One of the great things about our region is that our regional pastor (rough translation, “A Bishop with severly limited powers, given that they herd cats for a living”) is big on spiritual development. When I moved to the area he was starting up a mentoring program, akin to a spiritual confessor, called “Pastor to Pastor.” I signed up immedately and Lee gave me some names of people to talk to, one of which has become a great friend and mentor, Frank Reeder. Frank and I have been through a lot together, and have supported each other’s call through thick and thin – a true give and take friendship that I’m priviledged to be in.
Frank and I probe each other, and he asked me a question last week that struck me deeply, “What is the biggest obstacle to Central Baptist becomming genuinely healthy in the long-term?” (my paraphrase). I didn’t even really need to think about the answer to the question, I wrestle with it every day.
You see, I’m the biggest obstacle to Central Baptist transitioning to long-term health and growth in the Gospel.
I don’t say that with a sense of despair, but as recognition that I have some transitioning to do myself. You see, in all my years as a Christian I’ve never been near the leadership of a healthy church – one that was making disciples who are deep in the faith and bound together in community. Every congregation that’s ever migrated me to “leadership” has been on the cusp of needing an emergency restart (one of them is, in fact, now closed). So, while I’ve had lots of exposure to faithful pastors who keep loving people who actively try to tear them to pieces while they point to the narrow path of discipleship, I’m lacking in the examples of pastors who have been through the process of transition and come out on the other side nimble and ready to keep transitioning as they pursue Jesus with their congregation.
So that this means is that I’m really good at helping folks begin the process of understanding the nature of the Church differently, I really have few models from my personal background upon which to build in the wake of that rethinking process. It’s this profound lack of models that led me to serve on the regional staff for ABCNJ, what Lee and the Staff are doing to bring some health to an unhealthy region was something that I wanted to witness close up so I could learn – even though it sucks up some time from my local pastoral responsibilities.
Everyone from the region who comes to Central for worship or another event has told me how much the congregation has changed – people appear to genuinely respect and have affection for one another, which has not always been the truth of the congregation over the last 25 years of so (with grave mistakes being made both by pastoral leadership and the congregation). It’s good to hear that a transition has been noticed – it’s come with a lot of blood, sweat, and “conversations” with God. Changing that portion of the culture, however, was easy compared to what needs to happen next. That sense of trust and affection needs to be put to the test so that it emerges as a clearly articulated (and enacted) mission which a new structure that supports that clearly articulated direction. This is the tack where I end up in uncharted waters. Here be dragons, as the old saying go.
I honestly don’t know if I’ve got what it takes to pull it off. Or, if you will, to be the vessel that is part of how Jesus pulls it off. I look at my background and say, “I got nothin’.” Of course that seems to be the very type of person that God often uses to pull off the seemingly impossible with next to nothing. That fact doesn’t make it any less intimidating.
Now in saying all this I want to be perfectly clear, I am in no way feeling unsupported by the folks at Central Baptist Church. This was the other part of the conversation Frank had with me last week. Here’s how supported I feel at Central:
- I have at least one person who will get in my face and talk to me about how I’m doing
- I have a couple who are able to interact with my sermons with critiques which are not “theological muggings” (which invigorates me, by the way)
- I have more than a few who will come up and ask me, “What do you need us to do right now?”
- I have several others who are psyched about the things they are learning,and the impact they have on their lives
- I have people who have, over time, come to the conclusion that even though I’m not a “traditional pastor” I’m actually worth trusting and have their best interests for Christian spiritual growth in my heart.
- Even though I make up a good portion of our budge short-fall, I’ve had people (even from unexpected sources) tell me how much they want me to stick around.
So is everything roses? Not at all. We have conflict, disagreement, and struggles. There are times where the congregation wants to strangle me and I want to whack them upside the head (probably with good reason on both counts) – but there is love, and i appreciate that fact.
What it comes down to is this. Even though I’m woefully ill-equipped to be taking the journey I’m about to begin with Central, I’ll bank on that love which exists among the congregation as being an expression of Jesus’ love for us, and his desire for us to become who we need to be in this place, and at this time, for the glory of his Kingdom. It’s just daunting to think that I probably have to change more than anyone – even as I’ve already changed more than just about anyone realizes.
“Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done….”