The concept of a champagne mojito borders on the ridiculous. The beverage appears to be a collision of rum and champagne resting in a glass flute garnished with mint leaves. Foodandwine.com reveals that generous amounts of lime and sugar are also involved. According to my “research,” the question of whether you would sample one when provided in limitless quantity by generous wedding hosts is also . . . ridiculous. The only salient question is, when will you stop, given that you have to preach the next day?
Rapidly approaching fifty, I have been reflecting on my counter-intuitive career trajectory. I was in way over my head for my first job, as youth pastor in a New England megachurch, when I was a 24-year-old, third-year seminarian. The congregation was filled with young, rising professionals on Boston’s high-tech 128 corridor. I used to tell my interns that the watchwords of effective leadership are “intensity, organization, planning, and excellence.” Office doors were always closed. Secretaries guarded our time. We walked with determined pace to the photocopier. One of sacred oral traditions attributed to the founding pastor was actualized as leadership doctrine: “When no one is charge, YOU take charge!”
I traded this very fast track for a co-pastor gig in the classic university village of Chapel Hill, NC. Their consensus-driven, egalitarian leadership model was a replica of the typical university department, only without a designated chair. Process, dialogue, and critique reigned supreme (in university-dialect, “critique” means that you are taken seriously). Intentional leadership was anathema. To take charge because no one was in charge would be akin to a coup d’etat to form an authoritarian state without basic civil liberties.
I left a Peter Drucker management text to serve in an Umberto Eco novel.
But both the land of slick brochures and tight meetings and the tower of tardiness and rumpled blazers did have common benefits -- namely comforts and status. Both had personal administrators, interns, 401K’s, expense accounts, program budgets, travel line items, sabbaticals, and offices almost large enough to hold half my books.
To complete the journey, I now pastor a small, organic, missional, “emergent-ish” church in downtown Durham, NC. Gone are the secretarial and administrative door wardens. My office now shares a hall with loud, funny, curious, hip teens in an alternative school. The whole church budget is smaller than my personal pastor “package” in Chapel Hill. Just this past year, I had to talk to the personal administrator of a dismissive senior pastor four times just to plan a meeting for a function we were co-chairing. Our slotted 20 minutes (!) in his office were dominated by a lecture that could have been titled “The Right Way to Do Things.” I would have loved to rip out a photo of my fleet of interns in Boston or the manuscript of my headiest sermon from Chapel Hill.
Authenticity requires that we lead appropriately in specific contexts, whether that means learning how fast to walk to the work room or how to sprinkle multi-syllabic qualifiers and obscure historical references in board meeting dialogue. But integrity demands that we learn to love the places of calling. Love of context invokes the great formative disciplines of prayer, hospitality, prophetic vision, and apostolic courage. This love is genesis and catalyst to the traditional acts of leadership.
The discipline of loving one’s context can require loving of one’s enemies. My sister-in-law, a Methodist pastor in the Midwest, served for seven years in a congregation where her love of congregation required the apostolic courage to adjust the historical service times to offer hospitality to a community in metamorphosis from rural to suburban. This love of context also required her patience and generosity with two specific parishioners. One read the newspaper weekly just above her from his perch in the choir loft as she preached. The other made a great show of putting on his overcoat and departing each week from the second row.
In my case, that Saturday night at the wedding, love of context took no pastoral energy. It was pure gift. I’m privileged to serve in a community of friends that inspire, challenge, love, and drive me to tears of laughter. If this is downward mobility, please send another round -- just like the champagne mojitos that kept magically appearing at our table, ridiculous and delicious.
Tim Conder is the founding pastor of Emmaus Way in Durham, NC. He also serves on the Board of Directors at Mars Hill Graduate School in Seattle, WA. He is the author, most recently, of "Free for all: Rediscovering the Bible in Community."