“I will never be a great writer.”

That’s how I was going to begin this post when I first began writing it yesterday morning. I was going to write the following.

I will never be a great writer. To be a great writer, one must devote themselves fully to writing. One must write constantly. One must make writing the full vocation of their life.

Madeleine L’Engle, in her excellent book Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, wrote, “If the work comes to the artist and says, ‘Here I am. Serve me,’ then the job of the artist, great or small, is to serve. The amount of the artist’s talent is not what it is about.” Her point is a very simple one, and it’s the same point I see repeated over and over in books about art-making – an artist is simply someone who makes art. Talent has nothing to do with it. A painter is someone who paints. A dancer is someone who dances. A writer writes. Doing the work, regardless of judged quality of output, is the only thing that matters. “Greatness” then isn’t a judgement of quality or even of quantity. “Greatness” is a judgement of faithfulness.

And I will never be a great writer, because writing will not be the chief work of my life. Writing will not be the thing I do first. Writing will not be, has never been, is not now my pursuit.

From time to time I think it is though. You see, I love writing. I love writing like the morning loves the newly risen sun. Once, I did a twenty-four hour stress assessment. The test required me to take my temperature hourly, the small variations in temperature ostensibly showing waxing and waning stress levels. Twice that day the temperature readings dropped to near sleep levels. Both times were when I was writing. When I write I am able to organize and make sense of the cacophony of thoughts that echo around my mind. When I write I am able to untangle my world. No mater what they literally say, when I write the words on the page say “Peace.”

It makes sense then that from time to time I slip into thinking that writing is the thing I most want to do, that writing is my greatest passion, that writing is the thing that drives me and the thing that I will order my life around.

Writing is still work. It’s just about the hardest work I’ve ever done. I do not mean to make it sound as if writing comes as easy for me as sleeping. It does not. Writing is consuming. When I am at my best, writing swallows me up until I am nothing but the next stroke of the next letter of the next word of the next sentence of the next paragraph of the next page. Writing is a sublimation of my self. I disappear into the work. Time loses its hold on me. When I emerge there are whole papers where there was once nothing, and my mental and physical vitality has been dispersed. All I can do is breathe, “Good.”

But I will never be a great writer, because i will never serve the work. Something else has captured my heart. Something which does not take me from this world but pegs me jarringly in it like a pocket knife flipped into a fence post – Christ. I care more about Christ’s proclamation of the reigning of God than I do about writing. I care more about Christ’s Church than I do about writing. I care more about confessing the hope that I have in Christ than I do about writing.

Now, I’m not saying that the two (Christ and writing) are mutually exclusive. Of course I’m not saying that. You know me. I would never. I am saying though that I feel a louder call toward something other than writing, namely, pastoral ministry. I do not and will not ever “serve the work,” because I serve Christ, and Christ calls me to serve His Church. My main focus is pastoral ministry, and the writing must serve that calling. I don’t think I have to choose, but if you were to give me the option of either writing or being part of a church planting team working together to creatively institute the reign of God in a community, I’d choose the later. A good story brings light to my eyes, but the thought of a hopeless person meeting Christ brings tears.

(Aside – I say “pastoral ministry,” and I certainly don’t mean I want to be a pastor in the traditional sense of the word, but once, when I protested to a friend that “I’m not a pastor,” he patted me condescendingly on the leg and said, “Oh, Elijah. Yes, you are.” Pastoring isn’t a paycheck. It’s a practice.)

As I’ve interviewed the people associated with La Fonderie, I’ve discovered three kinds of people – 1) artists, 2) ministers to artists, and 3) ministers to artists who are also artists themselves. I find the third group the most interesting, because in their case, they are passionate about their art-making, but they are also passionate about ministry, and there came a moment when they had to choose to focus on the one at the expense of the other. There is nothing inherently “holier” about either choice. The people in groups 1 and 2 are all faithful Christians, but the people in group 3 had to decide whether they were called primarily to be artists or to be ministers. I’m in the third group.

And so I will never be a great writer, because I will focus primarily on ministry. This is a thing I must accept.

The work may come to the artist and say, “Here I am. Serve me,” but Christ came to me and said the same, and then He said, “Feed my sheep.” So I will never be a great writer, but I will consider a life of faithful service to Christ and His Church to be very great.

That’s the post I was going to write. Then last night, I had dinner with my mentors, Francisco and Stephanie. We discussed all of the above, and they told me something very wise.

They told me that I don’t know how God will call me in the future. God may be directing me toward focus on church planting now, but years from now, he may direct me to focus on writing. They told me that God is always doing something new and I am very young and God can and will do much with me over the course of my life.

That was a very good word, because I so often have an “all or nothing” mentality. I think what is now will be forever. Francisco and Stephanie are right though. Who knows what the future holds but God?

So, I cannot write what I wrote above without adding this addendum: I will not be a great writer now, but I will be faithful to Christ and grateful for whatever He gives me in life.

Gene Kelly Was Here

These blog posts were all written in the summer of 2011. They chronicle my time in Paris completing an internship as part of my studies at Fuller Seminary. I worked at an art gallery run by missionary-artists ministering to other Parisian artists and got to know the missionary-artists working there.

I am including them here for you to read because I think they work well together as a series. I wrote them as a kind of narrative collage about what it means to be a practicing artist whose first commitment is to Christ and who seeks to share the love of Christ with other artists.