Saturday, January 30, 2010

To Embrace a Ministry of Vomit

It is always interesting to read the final papers of my students and see what the main "take-away" of the class was for them. For my Evangelism class, which concluded in January, the take-away was a brief comment I made on my "Ministry of Vomit" (or VM for short).

Being a pastor in San Francisco, I often find myself in settings with people who have left the confines of their hometowns for the openness and freedom of the City, where the impact of "The Summer of Love" is still felt.  These folks migrated West in hopes of leaving behind the restrictiveness of the past and the rejection they often experienced. Frequently, religion has been at the root of their discontent.

For these individuals, the prevailing religious expression of their hometown left them feeling battered and bruised, as they experienced judgment and condemnation. 

I was blessed to be raised up in a faith that kept reminding me that I was loved unconditionally by God.  This love was expressed vividly by the community.  This orientation shaped my life and my vocation and has sustained me through the ups and downs of life, the good and the bad decisions and choices I have made.  Always, this love drew me back onto a path of wholeness and hope.  It is at the core of my ministry today. More than anything else, I want people to experience this love and rest in its assurance.  For me, it is central to the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Pastoring in SF requires me to create the space for people to express the wounds and pains they have experienced by religious communities. It necessitates being a witness as they explain the ways they were harmed by religious people. In order to offer people a radically new understanding and experience of Christian faith, I have to allow them to emotionally "vomit" on me, knowing that at that moment I am representating a faith tradition that has done them wrong.  It is only after they have been able to get out all that has been bad, then perhaps space can be created for them to experience some good.

So for this pastor in SF, doing evangelism means embracing a ministry of vomit!


  1. Thanks for (1) your VM, (2) your cogent telling of it, (3) upbringings that continually remind us that we are loved unconditionally.

  2. Hi, I am an Ohioan who found your blog through a strange series of events. Let me start by saying that I have been a Bible-believing Christian for 27 years (since I was 16), and based upon your writings, I can tell that you and I see a great many things very differently.

    However, I must agree with your "VM" ministry. In fact, in any ministry where Jesus is shared as well as preached, this must be present. I have been in ministry to teenagers for 25 years, and I can assure you I've seen quite a bit of "vomit" in my day. I've never seen a teen come to the saving love of Jesus without first being heard about the hurts in their life. Being a sounding board is not just important in evangelism, it is essential. Foundational. Impossible to do without.

    And, I agree that many times we've focused too much on hating the sin rather than loving the sinner. You can talk about Jesus' love all you want, but people tend to believe it more when they see examples of it coming from you.

    Too many times I've seen people come out of seminary thinking that because they now have a degree in Theology or counseling that they are ready to minister. This is where I look back at the 12 Disciples. They were untrained, most were uneducated. However, each of them had a life-changing relationship with Jesus the Savior, and that relationship is what qualified them to go forth and make disciples.

    It's my personal, daily relationship with Jesus that has allowed me to participate in "VM", as you call it (I think it's a great name). Without that relationship, I would not have the strength, the ability, or the desire to continue. I would be too mired in what ails me to even consider what ails others. (Truth, sometimes I AM too mired in what ails me!)

    I don't think "VM" is possible in and of ourselves. At least, not with an ultimate goal of bringing someone from death to life eternal in Christ Jesus. If Jesus is not at the core of our being and at the heart of our teaching, all we are really giving others is a listening ear (valuable, and may be a stepping stone to something more), which in and of itself does not provide salvation. Only Jesus provides that, through the Holy Spirit.

    Sorry to intrude on your blog. I just felt moved to write this. Maybe someone will get something out of it. Maybe not. I'm still a sinner, and don't claim to have all of the answers to everything. That's why I look to Jesus, because I believe that He does have all the answers.