What I'm about to say may not surprise anyone, but I'm pretty sure it's true. I feel it to be true, like a gut feeling. Sometimes, it's like a punch in the gut. It has to do with what is the most difficult part of being a leader. The leadership role that I know is Pastor. So that's what I'll talk about, but I think this applies to anyone who is in a leadership position and responsible for an organization or group of people. If you're a follower/worker/member, or second in command (or third or fourth, etc.) then it's not quite the same, but you've probably felt it too. Some of you may not realize how much your leader feels it. What am I talking about? What is the most difficult part of being "the leader"?
First of all, it is NOT failure. As a pastor, I've failed. Some times it's big failures, some times it's small ones. I've read leadership books that say it's good to fail because it means you're trying and taking risks. It would be far worse to not even try. But failure is not the most difficult part of being a leader.
"Everything rises and falls on Leadership." I've heard and read that quite a bit. I'm not sure who coined it first (was it John Maxwell or Mike Slaughter?). Notice it's not "some" things rise and fall on leadership. No, it's "EVERYTHING." You see, that's the hardest part of being "The Leader" or the one in charge; the one who is ultimately responsible. Look at baseball managers. They get criticized when the team is losing, but they're geniuses when the team is winning. Lose enough, and the manager is fired. It doesn't matter if the players are terribly worse talent than every other team in the league, or the ownership isn't willing to spend more money, or any number of other people who could have done their job better. The Manager is ultimately responsible for the baseball team on the field, so if the team is losing, then the manager is out, and a new leader is brought in.
The hardest part of being "the leader" is: The Pressure of Ultimate Responsibility. It nags at me nearly everyday. Sure, I can place blame on other people or things: church members, the District Superintendent, the Bishop, "the community transitioned but the church didn't," "people just don't give like they used to," ... there's tons of reasons we can look at and analyze, but ultimately, I am responsible for the church that I've been sent to. God's given me a responsibility for this time, and this place...these people. Because, "everything rises and falls on leadership," right?
I'm not sure many people in the pews realize this pressure that the pastor faces. I'm not talking about a "woe is me" "everything is my fault" attitude. But it's just the pressure of being a passionate owner of the responsibility for the direction of the organization. Knowing that pretty much every problem, tension, failure or success you face is somehow related to you either directly or indirectly.
So, if you're wondering what stresses out your Pastor, President, CEO, or other leader, now you know. No matter how many times he or she tells oneself or hears "it's not your fault," it doesn't matter, because deep down, the leader knows who is ultimately responsible regardless of fault or blame. The leader will always think, "If I was just a better leader, we could overcome and make it through..."
How do you handle that? I guess you have to realize who it is that is really in charge, and it's not you. AND, you have to realize that Leader is more capable and powerful than anything you ever even imagined, a very trustworthy leader. Who is it? God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He has this way of accomplishing things, directly and indirectly, in spite of the shortcomings of the people He sends. He is The One on Whom everything actually rises and falls. Jesus Christ. (Colossians 1:16-17, Ephesians 1:20-21)
How else do you handle it? Like a 162 game baseball season: you win some, you lose some. You brush it off, forget about it, and "get 'em next time (or next season)."
It has been two weeks since the Camping & Retreat Ministries Board of the Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church announced that the Conference's four campsite properties would be shut down. This, rightly, grieved all of people who have a connection to those camps, including the Camping Board themselves. The grief is further compounded by the way the decision and announcement were made. I myself, didn't help much when I used an incendiary title as click bait ("no one cares") so that I could try to help people channel their grief and anger in a useful direction (reaching the countless youth in our communities who aren't a part of the church). Maybe my intentions were good, but my tact and timing were terrible. Some have asked me to take down the blog posts, but I'm not. It's a story of holding each other accountable for living in a Christ-like way, even in the midst of anger and grief.
