One thing in working for the church I didn't expect
More and more I am coming to discern my denomination/tradition's emphasis on community - that for us, God's nature and will is revealed in the act(s) of community. That is, in all the struggles and challenges to be in genuine, mutually-nurturing relationship with people you might not otherwise be in contact with; or in the joy of consensus-building over a long time; or in the awe of witnessing profound personal and communal transformation - or experiencing oneself profoundly transformed - that in all this complicated, messy, worthwhile struggle, we learn what it means to be Christian, what it means to be disciples of Jesus, and catch passing glimpses of God.
Community can take place on rather large scales, sometimes, but for the most part, the really hard and rewarding work takes place in congregations. At the congregational level is where rubber meets the road for a lot of people, where divergent theologies and practices and styles converge and are on display. Like families, there are unhealthy relationships and behaviors in long-standing congregations - we're human, after all. The congregation is where we see our money going, where we bring our children for Sunday School, where we invite friends to join us (if we ever do). This is the locus of the real work of God and discipleship.
But here's the rub. In working for the church - for the community - to some degree, I am taken out of that work. Instead of just my home congregation in West Seattle, my time and energy and attention is claimed by four other congregations too (all deserving, all responsive, all communities themselves)! Because I believe in the mission of the church so much, and am willing to give my full-time life to the mission of discipleship-in-the-world, I am in a sense removed from the hands-on, weekly, intimate, long-term work that such discipleship and mission are.
The analogy is this: We struggle to be good gardeners - to work a small plot intensively to get a high yield. But the church sometimes calls us to be a rancher - working a large area, unable to focus on really small scale issues.
This is the struggle I'm in now. I am more and more pulled away from the very mission that drew me to this work in the first place. Do I give up my community in order to nurture and foster community among others? Is this being called to minister to the sick and not the healthy, or is it the struggle to live one's beliefs in a world not organized around Christ-like values?