church, ministry, spiritual, work & vocation

The Divinity in the Details (a.k.a. What I’ve Learned From Working At a Church)

06-2015 desk at churchI’ve been working/interning at a large Episcopal church for about a year now, and wrapping up my time there begs the question: What have I learned from working at a church?

One lesson (among many): The devil doesn’t have to be in the details.

Let me explain.

Growing up, I was a particularly idealistic youth. Even while sensing a call to vocational ministry from a fairly young age (16 or so), I insisted that I would not work at a church because I wanted to focus on “loving God and loving neighbor” without the “distraction” of decisions and details. Without the bylaws and boards, budgets and even buildings. I read a lot of Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (and didn’t completely understand them). I dreamed of “doing church” in a park, in a coffee shop, at a school or university — anywhere but in a traditional church setting.

Until God pulled a funny one and placed me in a very traditional church setting. Over the past 2 years, I’ve been parishioner, intern, and staff. Basic job description: deal with details for the contemporary worship services.

The very thought of my daydreaming self doing such a down-to-earth job makes me want to glare at God and say “thanks a lot” with simultaneous sarcasm…and sincerity.

Here’s what the church job has taught me: I used to expect Sunday to happen more or less without the other 6 days. But that doesn’t work. And that’s okay.

Decisions and details, it turns out, are only a distraction if done distractedly. Done diligently, they’re a vital way to love God and love others.

I’ve seen my staff team, for instance, utilize the assistance of 100+ lay volunteers…and yet ask at each team meeting: “Are there any volunteers in need of encouragement this week?” Thinking-of-you cards and thank you cards are then composed on the spot. These are people we plan for…but also people we pray for.

I’ve seen countless emails about who’s going to do what at which service…and yet the end result of that work is (hopefully) a welcoming and worshipful experience for hundreds of people.

I’ve seen decisions deliberated over and delivered to congregations in such challenging ways that, not too long ago, I would have said “count me out of this mess”…and yet, in the midst of the mess, messages have been preached, babies baptized, families formed, and lives altogether lived out little by little into the love and likeness of Christ.

I’ve seen a lot of little things go on at church, especially Monday-Friday. But you know what? I’ve seen those little things get done with some great love and result in some great love.

As Brother Lawrence puts it in The Practice of the Presence of God: “We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.”

So, the devil is not necessarily in the details. On the contrary, divinity can work mightily in and through those minutiae.

Some of us — like me — may still be dreamers, not planners, at heart.

But let’s not let details keep us from church, from community, from calling, from Christ. Let’s use them, as I finally know we can, to love God and love others.

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