And that's what inspired my last post on the subject, "Saying 'They Don't Care About the Next Generation' Needs to Stop." I was always taught growing up, "Be angry, but in your anger, do not sin." I believe that's in the Bible, Ephesians 4:26. So it really bothered me of how some people were talking and posting publicly about other brothers and sisters in Christ. It really upset me. I guess Facebook and other social media are places that people vent their frustrations, but I've learned that's not a good idea. Facebook and Twitter are virtually public. It's one thing to share how you feel in a private conversation and seeking guidance on what you should do with those thoughts and feelings. But publicly spreading ill-will and false ideas about people is not a good idea, no matter how true or right you may feel. You have every right to grieve, to feel and think those things, and even say things privately to people. But know those are your emotions and may not be true enough to be posted publicly, or even for you to believe them once you've settled down. I really want to see us come together as brothers and sisters in Christ with grace, truth, love and mercy. So I'm not going to take down that post either. I'll admit, it's not a good thing to try to tell grieving people what they can or can't feel/think/say. I am sorry that I did that. But I do think that as a Christian, I need to not let my grief be an excuse to hurt others and do harmful things.
In my first post on this subject, I clearly said "I will not be joining a movement to #SaveMOUMcamps." I haven't, and I don't plan to. But, I do want to save United Methodist Church Camp Ministries. I have attachments and memories to 3 out of the 4 properties, but I have always known that the people we reach through the ministry we do is what's more important than property. I want to be a change agent to see United Methodist Church Camp Ministries flourish. In fact, that's why I became an Event Director seven years ago. When I first arrived to be an event director in 2007, I knew the campsites and camping ministry were in trouble. The camp I was at had 96 beds, but the registration for the week of camp I inherited was only around 30. The property itself was old, worn out, and barely usable. I was surprised anybody would want to come to camp there. But, my Event Co-Director (and friend) and I knew that if we could focus everyone on Christ, the amenities and empty space wouldn't matter. We also knew we wanted to see all of those beds filled.
The next year, we nearly doubled in size to about 55. I and the Co-Director took one for the team and stayed in the oldest, yuckiest, unkempt cabin on the grounds because the other beds needed to be used. We filled the worship space with so many people and energy, that the A/C couldn't keep up, and we knew we had to find a different place to worship (or move to a different location, possibly CMU). So we went on planning, preparing and praying for year three. Fortunately, the Lord provides. There was an old barn that had been used for horses, but was no longer being used much. At a planning session at camp that spring, we prayed and as soon as we said "Amen" we looked at each other and said "What about the barn." It became our "worship barn." All of the cabins had to be used to hold over 60 students and then counselors on top of that. If I remember right, we were just over 80 people that year. Then, in the fourth year, we had 105 total people...for 96 beds. We slept on mattresses on the floor. I'm not saying all this to brag about success. I want to point something out, I care about camp ministry in Missouri done by United Methodists. I've been wanting to SAVE camps for at least 7 years now. Over those 7 years, that camp property has seen a lot of improvements. It is MUCH better than when we started. I like to think partly because of the experiences that campers had and went back to their church saying how important and valuable camp is. Churches gave funds. Churches helped remodel. Churches sent more kids.
I don't think anyone is arguing with the fact that Camping & Retreat ministries are valuable to individuals who experience them, and that churches benefit from them. These ministries are important, and will continue. The impact they have on campers' lives is priceless. Those same campers usually become more involved in their local churches, and those churches are energized. These ministries must continue.
The camping board knows this, and they are deeply committed to continuing the camping and retreat ministries. The Camping Board had a meeting this past Monday, and they allowed some of us to sit in and listen to all that they had looked at when making the decision for this new direction. Most of the explanation did not focus on money and property (though it probably should have). They focused on the Missouri Conference's Mission & their mission as a camp board. The conference mission is to lead congregations to lead people to active faith in Jesus Christ. At a visioning retreat, the camp board decided their mission would be a similar, focusing on the fruitful practice of "Intentional Faith Development." The mission statement they put down on paper is: "Leading local churches of the Missouri Conference in intentional faith development of children and teens." Then basically, they hit a "do-over" button by starting with this question: "If we started from scratch, and wanted to find the best way to help local churches intentionally develop the faith of the next generation (age 0-25), then how would we do camping and retreat ministries?"
They then asked, what are the "wins" or desired outcomes if we are accomplishing this mission well? These are what they identified.
