Over Six Summers

I’m about to start my sixth “school year” here in Palmyra.  Believe it or not, but this is the longest I’ve lived in any one place since I started dorming at LMH when I was 17 years old.  It is certainly the only home that my son remembers, and the only one that my daughter remembers clearly.  For them, Palmyra is, “Where we are from.”  I keep telling my daughter that she is really from Pennsylvania, even though she has never lived there – but I haven’t convinced her of that.

When I first got here I wasn’t exactly sure how on earth I’d gotten the call (I have since been reminded by people, “Jesus wanted you here, duh?”).  It seemed that the congregation was irrevocably split along several different lines, and that introducing a “button pusher” into the mix was a recipie for a disaster of Biblical proportions.  In retrospect I shouldn’t be too surprised, I was asking Jesus for a calling that would challenge me – and Central surely was that!

I found it impposible to resist taking sides in the on-going wars in the congregation, which meant that in my early months here at Central I was on the path to insuring that the cycle of infighting would continue.  If it hadn’t been for some very good pastoral leadership on the part of Lee Spitzer and Frank Reeder I would have left Central Baptist a long time ago, and it would have been weaker for my being here.  Their counsel, however, allowed me to begin the process of accelerating out of the conflict, leaving the degrading orbit and inching towards escape velocity into the ministry of the Gospel.  We’re not quite there yet, but at least people are no longer trying to figure out when and where we’re going to crash and burn.

In the last couple of years I’ve been able to re-adjust my focus as a pastor from what we aren’t (or, what other people are doing), to what we are called to be.  The change has been dramatic and positive.  It never ceases to amaze me how even the most disillusioned people are able to be captured by a vision of hope.  It also amazes me how hope, of all things, is able to over-come those who deny it’s call in order to maintain control.  A good portion of people at Central, now have hope that Jesus has got something in store for us, and it’s made all the difference.  The very culture of Central Baptist is changing, and it’s shaking things up in a healthy way.  Here’s some good things:

  • The people who are part of the leadership structure of the congregation are actually beginning to expect that their work will have an positive impact on the congregation.  Of all the things that have happened during my pastorate – this is the most gratifying.
  • I’m seeing more and more offers of hospitality.   There are “cliques” in any human community, and Central is no different, but I’m seeing those lines crossed more and more.  This both expands the experience of fellowship, and makes the relationships within the “cliques” into a more healthy perspective.
  • Passive-aggressiveness is being tolerated less and less.  Glimpses of it still appear, but I’m witnessing the emergence of a Central Baptist that is able to have healthy conflict.  This is the work of God, make no mistake.

My question now is, “Where do we go from here?”  If the last five years laid the ground-work for the culture shift Central is beginning to experience, the next five years are going to have to be about embedding this more flexible culture into the collective psyche of Central.  That way, as new members come in, leadership changes, and the context of our ministry changes, we will be empowered by the Spirit to see the shifting nature of our world not as a threat – but rather as opportunities to reveal Jesus given to us by our Lord Himself!  If we come to that place, a place which seeks out avenues by which we might live out the Gospel with passion and joy.  When I see this emergening in fullness I’ll feel comfortable saying that I could leave – becuase the congregation would be left healthier than when I came to it.  I didn’t always feel that I’d be able to say that – now I’m becomming confident that, in Christ, it’s going to happen.

A lot has changed in 6 summers.