24 March 2006

I'm in the middle of my most interesting life-chapter. Having spent six months unemployed, and now four months employed as an interim pastor-teacher, I am in the process of uncovering and learning to live into God's more permanent will for my life.

And based on my experiences with the nine churches I applied at for pastoral positions, on some of the books I've read during this past year, and on many conversations I've had with other pastor-teachers about their "finding God's will/transitional" experiences, here are six of the important lessons I've learned ...


FIRST, it was easy to lie to people about my level of hope. When continually asked "how things were going", usually by people I loved, trusted, and who I even knew were praying for me and for my family, it became all to easy to say "I'm doing okay” and “I'm trusting God" when the reality was that much of the time I was doubting, fearful and anxious about my future.

God has taught me to be honest, even when it possibly showed a crisis of faith; inviting people to pray specifically for my doubts , my fears, and my anxious heart. And the more honest I become, the more I’ve strongly felt the presence and support of God through the prayers of these folks.

SECOND, it can really be hard to know which churches to apply to – because just like candidates want to "market" themselves as the real-deal, honest, wise, experienced and caring … it's easy for churches to "market" themselves as healthy, organizationally sound, spiritually mature, and confident about the vision God has given them for who they are to be, than they actually are.

God has taught me to have a "rifle" approach instead of a "shotgun" approach to the application process. Praying about what specific churches to apply to instead of only praying for God's will once I've applied at a plethora of churches was a refreshing philosophical shift that I experienced a month or two into this unemployment chapter.

I want to trust others intentions and not assign motives. But I also want to be as discerning about them as I want them to be about me. This perspective has helped me view the churches I'm "in process with" as colleagues who can be trusted, rather than as adversaries who need to be "won over."

THIRD, email is a great way to communicate, but it has limitations.

Applying for jobs and communicating over the Internet has become common and even helpful in many ways. But nothing can take the place of a phone call and/or a face-to-face conversation. Eye contact, tone and posture just aren't discernible over email ... either from the candidate to the search committee, or from the search committee to the candidate.


FIRST, healthy churches do exist – and most of them are committed to lifting up the person of Jesus Christ, aren't shy about the teaching of God's WORD, are passionate about listening to and obeying the direction of the Holy Spirit, and have a vision for equipping and encouraging their flocks to turn their inward faith outward.

While many of house-church adherents are crying "the sky is falling" in regards to the no-hope-crisis they believe the modern-day Christian church has degenerated into, I’m not dismayed about the "state of the church."

On the contrary, I have great hope about what I see the church becoming and doing. I see a growing vision to know and live into the reality and the power of the Kingdom of God.

I see a passionate willingness on the part of the church to be teachable at all times, pruned when necessary, and trained in righteousness – all through the consistent, creative, and compassionate teaching of God's WORD.

I see flocks who have abandoned the "fortress mentality" of the church for good – embracing instead a desire to go into their neighborhoods, their cities, and their world with the transforming, missional Truth of Jesus Christ.

SECOND, healthy churches want their pastor-teachers to lead them, but not without accountability, partnership, and process.

Having been led by leaders who lacked integrity of word-and-deed, and/or having been mentored by leaders who let them down through moral failure – it’s easy to see why many flocks are skittish about asking a pastor-teacher to really lead them.

Because of this reality, leaders must be committed to accountability, partnership and process.

When a pastor-teacher doesn't want (and even request) accountability in ministry, they should be suspect of having more pride (and it’s fruit, arrogance), than humility (and it’s fruit, confidence).

When a pastor-teacher doesn't desire partnership in ministry, they will never know the joy and peace that comes through the sweet fruit of being yoked with others in ministry endeavors.

And when a pastor-teacher doesn't value process, they will never learn to rely on discernment and courage as the two equal halves of obedience ... and in the end they’ll far too easily mistake "opportunistic zeal" for being "Spirit-led". And we all know the result of that fatal flaw.

THIRD, healthy churches have staff members who know how to have fun and who don't take themselves too seriously – while at the same time maintaining vision, purpose and passion.

"Taking ministry seriously" and yet "not taking oneself too seriously" … all pastor-teachers, and church leaders must embrace these two priorities.

"Taking ministry seriously" will be the fruit of a heart of conviction, a will given over to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and a life centered on Jesus Christ.

"Not taking oneself too seriously" will be the fruit of a pastor-teacher, and of church leaders who are seeking to be set free from ego, who have relinquished the need to be territorial, and who feel secure in who they are, what God is asking them to do, and their obedience to God's calling.

When pastor-teachers, and/or church leaders feel the need to control people, outcomes, programs, ministries and even worship, they will always be led into a life of non-joyful bondage.

But learning to be ourselves, to plan simply and expect profound results, and not being afraid of admitting our mistakes, our weaknesses and the sins we struggle with, is a freeing posture to adopt. And as pastor-teachers adopt this posture, the rest of the flock will feel free to do the same.

I am still greatly enjoying my life at Ogden Church in SE Michigan, but I invite you to join me as I continue on the journey of seeking, finding and living into the next, more permanent chapter of God's will for my life. Godspeed.



No comments: