Lent is the season for giving up things, so here's a list of some that I've found in the most recent season of my life.
1. "Fix It" mindset
I love to solve problems. It's very satisfying to find and implement a solution that works and complete something. Unfortunately, it doesn't work for people and organizations like the church. Trust me. I tried. If there's one thing I wish I could go back and change is that I too often approached my church's decline as if I had the answer and if people would just do what I say, then we'd be good. It often to criticizing the church, when what I really wanted to do was build up the church. I also found that I criticized myself a lot, and was extra sensitive (paranoid) when others criticized me. The "Fix It" mindset created a whole big mess. There's no silver bullet fix to your church's problems. (And saying "we just need Jesus" is an over-spiritualized copout.)
1b. Your Agenda
When a Bishop ordains a person as clergy, the Bishop uses the phrase "Take thou authority." Some might see that as a license to do whatever you want. Most temper that, but we still bring our own agenda to the table. Surrendering that agenda is an important process to go through. Kind of like Abraham going up to sacrifice his son Isaac. It may turn out that you get to keep some of what you want to do, but surrendering to God's agenda for your church is more important. Do that soul work of surrender and let go. God has something amazing in mind...beyond your wildest dreams.
If I had it to do again, I'd use a "coach approach" to ministry. I'd help people and the church improve themselves. That's when change can really happen because people are motivated and inspired to do it themselves; they're learning and developing themselves. It's much more grace-filled and healthy.
Trying to keep up with the latest and greatest church and cultural trends will just run you ragged. I pretty much found this out the hard way. Mainly what I mean is that most of them are not suitable for my current context; we just weren't there yet. Many could be contextualized for my context, but see #1. Even if a trend matches the culture, the church may not be there yet. I remember from being a Youth Pastor that trying to be "cool" works for a while, but eventually people figure it out and move on if there's not something deep to engage in. A better goal would be to discover your strengths and major in those. Discover what's most important to you and your church that's worth it no matter who shows up, and do it the best you can.
Again, this is connected to #1, but let's get personal and real. Often times, we do things and decide things a certain way just to feel good about ourselves. And it gets addicting. I get it, I really do. Pleasing people feels good and its a boost when you're down. Chasing after your ambitions is fun. Ambition isn't all bad, but selfish ambition is. I'm beginning to think that I pursued a lot of ministry in order to store up treasures on earth, as in the get the credit. In fact, I think in a lot of ways the institutional system is set up to reward that sort of thing and make you more hungry for it. Some may think the ends justifies the means. Ok, maybe. But at what cost? What good is it for someone to gain the whole world and forfeit one's soul?
Instead, I've learned to care for my soul first. Then I'm more apt to not care about getting the credit and inflating my ego. I have all the affection I need from God. He can have all the credit. It's called glory.
What do You Think?
So there's my list of things to give up. I guess it's closer to 4 than 3. What do you think? Does this spark any ideas in your mind?
In my whole life, I don't think I ever received an 'F' in school. I've had a few 'D' grades. Most of my bad grades were because I didn't try. Now, I want to clarify something. Yesterday I mentioned that I failed. What I mean by that is, I moved to St. Joseph, MO, and said that my goal is that I would be a Missionary here. That I would approach ministry in a different way than I had before. I failed at that for a number of reasons, but here's the big three:
1. I Wasn't Intentional
I honestly had little clue to what it means to be a missionary. I didn't set a clear, specific goal of that that would mean. Which also means I didn't know what it took to get there. It was very haphazard. I sort of just approached it as "if I just think about ministry differently, and do some things I hadn't done before, then maybe it'll happen." I should have put myself on a learning track about doing missionary work in the U.S. and been more intentional about things to try. I should have put myself in a healthy-accountability system to help me grow and progress. By "healthy-accountability" I don't mean having someone on my case. I mean some way for me to keep myself on task, and coaching to help myself think strategically instead of getting bogged down in moment-by-moment situations/problems.
I recently purchased something to try to help myself with this, the Best Self journal from Best Self Co. Right now, it seems like a lot of work to start it, and I may fail at it at first, but knowing what I know now, in the long run, it will pay off. (Is that a run-on sentence? #grammarpolice) I've learned a lot about myself and where I can grow, so I'll use this to set some goals and be intentional about them.
