As a part time minister, I turn my hand to a number of other interests to make a living. It’s a diverse list: minister, prison chaplain, grapegrower, winemaker, sheep and grain farmer, and training & development consultant. This time of year the vineyard is bare of leaves, the sheep have been let roam among the vines and the daily routine is firmly focused on the pruning.
Pruning is perhaps the most unromantic aspect of running a vineyard. The work is slow and meticulous. If you work quickly you can cover about 50 metres of vines an hour, and the rows are 400 metres long. Thinking too much about the end is daunting. But if you can stay in the moment; be absorbed in the cutting and preparing the vine for the next season of growth, there are simple pleasures to be enjoyed. We use electronic secateurs so the physical strain is reduced and the company is good. We talk almost non-stop. Discussion of news, politics, gossip and life is interspersed by brief periods of silence which invariably gives way to someone breaking into song (generally some old ballad).
Often, because of my other roles, I have to break off from the small group of pruners and attend to conducting a service at a nursing home, or a funeral or to visit the Dhurringile prison. At times like these I can relate to the Old Testament prophet Amos who said, ‘I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” (Amos 7:14-15)
I’m not sure I do a lot of prophesying, but you get the drift. As a jack of all trades one can feel a bit of an outsider amongst the full-time professionals. But outsiders can often see situations with a fresh eye and insight that often gets lost or taken for granted by insiders. According to research from Brigham Young University, better decisions come from teams that include a “socially distinct newcomer.” That’s academic talk for someone who is different enough to take insiders out of their comfort zones.
Outsiders bring new ideas and perspectives, but study co-author Katie Liljenquist says, “We found the mere presence of a newcomer who is socially distinct can really shake up the group dynamic. That leads to discomfort, but also to a better process that ultimately yields superior outcomes.”
If you haven’t been to church in a while (or ever) the chances are you would be worried about being an outsider. But the truth is we need you. The church is not a collection of Lone Rangers. It is the Body of Christ. We need your gifts and we need the discomfort that might come as we change and grow.
This is the gospel, and it’s good news!