Saturday, February 16, 2008

If you schedule it - people won't come.

Today was February's Designed in Mission. We had my friend Chris (hi Chris) and Stephen come and present on their communities. Both were great conversation partners, and I was especially interested in Stephen's perspective as the head of new church development for the Franconia Mennonite Conference.

I was, however, disappointed with the turn-out. Aside from the one person Stephen brought with him (hi Jess), one person showed up. To be fair, several of the people who have been coming were away this weekend, and Q and company would have come if I had managed to set up child-care, but over-all the turn out for these things have been disappointing. There have been times when I've almost begged people to come out and be part of this absolutely necessary conversation - only to look out and see most people crossing their arms in defiance (literally) or trying not to meet my gaze. Honestly, it gets depressing.

I guess most pastors go though seasons like this, wondering, "Why am I hear, Lord?" Knowing that it's common, however, doesn't make it any easier to go through. I'm just at a point where I'm not sure that my voice is very effective here and I'm not sure if this church actually wants to live, or have someone else live for them. I'm at the point where I don't want to come up with any new ideas, because I don't want to be disappointed again. In that sense, I'm guessing that I'm learning the lesson that this culture has been beating into the heads of everyone in this congregation for years, "Shut up and don't make waves and we'll leave you alone." I really don't want to learn that lesson, because once I do my effectiveness as a pastor will be over - but the temptation is there. I mean, why bother trying to move forward if people are just going hang back and hope you get it "out of your system?"

So, how do I wrestle with feelings like these positively to avoid self-pitying navel-gazing? Well, first I'm throwing myself into the ideas that I already have. The fall sermon series here is going to be one most provocative to date - we'll be examining the political implications of Jesus preaching in his contemporary setting and how that might impact the way we interact with the political realities of our current day. What'll make it so provocative is that I'll be preaching the series in the heat of a presidential campaign without simply telling people how Jesus would vote. Of all the things that I still have envisioned for Central, that series is the thing that gets my heart pumping the most. In fact, I'm already reading for it (and suggestions are most welcome). Second, I'm actually daring to ask if I should still be here as the pastor. This is a frightening thing for a lot of pastors to ask (and even more frightening for a congregation to hear), but it's a healthy thing to do. So far, the answer from friends, family, and pastors I trust has been, "Nope, not yet. God wants you here." This helps, even in my frustration, because I know I'm not just wasting my time (even if it feels like I am). It also helps because the freedom to ask that question directly addresses the sense of entrapment that a lot of pastor's have - knowing that if they leave they're also likely to loose their place of residence. Since I can ask that question openly, I know I'm not just staying out of a fear of being homeless - that's a good thing.

So here I am, I've got at least one thing left to do here as the Pastor of Central Baptist and I'm chomping at the bit to get to it. Yet, I have to say that it's getting harder and harder to come back over the bridge to New Jersey when I've been visiting my parents in PA. I miss the hills. Ah well, existential moment.


Jamison said...

Read Greg Boyd's book The Myth of a Christian Nation. It's a must read for what you're preaching.

wezlo said...

Already reading it.

Matt said...

Sorry to hear turnout was especially low this time around.

You are right about this conversation needing to be had. The two that I have been to have been informative and helpful to me in discerning Gods voice. I wonder though, as I am not a part of your worshipping community, how others have found them relevant to their own walk. Perhaps giving your own community a voice in answering these questions would be a good way to get them involved.

Oh... and Shane Claiborne has a new book coming out soon called "Jesus for President" which I assume should be pretty much awesome.

wezlo said...

This worshiping community has a voice in where I go, no doubt. I couldn't, in good conscience, depart without their leave - I have, after all, been bound in covenant to them.

I can't bring myself to read Shane's books at the moment. Not because of the content - but because he's my friend and I'd frankly just rather have coffee with him, reading his book would just remind me that he's not free to do that much anymore.

Dr. Qohelet said...

Sorry I couldn't be there. As it was, Mrs.Q got that GI bug around 11AM, so it would have been none to pleasant getting here home from Jersey with that.

BTW I still have your ditto

ron said...

I left official pastorate (not to retirement) after 28 years in 2006. So I'm familiar with your frustration of pouring new wine into old wineskins that tend to break. Although I imagined it would be "different" outside the establishment, I couldn't fully appreciate the freedom that comes after an extended period of detox for myself.

As I meet now with others in less structured settings for worship, evangelism, teaching, counsel, prophecy, giving, serving, fellowship... we struggle to define the incredible difference between "this" (whatever it is) and such similar groups/activities that are connected with a legacy congregation/clergy/finances.

Two things are beginning to emerge as distinctive: one is the new freedom from largely invisible tether attached to the organization (budget obligations, church vision statements, clergy personalities/preferences, necessary requirements of schedules, goals, facilities, etc.).

Are your gifts and passion finding a comfortable home in the hearts of your community as much as they might in an environment that is not cluttered with the invisible attachments that pervade all established organizations?

Seeds for new life don't seem to have as much chance to flourish in a highly developed metropolis as they do in an empty field.

But then the empty field has no supermarkets, shopping malls, concert halls, libraries, banks... only holes for foxes and nests for birds. You may be able to find a rock for a pillow, but you will be able to sleep well.

Such a break may not be necessary. It is costly in terms of great benefits including pensions, medical plans, housing allowances, training opportunities, pulpit time, discrectionary time, etc. But it might be. I couldn't find an acceptable alternative.

wezlo said...

Yah, Ron - I'm glad for your work, I'm pretty sure that's the direction I see myself going.