2. I Tried Alone
I started this change in my thinking as a personal goal, "I'm going to be a missionary, not a typical Pastor." One great piece of advice that an experienced Pastor gave me when I asked about how to start something new in a church is "Do it as a herd." We are social beings, like herd animals. We gain momentum to accomplish things when we do it together. We truly are better together.
I was unable to (or incapable of) gathering a herd to work on having a Missionary/Missional mentality together. What I said above played a big role in that. I was only focused on changing me, and even then I wasn't as intentional about it as I could have been.
3. I Didn't Fail Enough
Failing means you tried. Not-trying is the even worse. I should have tried more things Honestly, if I would have failed more and failed faster, then I may have made more progress (see #1, I need to track and be intentional in order to try things, fail, and make progress). I know that "practice makes perfect" is a cliché, but in some ways it's true. Practice is really "fail a bunch of times and work to get better". Some say "practice makes habit" is a better way to put it, which is true, but improvement will happen when you learn and adapt as you practice. So, keep Failing, keep trying, and keep growing! Like my dad taught me, "Mistakes aren't bad if you learn from them." Another way to put it is "Fail Forward."
Stop the Blame Game
When failures happen, it's important to analyze and figure out "why". That's what I'm doing here. Sure, there's lots of other factors at play. Here I am simply taking responsibility for what I can, and provide a "why" without placing blame. Blaming isn't helpful, but self-reflection, taking responsibility, trying something new are all ways to grow and develop. So when I say that I failed, I'm saying it in a positive way. Yes there's grief, and I have all kinds of emotions, positive and negative, to process. This is part of the reason why I like the sport of baseball. They play so many games. They have thousands of at a bats. They throw thousands of pitches. There is so much data to analyze, and you see a lot of failure. You win some; you lose some. Sometimes you hit a home run; sometimes you strike out. Sometimes you can barely get the first out of the game and have to be replaced; other times you pitch a shutout. All of it is simply part of the game. It's mostly a lesson in dealing with failure. It's when you internalize the failures and make them your identity that you begin to quit trying and give up. This also means you quit learning and growing. If there's one thing that churches and church leaders need to do is to quit the blame game, keep learning & growing, and fail forward. 'F' can be for Future. What are you going to do with it?
No, not the end of the world, but the end of this blog. I announced to my churches that I'll be taking a leave of absence from being a pastor beginning the first of July. You can read my announcement here: http://www.clairchurch.com/news/important-announcement. I started this blog when I moved to St. Joseph, MO and I really haven't been very good at keeping up with it in my almost 6 years here. I am thankful for those who have taken the time to read.
The thinking was that I would approach this appointment as a missionary. That failed. I say that with some natural grief. But I say it honestly. Failure is an event not a person. So I wish it would have gone differently, but it didn't. I'm not going to go into a lot of details here, but I am writing in a journal and reflecting on as much as I can. Mainly, that's for my own mental and emotional health. Wow, so many feelings to process. My natural inclination is to stuff them down and trudge on, but that's not healthy. Fortunately, a good friend, Jim Voigt, has guided me some on that journey. You can find his latest thoughts on his podcast called Your Way Too Honest Pastor. The other resource that has helped me is the book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero. Stuffing your feelings never works out in the long run. In fact, some of that is probably why I'm taking a leave of absence.
So, I'm going to stop this blog, and probably start a new one where I'll just share me and my journey. I still have some more posts I want to share here, so until the end of June, I'll try to keep posting what I've worked on. I have quite a few drafts already started. I have 15 more sermons to preach before I'll be done. I'm taking vacation for June and officially no longer be pastor after June 30. Fortunately, the United Methodist Church has a process for these transitions, and the two churches I serve will not be left without a pastor. In fact, I'm guessing they already have someone in mind.
Thanks for reading. What ways do you process big life changes and the associated feelings? What resources have you found to be helpful?
I am a Software Developer, a career shift made in 2018. So far, I have experience with C# .Net and Angular. I continue to let curiosity lead me into learning new technologies. I plan to share what I learn along the way about technology and personal/career life. Previously, my vocation was United Methodist pastor. So in addition to coding, I'll share about theology, the Church and The Bible. I also enjoy running, music, and I'm a deeply committed father and husband. Maybe my experiences will help you. I know it helps me to share.