December Days

Ever since I marked my five-year anniversary at my church, things have felt different.

They haven't been a bad sort of different. I've just noticed an internal change that I'm still trying to wrap my mind around.

I guess that I can't really explain this internal change. I've certainly sought the right words in order to explain it to myself, let alone other people. I don't call it despair, and I don't feel stuck in a rut, exactly. It isn't really fatigue, or boredom, or apathy. There are good things happening, and believe it or not, I have a serious amount of plans for 2010 already.

And yet, I've still been asking myself some "now what?" sorts of questions.

I wrote the other month about terrains of the heart, and how my most recent, Eden Seminary, is fading. Five and a half years after graduation, where fellow graduates are going through transitions and I've gone through transitions and the seminary itself has gone through transitions, it was bound to happen. I think that this change coupled with the fact that I've been ministering in the same place for five years is causing me to re-evaluate some things; to wonder about next steps in a larger sense and not just me and my church.

At some level, of course, these questions do concern me and my church. We're doing fine, and together we more or less have an idea of what's next between us. I just bought a house in the area, and I'm pretty much a "tenured" guy with them. As such, one question I've been asking the past few weeks is, "How do I faithfully continue to pastor the same church after five years?" What do I have to do or what might I have to change in order to carry on an effective ministry in one place for six, seven, eight, ____ years?

Beyond that, I'm wondering where I'm headed in a larger professional sense. What bigger things should I be concerned about? And what do I even mean by "bigger things?"

To seek some insight into whatever this is, I returned to the Alban Institute article that helped name what I've dealt with in previous years in my setting. Here's part of what it says about Year Six:
During this year it’s not uncommon for both pastor and staff members to rework their résumés. Some begin considering serious inquiries from other churches, perhaps even paying a visit or two at the invitation of a search committee. This temptation to accept a new call may signal that the ministry groove you’ve created is becoming a ministry rut. It’s time to begin asking yourself questions about essential changes in your ministry leadership roles and professional goals. Will you stay in the parish ministry for the rest of your working years? Do you want to go into teaching? Will you specialize, perhaps in pastoral care and counseling? If you are an associate or assistant minister, will you seek a sole or senior pastor position? If you are a sole pastor, will you take on the challenges of leading a multiple staff? Is it time to move on to a bigger church?
I'm not leaving my church. Let's just get that off the table now.

The bolded line describes pretty well what I'm dealing with. After five years in the same place, it may or may not really be time to leave (again, for me, it isn't), but nevertheless it's time to assess professional goals.

As I've mentioned, this works at two levels. I've batted around some ideas for the bigger stuff, but have never gotten tremendously serious about any of them. Maybe after Coffeewife finishes this latest degree I'll pursue another of my own. Or maybe there's some practice of ministry that I really want to develop through continuing education, like Stephen Ministry or certification in spiritual direction. Or maybe there's some wider UCC or emergent thing I want to be more involved in, or some justice issue I feel I've been neglecting and now I should take up the cause once more.

These are the sorts of vague, beyond-naming thoughts and feelings I've been having these December days. This feels like an in-between time for me as far as professional goals are concerned. I've been planning to devote a portion of my sabbatical time to these things, but it seems that I'll be dealing with them all the way leading up to that time, and probably after I get back as well.

I have a certain excitement about this in-between time. But I pray that I find the direction that I seek before that excitement wears off.

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