Saturday, March 31, 2007

Reflections on my ministry, part 3

While the church certainly suffered from my lack of leadership and immaturity, I felt the pain of their personal attacks and attacks on my family. One specific lady in that church made my life and ministry particularly difficult. She manipulated certain situations and maneuvered to pick at past wounds. It was during these days at my church that I felt depressed and discouraged. I only managed to overcome these personal hurts by focusing more on the “student” part of my Student Pastor title.

My ministry at this first appointment was not a complete loss. In spite of these difficulties God brought people to salvation and several new members joined. I witnessed members grow in their faith and walk with Christ. We had several successful youth events and one youth committed herself to full-time ministry.

In the end I didn’t light many candles; instead I drowned them with a fire extinguisher. That novice pastor was really no learned theologian. In fact, I discovered that I was only a novice theologian and a poor pastor. I learned to love God with all my mind but I forgot to love God with all my heart and soul as well. One does not outweigh the other.

After graduating from United and being commissioned by Bishop Woodie White in 2004, I started my first full-time appointment at a small church further into teh cornfields of Indiana. This was an opportunity to self-reflect, learn from my mistakes, and do better. But since “everywhere I go, there I am” I feared a repeat of the acceptance, conflict, and rejection that I experienced at the first church. There remained in me a seed of doubt that things could happen all over again. Yet this change of appointment offered me a chance at spiritual and pastoral resurrection.

With the help of my wife, who is in her final year of getter her Master in Counseling, I became more self-aware and discovered that I had made several critical errors at my previous church. While I desired to stand firm in my faith at the new church, I had to make a concerted effort to “speak the Truth in love” as is suggested in Ephesians. It became apparent that self-giving needed to be emphasized in place of self-pride. I invested myself in learning to speak the language of the context and culture, finding common ground to do ministry and gentle yet affirming ways to teach the theology that is dear to my heart.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Reflections on my ministry, part 2

My first church desired a Student Pastor who was willing to help build the youth group. Since I was a Student Pastor and I had years of experience in youth ministry it seemed an appropriate match. At first the good people of this local church suffered through my mistakes and high idealism. However, our problems soon became evident.

While at seminary, I re-discovered my love for learning. My theology, worship, church history, and Bible classes rocked my world. Certain books taught me ideas that I had never considered. Previous assumptions about certain theological principles were challenged and re-framed. While the foundations of my theology remained steadfast—that which is affirmed in the Apostle’s Creed and may be described as Orthodox--much of my theology changed. I found much excitement and joy in learning to love God with “all my mind.” That novice pastor became an “enlightened” theologian.

This of course all carried over to the local church. I began preaching and teaching in what was probably very intimidating ways about redaction in Synoptic gospel, hermunitical principles, exegesis of soteriological and escatological pericopes and other expensive, seminary words. But frustrations grew on my part and on part of the congregation over even the most basic theology regarding justification by grace alone, following the Christian calendar, and overcoming poor but popular prosperity theology. Instead of sticking to the basics, I jumped feet first in the fire. Instead of trying to ignite a spark, I threw gasoline of the fire. I displayed a lack of theological restraint and self-control. The congregation no doubt experienced a high level of immaturity and pride. Theological classes were not tamed by the poor administrative classes.

The seminary desired to increase my confidence. Yet I felt my confidence was easily mistaken for arrogance. That may be because there was arrogance on my part. Fights ensued. They fired shots and I fired back. I abused of my authority as pastor. People left the church. To this day I am forced to ask myself: were those now empty pews a sign of upholding the Truth or a lack of love? At the time I didn’t know the contradiction of my ministry.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Reflections on my ministry, part 1

My first appointment was to a small, rural United Methodist Church in the North Indiana Conference. Prior to this appointment, my wife and I were living in a small one-bedroom apartment in Cincinnati and I was attending seminary at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. While I knew I was called ministry I was unsure of what particular area of ministry to which God was calling me. I explored several different areas of ministry until I found myself behind the white-painted pulpit of that small, rural church.

I was young: a new husband and brand-new father. We were leaving behind our family and moving to a new state. It was in fact a whole new life. I had never before been in a small country church, never mind pastoring one. Most of my life had been spent in larger churches. I had grown up and was baptized in a Southern Baptist Church in my neighborhood. After meeting my wife-to-be I attended her family’s Holiness Pentecostal Church for several years. And it was while in college that my sweetheart and I got married and sought out a church of our own. God led us to the United Methodist Church.

The Southern Baptists taught me the Bible. The Pentecostals taught me about the movement of God’s Holy Spirit. The United Methodist Church filled in the blanks and taught me about what is most important: God’s amazing grace. It was while at this United Methodist Church that God re-awakened my call to ministry and I began seminary. It was soon after that when I began the candidacy process and began my Student Pastor appointment in Indiana.

So there I was. I had never been a pastor. Aside from the two weeks at Local Pastors License School, I knew nothing of being a pastor. But I felt called by God and called by God to pastor that specific church. Student Pastoring is difficult. I discovered in my conversations with my peers who also had Student Pastorates that we shared many of the same challenges. We not only struggled with having a full class-load and pastoring “part-time” and maintaining balance in our home life, but many of those small churches have their own issues. This local church had her share of problems. But my own problems certainly did not help.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Reflections on my ministry, intro.

Our first professional obligation [as pastors] is to understand ourselves; without that understanding we are incapable of working with others in healthy and healing ways.
- Arthur Paul Boers, Never Call them Jerks

Everywhere I go there I am.
- Proverbial Wisdom of Alcoholics Anonymous

If it is true that in order to be help others I need to understand myself and I cannot escape myself, then self-awareness must be important to be an effective pastor. After several years in ministry I have found this task to be of primary importance. I have to be aware of my own issues and “baggage.” Avoiding my personal situation is deadly to my ministry. But at times self-awareness seems an impossible task. As a person I have several hats to wear: Christian, husband, father, son, pastor, committee member, on and on. I feel pressured on many fronts to be defined by others. There are many who want to pigeon-hole and label me. There are others who have agendas and will seek to use me. And it seems few desire that I be myself. Of course, defining myself takes time and energy; it is easier to accept a role or fill a job description. Yet, life is more complex than that.

If I have grown at all over the past five years as “pastor” it is in this area. In order to avoid mis-representations and false perception, I need to define myself. In order to avoid some conflict and difficult behavior, I need to be more self-aware. When I began my ministry, I had very little self-awareness and plenty of self-centeredness. Today I, no doubt, continue in that struggle (but even that statement reflects a move toward self-awareness).

I have faced many challenges in the ministry since I followed my call to pastoral ministry. Of course, ministry should be challenging. Real ministry with real people who deal with real problems should be challenging. Yet, I have found that many of the difficulties I faced were those I created or intensified. For the next several weeks, I would like to reflect more on how I have lived out that calling to pastoral ministry and the growth that has taken place in the past several years.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

I made it

Last Wednesday, the Board of Ordained Ministry in the North Indiana Conference was bold enough to approve me for ordination at this year's Annual Conference. I would like to praise God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Thank my family, especially my ever-supportive wife. And the churches that have endured me and will have to put up with me in the future. It was 10 years in the making... now I just pray I don't screw up between now and June 2.

Also, I guess this means I will have to purchase some stoles!

PS: I hope to blog some of my story next week.
Cost of the War in Iraq
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