The next question then was, what strategies do we use to accomplish these wins? This is where new ideas developed, property/financial issues were discussed, and alignment with the conference vision/direction was presented. I'll talk about alignment first. Already, our conference has developed processes for churches to have consultations to help them be/become "growing, vibrant, healthy churches." We have a consultation process for college-age ministry, and now with Next Generation Ministries, we have a consultation process in development to help with youth and children's ministries. There was a clear intention by the board to focus camping ministry on the Next Generation Ministries, which will eventually include workcamps and other ministries focused on helping churches reach those age 0-25. I basically see this as shuffling around what we do. Like re-organizing your kitchen or your clothes drawers. Instead of pots and pans in separate drawers, let's put them together in this one bigger drawer. Instead of having a socks & underwear drawer, I'll keep my socks separate and put my underwear with my undershirts. Of course, it's a little bit deeper than that when you're talking about an organization's Vision and how they implement it, but the bottom line is the same things keep happening, just a little differently, in a different place, with a different name. The conference has decided to put staff and resources into helping churches reach the next generation, so the camp board said, "We are all in!"
The truly new idea that was discussed is mobile camping. Rev. Garrett Drake toured the country learning from others who do mobile camps. These are not strictly "Day Camps" (though it could be), or a Vacation Bible School, but could be more time than VBS and involve an overnight component. This is really exciting to me because my two churches aren't necessarily capable of pulling of something like this really well at the scale it needs to be in order to reach my community. But, if the conference and some other churches collaborate together, we could reach families that are not currently apart of any church, people who don't know Jesus Christ. That's exciting. I know some people are afraid this won't work well, but I always tell folks (and my 5-yr-old), "you don't know until you try."
As for our four properties, basically, the question the board asked is "Are managing these four properties the best way to provide camping and retreat experiences for the next generation?" As we know, the board said "No, they're not." The reasoning is, we are not historically good property managers. Because of decreased funding, and increased costs, we choose to defer as much maintenance and improvements as possible so that we can get by on the bare minimum. We do not manage these properties with excellence. If we allow for camping ministries to operate at other sites that we don't have to manage, we could do our camping programs/ministries much better and at a reduced cost. Local churches would still get the benefits of camping experiences, and the cost would be less. While not a lot of the details were shared as to what property issues exist, enough was shared that I was amazed at the costs to keep the properties open, then add to that improvements needed to provide an experience that relates to post-2014 kids and teens.
So that's basically how the camp board came to their decision to close the four properties. They wanted to find the best way to help congregations intentionally develop the faith the next generation through camping ministries. They decided "We love camping ministry so much, and know how valuable it is to reaching young people and impacting churches that we need to find a way to continue it even if we can't keep our four properties." I recently had to trade-in a sporty little hatchback car for a mini-van because we became foster parents and went from 1 child to 3 in a matter of months. I still miss that car, but the minivan is better in the long-run. Even if I don't get to drive it that much. (That's probably a terrible metaphor, but it's what came to mind.) It was the best thing for all of my family. I hope and have faith that this change is the best thing for the future of our churches and The Missouri Conference. I hope you will too.
Another quick thought about United Methodist Camps in Missouri. I know I was the one who said, "nobody cares." I clarified what I meant. In fact, I think there are those hurt by this change that have felt like "nobody cares" in the sense that those in power aren't listening and don't care. I've heard it said that by the way this change was done we have offended a whole generation (not really, just those with a connection to our camps, this generation is way bigger than that). I've heard that we will lose our future leaders because of these actions. And the conclusion is that "they" don't care. You can feel that and say that, but don't believe it. I need you to know that "they" do care.
I understand you're grieving and upset over the loss of a physical place and what you're used to. I understand we are upset for how this change was made because "I didn't get a say in it" (many of us didn't get a voice or vote). But don't let your anger trick you into thinking that the people of the camping board, Rev. Garrett Drake, and Bishop Schnase don't care. They care deeply, and are sincerely and fervently committed to reaching the next generation.
For example, Rev. Jon Spalding is on the Camping Board and was involved in these changes to some degree. If it weren't for his commitment to youth ministry, I may not be the Christ-follower I am today. When I was a teenager, he was one of the pastors who chose to sacrifice some of his precious time to invest in teenagers like me. I know he cares deeply about reaching the next generation.
This change is saying, we care so much about reaching the next generation, that we are willing to let go of something we are very attached to. Something that is very valued and has done us a lot of good. Something we know that God has used to reach numerous people. It is truly priceless. We are willing to let it go so that we can do even better.
