Magazine article The Christian Century

Job Description

Magazine article The Christian Century

Job Description

Article excerpt

DOES LIFE HAVE any direction or purpose, any telos? A significant part of the popularity of Rick Warren's "purpose-driven" books is his strong conviction that God provides direction and purpose for each of our lives, as well as for the church and local congregations. Many of us are uncomfortable with Warren's specific formulation of God's purpose or plan for people. But he is clearly on to something. His argument responds to the deep yearnings in American culture for some sense of direction--for a guiding light.

Nick Hornby's latest novel, A Long Way Down, narrates the perspectives of four people who meet on the top of a London building on New Year's Eve, all of them intending to commit suicide by jumping off the building. They discover connection in talking with each other, and decide to keep living--at least temporarily. Eventually, however, the connection begins to fragment. One of the characters, who had contemplated suicide because his band had broken up and his girlfriend had left him, reflects about the fragmenting relationship with his newfound companions: "There was a breakup coming, you could smell it, and no one was saying anything. And it was for the same reason, which was that we'd taken things as far as we could, and there was nowhere for us to go. That's why everyone breaks up, I guess: bands, friends, marriages, whatever. Parties, weddings, anything."

Is there anywhere for us to go? As people, as communities, as the world? One would think the church, bearing witness to God and God's good news in Jesus Christ, would provide a beacon of light to the world and a clear sense of direction. And at its best, the church does offer such light and direction. It is a beautiful community that offers the life that really is life (1 Tim. 6:19). Yet too often even the church seems to have nowhere to go.

Insofar as we have a clear sense of the purpose of the church and the telos of Christian life, we will be able to articulate a clear sense of the purpose of Christian ministry. Ironically, the people we would most imagine as resources for people in despair--Christian clergy--are often depressed and despairing. In the marketplace of professions, clergy may feel as if their vocations are amateur, second-rate versions of more distinguished vocations. Yes, they are therapists, but not they are not quite what doctors and nurses are. They are teachers, but not scholars and professors; they are leaders, but not politicians and business executives; they are communicators, but not performers and writers. Unsure of their own vocation, they become what Stanley Hauerwas has described as "quivering masses of availability. …

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