To Be the Community We Crave, We Need Limits

I started reading A Spacious Life: Trading Hustle and Hurry for the Goodness of Limits by Ashley Hales (InterVarsity Press, 2021), and I could feel myself relaxing as I read:

Our God-given limits are the doorway to a more spacious life.

What might happen if we tried embracing our limits as gifts for our flourishing, rather than barriers to our success? I think we’d find we were beginning to walk in the way of Jesus.

Each chapter of this book is framed as an invitation—an invitation to smallness, an invitation to rest, an invitation to community, and more.

So if you’re working for the church and feeling the hustle and hurry of never-ending demands and a to-do list that keeps expanding, consider the goodness of accepting our limits with this guest post by Ashley Hales.

The Goodness of Gathered Salt

by Ashley Hales

Adapted from A Spacious Life by Ashley Hales. Copyright (c) 2021 by Ashley Hales. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. http://www.ivpress.com.

I confess that many of my first impressions of church ministry and marriage to a vocational pastor were formed by the Christy Miller Series, the teen Christian romance novels by Robin Jones Gunn. In my early teenage years, I’d fantasized about marrying a boy like Todd, a blond surfer who would play worship songs on a beat-up guitar on the beach. My one-day-pastor boyfriend of my imagination would be a bit out of reach because he was “seeking first God’s kingdom.” The romance would take center stage and we could do all the churchy bits on the side: mission trips, or small group ministry, or leading youth group. I imagined that the church was what you did in your small slices of time, not who you were.

Married to a Pastor

Nearly twenty years into my marriage to an actual pastor (not a fictionalized one), we are both tethered tightly to the institutional and local church. This is a grace, because, as with many constraints, I sometimes want to run away.

Church is not something we do; it is who we are. When people from the neighborhood or church come over, our kids take a break from skateboarding and sit down in kid-sized beach chairs on our patio to talk. This isn’t simply a string of events but something my children have been welcomed into: a hospitable life.

While as a young teen I thought marriage to a pastor might be more romance than work, as a younger pastor’s wife I had hoped for the same romance surrounding church life. But after two decades of ministry, the sheen has worn off. What remains are not the wounds, wounds we’ve surely inflicted and wounds we’ve received—though they are there. Instead what lingers are those who have pressed in. They have seen our un-shiny selves and stuck with us. What remains are the limits and gifts of community: the ones who cry and pray with us over cheddar and fig jam. The ones who show up, brokenhearted, in sweatpants, in the midst of their own anxiety. The ones whose sorrows have laid them low and yet who bring all the tender pieces to Jesus.

These are the people who pray in the dark, who dig in with a motley group of people and choose to love anyway. This is the church.

An Invitation to Community

We want the church to taste more like true community should taste. We crave the goodness of gathered salt. But to actually be the community we crave, we must limit ourselves. We limit ourselves by choosing to show up when at times we’d rather not. We limit ourselves when we give of our time to listen, talk, and pray. We limit ourselves when we participate in weekly liturgy even when we do not feel like it. We limit ourselves by giving our financial resources for the mission of the church. We limit ourselves by setting up chairs, or volunteering in children’s ministry, or meeting with an elderly friend.

We limit ourselves by sharing not only ourselves but our very lives with those who are far from Jesus.

We choose constraints of our love: we send thank you notes or make a meal for neighbors. We offer to babysit the kids of a single mom or we show up for a church event even if it’s not our “thing.” We say hi to someone new on a Sunday and we ask the pastor a question about his sermon. We choose constraints on our resources: we tithe and give our money away. We choose to learn from others much different from us.

We choose constraints on our place, staying in community when someone votes, thinks, or acts differently than we do. These are the actions of the salty, gathered church.
 
 
Adapted from A Spacious Life by Ashley Hales. Copyright (c) 2021 by Ashley Hales. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. http://www.ivpress.com.

Ashley Hales (PhD, University of Edinburgh) is a writer, speaker, author of Finding Holy in the Suburbs, and host of the Finding Holy podcast. She is married to a pastor and the mother to four children.

_______________

For more encouragement and resources on doing ministry better:

Author: April Yamasaki

I currently serve as resident author with a liturgical worship community, write online and in print publications, and often speak in churches and other settings. Publications include On the Way with Jesus, Four Gifts, Sacred Pauses, and other books on Christian living. Websites: AprilYamasaki.com and WhenYouWorkfortheChurch.com.

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