See, the question that keeps coming to mind is, why aren't people giving their lives to Christ in our churches like they do at camp? We have way more churches than camps. We could be multiplying the kingdom of God in much greater ways through our congregations. To be totally honest, this question is very convicting of ME. For the last 8 years, I have poured time and energy and efforts and my friends and my own funds into leading a week of church camp to reach teenagers for Christ, teenagers who usually have some church connection already. What if I poured that same time, energy, effort, and money into reaching the teenagers in my neighborhood and local schools? What if I poured that same amount of resources into meeting teenagers who have no connection to a church or Christ? What if I did that and they gave their lives to Christ in my church and were baptized? What if their parents and siblings came too and gave their lives to Christ? If just 10 new people, who never knew Jesus came to have faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior in my church this year, that would revive and renew my church in ways of which I've only dreamed. Maybe it's because I put my efforts into what I've always known and what's safe for me, instead of taking the risk to truly reach those of the next generation who aren't connected to a church and don't know Jesus Christ.
We do care, a lot. We are committed to engaging and reaching the next generation, and we will.
(Writing that last full paragraph breaks my heart because there's only three and a half months left to 2015, and I'm pretty much resigned to the fact that not even one person who doesn't know Jesus will give their life to Christ in either of the churches I serve. I have tears right now. I know this because I fill out the reports every year. Most of the baptisms are infants, children, or confirmands. Most of the new members are transfers or people who are already baptized Christians. If my one job is to be a missionary and lead people to Jesus Christ, and that's not happening, then what in the heck am I doing?)
Ok, I'm a fairly new blogger. So I don't really know exactly what I'm doing. But I'm finding that I've made a mistake here. I used an inflammatory title and phrasing to get clicks, readers, and a response. Unfortunately, doing that has misconstrued what I am trying to say and accomplish. Yes it got me noticed. But it did not end up representing myself well. I'm not backtracking on my ideas, but I am sorry for how I chose to express them. It was offensive to those who are deeply grieved, and it gave the impression that I don't care. I do care, a lot. That's why I am writing about it publicly.
Having had some more time to think about it, I would like to summarize my main thoughts about this change to MO UM Camping. ALSO, I will be an equal opportunity offender because I have another post I'm working on that would probably offend the "other side" (I don't like splitting this into sides because we are one church, one team) as well. Here's the summary:
This Surprises And Hurts
I do think/feel the communication of this was handled poorly. It does feel to me that there was a lack of transparency in how this decision was made and carried out. All of the truth may have been told, but because of the way things were communicated it gives the impression that we may never really know. Although, I'm not sure there were many other options when it comes to a change/decision of this magnitude.
The decision to close campsites hurts me and all of those who are and have been connected to United Methodist Camps in Missouri. I had God-experiences (and other memories) at 3 out of 4 of these camps both as a youth and an adult. So I'm not overly attached to one campsite in particular. It doesn't seem to bother me as much as some of my friends and the students I've ministered with at the campsites. What's important to me is providing the spiritual opportunities for teenagers to experience and know God in life-changing ways. That can (and does) happen anywhere. And I'm excited to see it happen in new places and in new ways.
We Are All On The Same Team
The Camping Board and the Conference Staff and Mission Council who were involved in this decision are part of the Missouri Conference. I am part of the Missouri Conference. Anyone baptized in or who is a member of a United Methodist Church in Missouri is a part of the Missouri Conference. We are in this together. There is no "us vs. them," but only us. We are on the same team. Also, even more importantly, anyone who is a baptized Christian actively following Christ is a part of the ONE BODY of Christ. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ. AND, we are all made in God's Image and therefore connected to one another.
We share a covenant together. Those who are ordained in the UMC share a publicly ritualized and deep covenant with the Church and one another. The covenant of ordination as Elder is one of leadership in the United Methodist Church. It involves a commitment to integrity. There have been some so hurt and grieved by this change that they are calling into question the integrity of the people who made this decision. This needs to stop. Yes we are all broken, and we are sinners, and no one is perfect. But this covenant means we are forgiving, and we trust that no one is intentionally and maliciously trying to do harm. If there has been impropriety, the proper response would be to approach it with grace, truth and love. As my father always taught me: "two wrongs don't make a right." This is an opportunity to show Christ's love and build up the body of Christ, not tear it down. You would only be hurting yourself.
I appreciate how Rev. David Israel has emphasized that our entire Missouri Conference played a role in under-funding camps. He basically says that the fact that we have gotten to this point is more of a "shame on us," rather than a "shame on you." We need to come together and work together because we have the same purpose: To Make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World. These are your teammates, brothers & sisters, not enemies.
