Monday, April 23, 2007

People left the church because of my blog

Real ministry involves real people with real differences. Each person is given by God their own personal gifts and graces. The church is the place that brings together those unique individuals to build God’s Kingdom. While we remain uniquely gifted, we are united by the love of our Savior. The pastor has the privilege of working with a diverse group of people. I find it enriching to work with people different than myself. The difficulty lies in ministering in such a way that prepares the people within the congregation to minister to and along side persons who are different from themselves. Overcoming differences can be quite difficult; it can be painful and confusing. This challenge often makes us uncomfortable when it causes us to question long held beliefs.

Since I have been a pastor, I have worked with people who are very different than myself. In my first two churches I stood out as one of the youngest adults in attendance. While my wife and I are from a large metropolitan city, both churches I have served are in rural, farming communities. I enjoyed the differences. I loved learning about farming, milking cows, and water softeners. I once drove a combine. My wife and I appreciated the slower pace of life and the rural community in which to raise our children. I took time to find commonalities and learned to speak the “native language.” Most of the people accepted me and my family and loved us in spite of the differences. I was able to overcome the cultural differences and do productive ministry in the local church. Yet, while I did not have a hard time ministering to people different than myself, I found that some people had a hard time being ministered to by someone so different.

My age, my upbringing, my theology, my post-modern way of thinking were differences some had difficulty overcoming. While serving at my last church some members decided to attend other churches. To some it appeared that I was to blame because of personal differences. I made every effort to address their concerns. While very few expressed disagreement with anything I preached, I knew that some disagreed with aspects of my theology or opinions they read on this blog. Upon learning of those differences I sought to sit down with those people to lovingly discuss the difference that lie between us. There were no replies to my letters. Upon requesting a meeting during one phone call, a couple refused to meet with me. Again, while I worked to overcome differences others refused to even discuss them.

Jesus prayed for unity so that the world may believe (John 17). Unity is important to the kingdom. People will have different opinions, different theologies, different backgrounds, different thoughts, different personalities, different concerns, and different passions. But this diversity should not be an obstacle to unity. Unity does not mean sameness; it means oneness. That oneness requires working with people of different race, color, ethnicity, national origin, social status, gender, sexual orientation, age, economic condition, or those with disabilities

John’s Revelation clearly states that when we all get to heaven we will discover people from every tribe, language, people, and nation gathered to worship God for all eternity. Today, God’s Church should reflect God’s Kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Reflections on my ministry, conclusion

When I was told by my District Superintendent last November that I was being re-appointed to the Senior Associate Pastor position at a nearby large, urban church there was a large part of me that was disappointed. There is tremendous potential for that small rural church I was serving to grow to be a major light for Christ in that community. Further, my entire family had come to feel at home in those cornfields. My daughters had become close to many of the children at that church. My wife became very close friends with some of the members there. We felt like family. I had expressed a desire to both the SPRC and the DS to stay at at that UMC. However, I serve at the will of the Bishop. I believe that the needs of the church I am currently serving and the gifts and graces I bring are a tremendous match for the growth and future ministry of this church I am excited to be in my current appointment and I look forward to many years of successful and life-transforming ministry in this city.

In the end, I am not ashamed to preach the Truth, but I am much more careful about the application of the Truth. If the Church is as Scripture states “The Body of Christ,” then there is much I have to learn from the Church, each part of the body. I am growing as much as any other part of the body.

Today, I love the Lord with all my mind, but also with all my heart and soul. Theology involves both my heart and brain, and in fact my ministry must utilize both. One cannot trump the other. My theology is a result of my relationship with God. In turn, the art of theology continually grows my relationship with the Triune God.

Honestly, the fear remains. I remain fearful of a routine of acceptance—conflict—rejection because of my thoughts, opinions, or mistakes. But in the midst of future conflict I pray I can find assurance. Assurance comes not from me but from my call, my baptism, my God and His people. Ordination is a manifestation of that assurance. Ordination, like ministry itself, is a privilege, not to abuse or self-promote, but to have as an affirmation that God called me and the Church affirms that calling.

Everywhere I go, there I am. While others will have to learn to live with me, ultimately it is learning to live with myself that is most important.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Reflections on my ministry, weaknesses

There are also areas of ministry in which I can grow and be strengthened. From the beginning I have suffered from what I call “ecclesiological puberty.” Student pastroring is trial by fire. This certainly was a learning experience. However, having never been a pastor, it was difficult being the sole pastor and having no one immediately at hand to help when I stumbled (and boy did I stumble). Further, I had certain ideas, as a new pastor, for how the church should function and the role of a pastor. This idealism set me up to be disappointed and discouraged. I also set myself up for unnecessary conflict because of my high idealism for the church. At times I am sure that I cam across as arrogant.

Growing up I was taught by teachers, mentors, and other institutions to believe that “knowledge is power.” I have always sought to learn and understand. Education remains important to me, as a husband, father, minister and in every area of my life. I love to read and learn. In seminary I excelled as a student. This new knowledge gave me insight into much about theology and church history. During my time in seminary, I solidified much of what I already believe and learned much that changed how I understood the church. In fact, many of my earlier assumptions about the church and the role of the pastor changed while in seminary. This no doubt frustrated some members of my church who were put off by my new found knowledge. I spoke to much of this in my spiritual auto-biography. The temptation was to use knowledge, less for the worship of God and the building of The Kingdom, and more for power, after all that is what I was taught. This lead to using my new vocabulary and enlightenment to be defensive and create unrealistic expectation for any church. I must tame my vision for the church and be patient for the church to claim ownership of the needed changes.

Today, while I remain interested in learning and understanding, I hope I have overcome much of that “ecclesiological puberty.” This is an area which will remain a challenge for me throughout my ministry. Yet I have matured both as a pastor and as a person and will continue to do so as I continue to work in pastoral ministry.

