Rev. John Van Sloten realized that in the process of writing his new book, Every Job a Parable he had written himself out of his longtime job as a pastor of the congregation in Calgary, Alta., that he planted nearly 20 years ago.
While he loved being the pastor of New Hope Hillside Church, Van Sloten realized while speaking with and writing about how God is at work in many vocations, from a sanitation worker to an investment banker, he saw that God was at work in him as well.
“When I’m writing, there are moments of flow when I get lost in the work,” and he senses God’s presence in a powerful way, he said, in explanation of how God was at work in his writing.
All along there has been this “flow” as he wrote such books as The Day Metallica Came to Church and as he has crafted sermons on hundreds of topics over the years.
But in working on this new book, he says, as he sat and talked with a judge in his office, spoke with one of Canada’s biggest residential landlords, interviewed a Walmart greeter, and exchanged pointed and probing emails with a forensic psychologist — all the while trying to name where God was at work in their lives — something creeped in and turned his life in a new direction.
“I love the church, but I knew it was time for me to step away from the Sunday sermons,” he said.
“I realized I wanted to give myself over to being a full-time writer looking to write about what God is up to in a bigger way. I want to stay open to where God is leading.”
In a way, said Van Sloten, he wants to write about God’s general revelation, which shows itself in all things and in all places and in all people. It is a revelation of stars and oceans and of cityscapes and of people who have no homes and those who live in mansions.
“Some of the most numinous experiences I’ve had have happened to be on-site, at people’s jobs: naming God’s presence in their studio, office boardroom, farm field, or retail store outlet,” he writes in his new book published by Navpress.
“When I step onto their turf, it feels incarnational. I feel like I’m imaging the God who comes to us.”
Now that he has left the church as a pastor giving sermons on Sunday, Van Sloten said he wants to be a pastor to a bigger congregation. He wants to join others in their work and share their joys and sadness, their strengths and weaknesses, their setbacks and triumphs. Nothing and no one is out of bounds for him to write about.
First, he said, he wants to dive into science, seeking to talk to those people who may not necessarily believe in God but are at work trying to unlock some of the Lord’s greatest mysteries — like the human genome.
Or, along similar lines, he wants to write about such marvels as the human kidney, and the ways in which different types of things — outside stimulation, a person’s makeup, certain activities — can cause stress in the intricate world of the human brain.
“I want to write about faith and science, but not how it is often done by writers who focus on origins or moral and ethical issues.”
Van Sloten sees himself delving into the world, finding theology as he goes, and writing about it in ways that showcase how the Spirit of God is in all places and alive in many people in startling and yet humble ways.
“As another pastor said at a retreat I attended years ago, "I want to speak for God. I want to say what God wants me to say and to name what God wants me to name."
While he is anxious over leaving behind a predictable paycheck and full-time job in ministry, he’s not as scared as when he gave up a career in architecture many years ago to go to seminary.
“I’m certain this is what God wants me to do, although right now I don’t know the scope of what the work will be,” said Van Sloten.
He wants to recover from 20 years of busy ministry, of crafting sermon after sermon, sometimes on the fly, and take time to allow his creativity and imagination to grow and, with God’s help, take him to where he needs to be next.
In his first book, he wrote about how he connected with the heavy metal group Metallica and how they attended a service one day. He used the group and their music to reflect on how God was at work even in music that some might find hard on the ears.
He preached sermons on sports and the conflicts between the police in Calgary and the public. An especially popular sermon was “How Supertramp Saved My Life.” He spoke of how, as a teen, lyrics to one of the rock group’s songs — “Please tell me who I am" — resonated in him and gave him comfort and hope.
It is this combination of finding ways to link popular culture and the things in it to the work of God that drives him to examine and experience the world and to write about it, he said.
In a recent blog, as he looks to his future, Van Sloten wrote: “As for what will fill my time in the year ahead I still have no idea. It may involve stewarding Every Job a Parable (things seem quite positive so far). It may involve writing my next book on the human body (God’s Body Language). It may involve teaching or speaking more. I’m really not sure.
“But one thing I am sure of is that this ‘experiencing God everywhere’ vision needs to get out there more. . . . I began to realize that one small church in Calgary can’t hold it all. . . . nor can the role of a traditional pastor. So now this step has been taken . . . and I can hardly wait for what lies ahead.”