CampS will Continue
I have posted on Facebook to the students I lead for a week at Camp Jo-Ota, that somehow, some way, we will do something. Not only this, but there WILL be camps this summer of 2015. They will be in a different place. They will not be what past camps have been. They will be different. But, God is already there. God is already at work. Students will experience God and make commitments to follow Christ. AND, even though some of us may refuse to admit it, this may become more than we could ever ask or imagine. Not because this is the best decision. But because that's just how awesome God is. New life (resurrection) isn't just something God does, it's who God is. That's what Jesus is all about (John 11:25), "resurrection and life." This decision does NOT reflect a lack of commitment to camping and "the next generation." In fact, it is the exact opposite. This decision was made because of a deep commitment to camping/retreats and "the next generation." (I really appreciate Rev. Trevor Dancer's "bird's eye view" of the change, which speaks to the commitment to reach "the next generation" not just for 5, 10 or 15 years, but well beyond that.)
Local Churches Need to Reach Youth
There are nearly 1 million school-aged people across our state. According to the reports that each of our local churches turn in to the Annual Conference, only about 60,000 of those are connected to a local United Methodist Church. That's six percent. (**See note below about camp participation numbers.) We shouldn't be satisfied with this. If our local churches had been living out a deep commitment to reaching school-aged people, then our camps would have been so overflowing that it would have been easy to maintain and operate them. I believe many of our churches and leaders (pastors) have neglected this mission field. There are a lot of reasons for that. But a lot of our churches do not have anyone or very few people under age 50. I've served churches where myself and my family were the youngest ones by a generation or more (until I worked to start a youth ministry). This is what I was trying to say when I said "no one cares, or at least no one is noticing." Sure, there are a good number of people who care and who are noticing, but when compared to the general population, it's not many. The people who care and are noticing are those who have a connection to United Methodist Camps in Missouri. Sadly, that's a small number. Not because the site directors and other camp staff or camping board did a bad job, but because local churches have failed to reach young people. Now, it's not ALL churches. There are quite a few who are doing well in this. But a majority of us are not. Even some of our larger churches have small youth ministries. There is no quick fix or magic bullet for this. But we must not give up or expect someone else to do this for us or think "it will just happen". We must persevere and keep trying to reach young people.
Outward-Focus, Outreach, evangelism, or whatever you want to call it
Some have responded saying that over-emphasizing evangelism is bad because you need to feed people before they can feed others. This makes logical sense. Another person responded saying that families need to do a better job of shaping their children as Christians at home (I totally agree with that), and church should be a place where families learn how to do that (I agree). I still say outward-focus is key to a healthy church. That doesn't mean you neglect equipping people for ministry and a life of Christ-following, but it does mean we are always pushing each other back into the world, much like the hymn "In the Garden" says near the end:
I'd stay in the garden with Him [Christ]...But He [Christ] bids me go, through the voice of woe, His [Christ's] voice to me is calling.
As for feeding people before they can feed others. I feed myself, most of us do, unless you're an infant. I happen to have an infant in my home right now and at 9 months was already starting to hold his own bottle and feed himself. To use the cliché, "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." There's two issues here churches need to work on. One, are we leading people to the life-giving water (or spiritual food)? I say, not if we're contained within the four walls of a building or only in relationship with fellow Christians. When we meet people, we meet God. Remember, every human was originally created in the Image of God. God is already there, but are you taking the risks to meet God among the people of your community. Try it. Take the risk. It is amazing how spiritually nurturing it is to see God at work in people's lives. And God is at work within people, ALL people, whether we/they know it or not. It is our job as Christians to help them make the connection and see God, see Christ.
Second, most of us (Missouri United Methodists or just USA Christians in general) are usually pretty satisfied and content. Our bellies are satisfied, and we have plenty of stuff. And we go around convincing ourselves and others that we are "OK." Sometimes, I'll skip a meal or two. Sometimes I'll even complain to someone near me that I'm hungry. I may even exaggerate and say, "starving." And if I'm hungry enough, I find food. I may wait a while and see if someone else is going to take care of me, but eventually, I find a way to eat. And if I'm hungry enough, I'll eat stuff I normally wouldn't, and I'll put forth a great effort to find food and prepare it and consume it. Maybe we need to get hungry again. Maybe we need to get desperate for God again. Maybe we, the Church need to help people be desperate for God again. We are distracted by all of the visible and temporary things we have and enjoy, when what we really need is the invisible and eternal source and author of life, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. From the source of these invisible things, we participate with God building the visible kingdom of heaven on earth, in our communities. The invisible is already there, we get to help people see it and experience it.
