I didn’t mention it on a Sunday morning or even much in conversations with anyone until this past weekend, but this month marks our seventh anniversary at Church in Bethesda. Before moving to Bethesda I was a youth pastor, a worship AV tech, and a church planter, but this position has been my first and only position as a lead senior pastor.
There’s so much I still don’t know, and many mistakes are littered along the path of what God has done with us and through us. There have been joys and pains, disappointments and celebrations. I’ve been thinking this week about lessons I might have learned along the way in the last seven years, and I made some notes as my thoughts distilled. Here are a few things I think I’ve learned or at least begun to attempt to incorporate into my life along the way…
1) I’ve stopped ever making that dumb old joke about “working with people would be awesome, if it weren’t for the people.” In ministry circles you might here, “Well, church work is great, except for the people” or something along those lines… and invariably the person making the joke does love the people, they just have really had a hard time with relationships and interpersonal dynamics of late. Working with people is undeniably tough. Minsters get to not only see people at their best and worst, but also hear from people at their best and worst. As trying as the job can be, I’ve decided that such a joke about people has no appropriate place in my thoughts or words. I mean what does that line really mean? Wouldn’t it be great if everyone agreed with me? Or if they thought like me? Or would just do what there were told to do? Yuck. Where’s the Spirit, the creativity, the joy and growth in that?
2) I rarely say things like “the Bible says” or even use the word “Bible.” I tend these days to speak far more about “our scriptures” or even the “biblical narrative” in such and such place in scripture. If I want to mention or quote a passage, I’ll reference it’s author instead of referencing that name we print on the cover as if God approved that draft cover personally before it went into printing. The phrase “the Bible says” is misleading and is used far too hurtfully far too many times. The word Bible itself simply means paper or book, from the Greek ta biblia. It seems in Medieval times we coined the phrase Biblia Sacra, and now our English scriptures all come emblazoned with Holy Bible. God’s greatest work is in us, not on paper.
3) I can trust people. I could blame it on being Gen-X, or to listening to The Wall too many times growing up (or last week), but the bottom line is that I tend toward having “Introverted Cynic” stamped on my forehead. I often expect the worst, and like most other self-fulfilling prophecies, I can get the worst or incite the worst. But seven years of pastoring has shattered my cynical delusions. Dang it, people are so good and so beautiful, even when the hard days roll around. I can give myself to them, and it’s ok. I can give myself to you.
4) I can trust God. I have known some pain in the last seven years, and I’ve known some good times. Sort of a scriptural story, huh? Sort of a life story. There’s rarely a plot line in anyone’s personal or professional life that takes an arc of joy through only good times… instead there are challenges, obstacles and dark valleys of shadow to traverse, and through them all God is a constant of goodness.
5) If I have a blessing to give, I need to give it freely and with love. I remember singing it as a child in church classes, “He said freely freely, you have received, freely freely give / Go in my name and because you believe, other will know that I live.” The freely give part is from the semi-famous statement of Jesus in Matthew 10:8 when Jesus sends the Twelve on a very specific mission to preach in the villages of Israel. “Freely you have received, freely give.” Jesus will later expand their mission from Jerusalem to Judea, to Samaria and the ends of the earth, and I think the reciprocity of giving as we have received remains in effect. I need to be giving, freely sharing, reaching out.
There’s nothing earth shattering here. I wish that in seven years I might have discovered the magical way to eternally balance a church budget (or my own), or a hidden verse that could be prayed thirty times a day to cure male pattern baldness. No such luck. I think I would characterize the last seven years as a deepening as much as growth.
I know I’m different today than I was seven years ago, and I’m lead more and more to my knees with the Jesuit prayer I began using a while back to sign off on my blogs and had tattooed on my arm, “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.” To the greater (multiplying) glory of God. And in that glory of God exists the blessing of the earth and all it’s people, animals and beautiful matter. Amen.