Tag Archives: work

The Ministry of the Eighteenth Camel

I was recently sent a copy of Emma Percy’s book, What Clergy Do.  I did not get along with her premise of “Motherhood as a metaphor for ministry”.  But, it made me think a lot.  If that is not a model of ministry I can get along with, then what is?

This is the only way I can articulate what I believe ordained ministry and leadership to be about – the  ministry of the Eighteenth Camel.

There is the ancient story of a man who left his 17 camels to his 3 sons.

 The instructions were to divide them according to age.  The eldest son was to have half of the camels, the middle son a third of them, and the youngest son a ninth.  This is an impossible sum.

Until another man came along.  He asked them what their trouble was, and they explained.  Wait there, he said, and soon returned with his own camel.  Now there were 18 camels and the maths worked out.

Half of 18 = 9. So he gave the eldest son 9 camels 1/3rd of 18 = 6. So he gave the middle son 6 camels 1/9th of 18 = 2. So he gave the youngest son 2 camels.

And the man’s camel was still left at the end.

He lent them his camel, which enabled them to do what they still needed to do, yet when that task was done, the loaned camel was free to go.  It was a part of the work, an important part, but not left tied up in it.  It didn’t become one of the son’s camels, but without it, the sum was impossible.

What seemed impossible was possible with the addition of one extra camel – and at the end that camel was still left over to be used by its own owner.

Ministers are there to be a part of, to facilitate, to help the work of the church.  But the work itself has to be that of the church, the community that will be there long after the minister has moved on.  No other way is sustainable.  They are valuable, but not indispensable; useful but not the person on which everything hangs; a part of but only for a time, the work of God goes on without and beyond them.

Well, it makes sense to me anyway!

Hard Work

Warnings against Laziness

My dear friends, in the name of the Lord Jesus, I beg you not to have anything to do with any of your people who loaf around and refuse to obey the instructions we gave you. You surely know that you should follow our example. We didn’t waste our time loafing, and we didn’t accept food from anyone without paying for it. We didn’t want to be a burden to any of you, so night and day we worked as hard as we could.

We had the right not to work, but we wanted to set an example for you. 10 We also gave you the rule that if you don’t work, you don’t eat. 11 Now we learn that some of you just loaf around and won’t do any work, except the work of a busybody. 12 So, for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, we ask and beg these people to settle down and start working for a living. 13 Dear friends, you must never become tired of doing right.

Ah, you can’t beat a good warning about idleness, and a guilt-trip extraordinary on the good old Protestant Work Ethic, even before the days of Protestants! Work hard an everything will be ok…

“We didn’t waste our time”…

The problem is, that a perfectly sensible suggestion, can be taken and used to mean something it never did.  With an emphasis on hard work, where is the space for being, for listening, for watching and waiting?  What about those who cannot work?  We all need time in our lives for just loafing – not in idleness, but in restoration.

And the author is so proud that they took no food that they hadn’t worked or paid for.  Very noble, but what about the gift of allowing others to give to you?  And there are plenty around today who would advocate the “don’t work, don’t eat” policy (a quick search for data to back up poverty stats sadly soon shows that bias…) – but that is not a helpful one for those who can’t work, or even more for those who do work – and still can’t afford to eat.  The Truth and Lies about Poverty Report reminds us that as far back as 1753, John Wesley was saying,

So wickedly, devilishly false is that common objection, ‘They are poor, only because they are idle

Poor People – The Factual Facts from Applecart on Vimeo.

Right, having said all that, there is another point being made here, if we use the passage in its context and not try to make it say something it was never intended to.  This is written to those who were so convinced of The Second Coming and its imminent arrival, that they weren’t bothering to do anything else.  They were just sitting around waiting.  Too excited to do anything else, and nothing seemed relevant in that context.

So they are being told not to focus so much on God’s coming again, that they stop doing everything else.  There is still a life to be lived and a work to be done whilst they are waiting.

So too with us.  It would be lovely to spend time only in prayer and bible study, watching and waiting for God to come.  But while ever we live in the world, there are things to be done.  A living to be made, people to be helped, the ‘right thing’ to be done.  Being ‘busy about the Lord’s work’ is not an excuse to neglect our community and societal responsibilities.  We are called to live in and respond to the society we live in, we are charged with setting an example – and example of love, care and service.  So yes we need to work hard and not shirk our responsibilities – but in the context of supporting those who also work hard and can’t make ends meet and those who for whatever reason cannot work hard, or for whom just surviving is hard work enough.

Forgive me Lord,
the times I make judgements
about other people’s laziness
without knowing the truth of their lives.
May we
as a society
work together
in support of one another.

Forgive me Lord,
the times I have used
doing your work
as an excuse
to not keep my other responsibilities.
Help me to live faithfully
whilst waiting for you.

Reign in Me