That's what camping did for me, and many others, and why it's important. But I wouldn't have known about camp, unless a church had first reached out to me and my family. The future of United Methodist Camping in Missouri depends upon how well our local churches are connecting and building relationships with people we don't yet know in our communities. I know that's easier said than done, but I'm committed to continually figuring it out over and over and over again because the same thing won't work for all people, places, and times. But the bottom line is relationships, and at the core of that is love; radical, crazy, risk-taking Jesus-love.
That about covers it. I hope that is more clear and less offensive.
**Note about our camp participation numbers:
The conference released two numbers about how many of these 60,000 participate in camping: 2,075 campers (United Methodists) representing 20% of our (United Methodist) churches. My dilemma is, 2,075/60,000 is only 3.5%, which is way different than 20% or 1/5th. Now, these numbers don't include non-UMC participation and activities at our campsites. The bottom line for me is, I think we could do way better. That doesn't mean the people who have been a part of the camping ministries up to this point aren't valuable. You can't put a price on someone's life or soul. Even if just one person's life was transformed by Christ, then it would be worth it. But I'd still have to ask the question: even though it's worth it, are we being good stewards of what we've been given? Probably not, we need to try something different to reach different people.
My four-year-old is going through another phase too. At first, I thought it was my fault. We recently became foster parents and have brought in two younger siblings. So my four-year-old thinks he can revert to his old ways and act like a two-year-old. But...I spoke with other parents of four-year-olds and found out their kid went through this phase too: The WHINEY Phase. (It's even the inspiration for sites like: reasonsmysoniscrying.com)
On the one hand, it can be pretty funny and hard for my wife and I to contain our laughter at some of the things he Whines about and gets all upset. (In fact, just this morning he started into whining after he got his pajamas off, but before he got dressed: buck-naked and whining.) Usually, he's whining because something's not going his way.
Yesterday afternoon, I had gotten ready to go for a run, and he was going to go out and play in the backyard. He was told to do two things first: go to the bathroom, and get his jacket on. Well, the jacket sleeves wouldn't cooperate and were inside-out. So he started whining. Then I tried to "help" (read "do-it-for-him") and he whined even more because he wanted to do it himself. Well, my patience ran out because I was in a hurry to leave on my run. So I raised my voice (yelled), asking him to stop whining, and he started crying. So I stepped away, counted to 10, came back and actually helped him do it himself instead of doing it for him. Then, I left on my run.
My honest thoughts when I started my run were, "I don't know what to do! I wish he would just stop it! How do I get him to stop?" Well, it took 5.75 miles and lots of other meandering thoughts, but the last quarter mile of my 6-miler, as I turned and could see my house in the distance, the thought occurred to me again: "I don't know what to do." And the light-bulb went off! I thought: "That's it! You don't have to do anything! Just ignore him when he's like that. Show him that acting like that doesn't get the attention he wants. You don't know what to do because the answer is do nothing."
So I got home, and started getting ready for supper. Turns out my son didn't go outside after all, and wasn't even wearing his jacket (figures). It wasn't long before he was whining again (because he needed new pants and didn't want to go upstairs to his room to get them). And this time, I ignored him and let him know that's not how to get help or get what he wants.
So, running...It helps me listen. It helps me have patience. It helps me learn and grow. I just hope I can keep it up.
A couple Sundays ago, I preached to my congregations about how God speaks with us because God desires a relationship with us. Well, listening to God may be simple, but it's not easy. It's downright difficult to hear the truth. Especially when it invites you to change.
Multiple times recently, I've heard God speaking to me through other people, letting my know that I tend to be self-centered, and...dare I use the words...narcissistic, or egotistical. The most recent of which occurred to me while I was reading this comic strip (pictured here) from The Oatmeal: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/running. This is hard to hear as someone who has dedicated one's life to serving others and serving God.
In fact, I think I use that to justify how I operate. Many times in ministry I get this sense that "it has to be me," or "I have to do this because no one else will," or "I have to be the one because I can do this better than anyone else," or "it has to be me because God called me and gave me the gifts to do this way better than anyone else," or "If I can get people to like me, then they'll come to church." And ministry becomes centered around ME.
