont have to worry about the fact that we are demanded to have results ,we should just be faithfull in the least and the list will grow on its own as the Lord directs it!
Tim, you wrote a commentary on Ephesians:
• There is a big narrative worth living in (1:10). We detract from that narrative when we inflate our own.
• Being real in the mundane is essential for true connection (4:25), hence facing my negative emotions (4:26).
• “Speaking the truth in love” (4:15) implies being genuine (no fake stories) but other-centered (not focused on my experiences).
It’s an odd form of worldliness that we feel the need to “dress up” the gospel by making it more interesting. Of course, we end up deflating it, taming it, because by “making it more interesting” we’ve made it just another commodity from this world. It ceases a word and a reality from beyond, from outside our reality that truly transforms.
And it’s so hard to be authentic and real, to learn to narrate truthfully. It feels threatening because we feel that our lives are going to be less interesting, less spectacular. But narrating truthfully harnesses the power from beyond this reality and is, again, truly transformative.
A good post. I identify very much with the first comment. When ill-health meant I no longer could preach or be in leadership it would have been all too easy to lose identity. It was however good for my ego and gave relief at least from inner conflicts about performance etc. There is a relief in being ‘ordinary’. The question then becomes how well we can accept the grace of obscurity and finding our own worth entirely in the worth of Christ.
I do think the drive to be accepted and valued leads into all kinds of posturing and blinds us to truth. A single-eye enlightens. I do not say being freed from the treadmill of performance-related ministry gives this single-eye (there remain many ways of the flesh that obscure sight) but it certainly removes some of the blinkers.
I see in teaching ministry (written as well as oral) the need to impress constituencies. In my view, those who are most successful (faithful) from God’s perspective in public ministry are those who live most freely from the opinions of others and desire only the good opinion of Christ.
In my own experience in ministry over the past many years I find Paul’s example in 2 Corinthians very helpful. It seems to me that Paul seeks to model his life after Christ’s cruciform leadership. In his own relationship with the Corinthian house churches Paul boasts not his “successes” but God’s power in his own weakness. This set his leadership in sharp contrast to that of the so-called super-apostles. This cruciform leadership is thoroughly counter-cultural, both then and now. So, I think, the issue is perhaps not so much about performance or the opinions of humans, but whether I seek to live out the truth through embodying Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. And I think this way of life has everything to do with being faithful to God (in every sphere of life, including the mundane things in life), who has revealed his faithfulness to us through Christ’s own faithful suffering and death.
Absolutely agree. However, ‘the flesh’ always seeks for ways to draw us away from this perspective and ‘corporate flesh’ of course does the same. ‘Corporate flesh’ (Lovelace’s term I think) values performance, appearance, theological jargon, rhetoric, cleverness etc.
Flesh glories and rejoices in all the above, we all know this. By institutionalising them (corporate flesh) we weaken the church and make it a parody of itself.
Well said, John. You have highlighted some of the big concerns I have today. I think Romans 7-8 (and Galatians 5) is helpful here. This is where the work of the Spirit is absolutely important as we live in the overlap of the ages. And in the Corinthian correspondences the Spirit-empowered cruciform communal life is, I think, often contrasted with the “fleshly” way of life and value system. (As you know, the Greek sarx – ie. “flesh” – is often translated as “world” in Corinthians. That’s why in the English translations we don’t always see the contrasts.)
Great way to think about the upcoming year. Thanks!