While I have certainly grown much in the area of pastoral care and counseling, this continues to be an area of ministry in which I will continue to be strengthened. I have spent much time sitting in living rooms and around kitchen tables just talking to people. I anticipate spending more time visiting parishioners and constituents in the hospital in my new appointment. Visitation and pastoral care is mostly a “ministry of presence.” Daily I am learning the art of listening and asking questions. I also believe that I am unqualified for many aspects of counseling and I believe that there will be times I must refer counseling to better trained therapists. Overall it is important for me to build relationships with people inside and outside the church. Therefore while this is a challenge for me, I believe it is an area in which I must improve.

Pastoral ministry offers many challenges. As a sinful person there are many aspects of my life in which I fall short. I know that as I continue to lean on God I will be lifted up during the difficult times and continue to grow all the time.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Reflections on my ministry, strengths

Any gifts for ministry I have are only by the grace of God. I am often pessimistic in my abilities as a pastor, yet hopeful in God’s ability to work through me to accomplish the work of ministry. Therefore, self-evaluation is difficult because at any given moment I may excel or fall flat based on the movement of God’s Holy Spirit.

However, I also aware that God has especially gifted me in certain areas of ministry. Further there are some particular areas of ministry that I am more passionate about than others. Preaching and teaching are two areas of ministry which are both strengths and passions. While I maintain a healthy fear of both, as the responsibility is high for those who preach and teach the Gospel, I am confident in my ability to express God’s Word from the pulpit and in the classroom. I look forward to preaching on Sundays. Further, I enjoy leading and facilitating discussions about Biblical and theological topics.

Visioning is also a strength I have as pastor. I spend much time praying to discern God’s Will for both my leadership and the mission of the churches I serve. I devote myself to learning the strengths of the particular local church and the needs of the surrounding community. Additionally, I believe God has particularly called me to finding new ways of organizing the church so as to reach out to my generation and future generations. I have lots of ideas and dreams for how the Church can reach young people for Jesus Christ.

In that same regard, I am also passionate about evangelism. However, my understanding of evangelism is not passing out tracts or proselytizing. From the witness of Scripture and the church throughout the ages, evangelism is about building relationships with people and showing a how your faith impacts your everyday life. My District Superintendent invited me to lead a district workshop on evangelism.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Reflections on my ministry, part 4

It was soon after commissioning that I came to learn about the changing ways we can do ministry in a post-modern, post-Christian world. I grew in my desire to create an emerging church focus. I wanted to find ways of making that a reality in a small, rural church. Many of the same concerns about poor theology remained. This time I sought to penetrate the heart instead of attacking the surface. I prayerfully discerned that the way to bring about change was not through demanding change, but through service.

As for my identity and being pigeon-holed, I wanted to define myself by what I was for and not by what I was against. There were certainly differences of opinions. But instead of preaching from my soapbox each Sunday, I reached out to the people where they were. There was much early success. We brought in new members in the first year and we had many unchurched visitors. This is a small but active church. There are several young families that became more involved as we offered more programming for families and children. I invested myself in getting to know many of the members of the “Young at Heart” group, made up mostly of folks over 75. It was my desire to build relationships with everyone in the church, from the youngest to the oldest.

I certainly made my share of mistakes as a newly commissioned pastor, but we took some risks and many of them paid off. When conflict arose, I handled it in an entirely new way. Unfortunately, this particular local church has a history of conflict. The pastors four pastors following my arrival had also been rejected through conflict by this congregation. I began to see a pattern in this small, rural church of exactly what I feared: acceptance—conflict—rejection. Yet, for almost two years I managed to keep the peace, resolve conflict when it arose, and have successful ministry.

When a major conflict finally hit, I was ready to respond appropriately. There were a number of complaints about happenings in the church that caused much of the conflict. A few complained about one sermon I preached at a special Lenten service in the community. Another was upset because of the word “catholic” in the Apostle’s Creed. Still others disagreed with my opinions about patriotism. While I attempted to explain the definition of “catholic” and I never once preached or taught against patriotism, those who were offended left the church. Others protested with their pocket books. This church who had financial problems when I started but ended 2005 with a $7,000 surplus now faced another financial crisis. It was part of the cycle that the church had developed in the past: conflict would come; people would leave; some would stop giving; the SPRC would panic; the DS would be called in with a request for a new pastor. This dysfunctional behavior is both conditioned and reinforced at this church. It had happened to the past several pastors. Recognizing the situation, I tried to reassure the SPRC and keep our focus on ministry. I attempted to reach out to the people who had left, but all of them refused to even speak with me. This dysfunctional cycle impacted our plans. The Trustees put the building plans on hold. The secretary quit and was not replaced. In the end, the SPRC panicked and the congregation was once again feeling the wounds of the past. Some started pointing fingers while others just got defensive.

My response was to attempt to keep the church focused on ministry. I did not want the conflict to overcome the positive ministries that were taking place. While we could not work through the conflict with those who left, the Church was able to overcome much of the conflict. I listened to them and helped them listen to each other. Together, we identified this systemic pattern of behavior and worked on a plan to break the destructive pattern. Grief, hurt, dissatisfaction were all openly shared. We continued with our regular ministries and had several excellent Bible studies and programs. Personally, I did not make some of the mistakes I had made at my first church. I refused to use the pulpit to express my feelings about the controversial subjects. While some personal attacks were made, I did not take the conflict personally. I recognized that most of the conflict was the result of events and happenings that took place long before I had arrived. In the end, the conflict we endured was healthy conflict; it was healthy for both myself and the church to productively work through past conflict and maintain a focus on the present and future ministries.
Cost of the War in Iraq
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