This breaks my heart, or shatters my perception of myself that has me convinced that I live for others. Basically, it's a big challenge to my world-view. Like when Neo found out that The Matrix was real (or not real, depending on how you look at it).
So now, I have a choice: I can either respond to the invitation to change and center on Christ, or I can keep on deceiving myself and not listen. God speaks, but I'd rather not listen. Especially if I am being asked to change. I liked how things were before I was aware of my faults. But now, now I have to listen and change.
I can still try to find a way out of it. And tell myself that I'm just like everybody else. Because really I'm not that different from many of you, we are all pretty self-centered most of the time. We think the main question is "Why am I here? What's the point of my life?"
In reality, we worry so much about ME that we can miss the great big God and God's wonderful creation there for us to enjoy! I do want to listen, because I do want to change, because I do want to be centered on Christ and changed by God's love. I want to experience the fullness of life God has for us.
God speaks, but will you listen? Even if it's a hard truth? I hope so.
A good number of my friends have shared this article about what we can learn from St. Patrick: http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/what-st-patrick-can-teach-united-methodists. In it, a professor of church history, Jim L. Papandrea, states:
Patrick demonstrated that "we as Christians have something worth sharing, even at great hardship,"
Let me state that again: WE HAVE SOMETHING WORTH SHARING EVEN AT GREAT HARDSHIP. Wow! What a reminder. If you read the rest of the story of St. Patrick, you'll find that he was sold as a slave to people in Ireland, then, years later, he chooses to return to Ireland in order to tell them about Jesus Christ and help them become Christians. In his [Patrick's] mind, he was committed to loving them as God in Christ had first loved him.
What hardship are you willing to face in order to share your faith? Most of the time, I'm too nervous to try. I probably worry about the possible reactions too much. Maybe I have a fear of rejection. Or maybe I'm too busy to try. Or maybe I just assume that I'm such a good follower of Christ it comes naturally without being intentional. What is it for you? The bottom line, they're all excuses not to share this great love that God has shown me.
I want to have a new heart, one committed to sharing my faith regardless of the cost.
So a few weeks back, I wondered if there were any other pastors who fret over whether or not they're "selling out." After spending a week at church camp, and trying to get ready for ministry this fall, I'm ready to answer. First, let me say a little more about what I mean by "selling out."
Obviously, I don't mean getting paid a huge amount of money because pastors don't really get paid much (more than some, but not a lot). What I mean is: do I stray from my ideals in order to please pew-sitters or denominational authority? My ideal is this: ultimately, my life is to please God. If others happen to be pleased as well, then that's great, but my number one priority is pleasing God.
Honestly and unfortunately, the answer is "yes." I have from time to time tried to keep people happy simply so they would keep filling a pew on a regular basis and give their money. Yes, I have done things simply because the denominational higher-ups expect something a certain way. Just confessing that is freeing.
Here's what really concerns me though: I feel like I have to give my attention to a lot of things that aren't really making an impact. So often, I feel like there are competing expectations. The congregation expects me to take care of the people who are already Christian-Church-Attenders, and the "membership," but I feel God calling me to reach people in the community who do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ. Now if I can mobilize the "membership" to join me in reaching the community, that would be awesome. That seems so difficult. Even impossible. In fact, I think Mark Love captures a bit of what I'm saying here:
Our [pastors] greatest fear is irrelevance...that what we say and do is making zero difference in your life.
So part of me is always wondering if I get too tied up in inward-focused churchy stuff instead of the God stuff. I ask myself: "Am I settling for less than what God intended?" Have I become okay with just allowing the status quo to continue because it keeps the "church people" happy?
The truth is, if keeping people happy is the goal, then I'll never reach it. I have to stay focused on pleasing God, even if it means questioning the status quo, changing things, rocking the boat...or leaving the boat...and even if it means some people are unhappy.
There's another voice that is speaking to me from Scripture right now. It's Matthew 25:21:
You’ve been faithful over a little. I’ll put you in charge of much
I think that's a reminder to me that little things can make a big difference. It's also a reminder to be patient and realize that the best results usually aren't immediate. That's encouraging because some of thing things that I think aren't making a difference...offered to God, who knows what He can do...maybe they're doing more than I realize. "With God, all things are possible."
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.