Wednesday, December 09, 2009

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.


M.A.C. said...


I hope you don't mind answering a couple of questions I am asking all believers everywhere;

Do you believe that God sent His only Son Jesus Christ to start a new religion called Christianity?

And Where is the text in the bible that supports the popular Christian belief that God sent His only Son Jesus Christ to start a new religion called Christianity?

Jeff Nelson said...

After briefly visiting your blog, M.A.C., I can't say I'm especially interested in playing your game. I get that you want to make the point that Christ doesn't intend for this much disunity, but I think your methods need some tweaking.

Your video project, for instance, is well-meaning but unnecessarily confrontational. Disrupting worship services and then pointing to people's reactions as some kind of evidence for the point you want to make is not, I believe, in the spirit of Christ. If instead, for instance, you showed up at my church and invited me and a few other members out for lunch and recorded our conversation, the results might be much more fruitful.

I can't think of one person in my congregation who would disagree that Jesus wasn't UCC, as your t-shirted crew would have suggested in an attempt to rile people up. I can't think of one person in my congregation who believes that the UCC has it exactly right. I can't think of one person whom I've met in UCC circles who believes that, either. Sure, I've met plenty of people who are passionate about and committed to the way the UCC does things, but overall I think you're much more likely to find people ready and willing to work alongside people of other denominations, and who in fact have in many cases. In fact, an increasing amount of denominations have entered into agreements of full communion, meaning that clergy are welcome to serve in each other's churches, among other partnership efforts.

All that said, my answer to your first question is no. Since your second question assumes that I'd say yes to the first, I don't need to answer it.

I believe that the Jesus movement originated as a Jewish reform movement, but as the rift between Jews and Jesus-followers grew, the two naturally split and became distinct. I also believe that this was a mutual thing; that people who eventually came to be called Christians were encouraged to leave Judaism as much as they elected to form their own movement. Then Constantine changed everything more drastically, of course.

At any rate, I was glad to have been able to visit your blog in order to get a better idea of what you're driving at by leaving this comment.

M.A.C. said...

Well thank you for the answer Coffeepastor I do appreciate your forthrightness. I assure you that I am not playing a game and if there is a better way of doing things I am open to that.

However controversy seems to work wonders in raising interest. That's how Jesus Christ did it and that is probably how I will do it. But one never knows until we have a finished product.

My concern is based in scripture and my mission is to the churches.

Consider; Matthew 7

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'

Sounds like Jesus is talking about church folk here.

Jeff Nelson said...

One other thing that I thought of concerning your video project, M.A.C., is that you'd surely need to get each church's permission to use video equipment. I can't see how you'd truly be able to catch anyone off guard, at least while recording it, without getting somebody's approval. I could see some legal issues otherwise.

That's beside the point, I guess. You say that this text from Matthew 7 is targeted at church people. The church didn't exist yet during Jesus' ministry, so how could that be the case? And why would it be targeted at church people besides? Just by virtue of their being church people?

What the text does address are people who think they're "in" by virtue of a couple beliefs; who pay lip service but who don't really do the work of God's kingdom. Might that eventually include church people? Sure. But it's not the original context or the main idea.

And anyway, by citing that text and making the suggestion that it targets church people, are you now speaking against the entire concept of church rather than just divisions within the church? By that criteria, was Paul a bad guy for planting and encouraging churches?

The Greek word for church, ekklesia, simply means "assembly." Early believers assembled and eventually these assemblies became more and more organized over the centuries. Sometimes too much so, sometimes with the wrong emphases, sometimes to the harm or exclusion of others. But should the entire concept of assembling be thrown out because different people have different understandings of how to do it most faithfully?

M.A.C. said...

Hi Coffepastor,

I am sure there would be legal issues but then scripture tells us not to sue the brethren. Perhaps it will happen differently then I have so far laid out. My thought is that two heads are always better then one. And rather than try to attempt this on my own. I would prefer to have as many cities and believers involved in the project as God will allow.

I guess taking the Matthew 7 text and aiming at church folk is leaping in faith that Jesus knows more than my finite mind about the judgment seat where we all one day give an account of ourselves. Plus all scripture is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.

Just the divisions is my goal not the assemblies as you have so aptly pointed out. Jesus also said a house divided cannot stand. And although he was taking about the enemy the same would hold true for the victors which we are in Jesus Christ.

My concern is for the church and believers everywhere. That anyone person professing Christ as Saviour would recognize the sin that is denominational divergence and turn from it.

As to the early organizational structure of the church. The Roman Catholics took over and at the reformation. Luther said do not call yourselves Lutherans but only Christian so did Wesley, Calvin, et al.

Houston we have a problem it is called sectarianism and that is sin. In order to have life and have it more abundantly (everlasting life) we must repent from all sin, not just the obvious stuff.

Luke said...

interesting convo with M.A.C. i'll look into his stuff later, but i wanted to speak to some things and reflect on your post.

i'm in my 3rd and final year here at LTS and looking to graduate. the experts say that there's a 3-5 year burn-out rate. that sorta scares me. i can see where you're coming from is more of a "what do we do now?" sorta question. like do you try some emergent worship stuff? Taize or mercersberg style stuff? i dunno... or maybe just a sabbatical?

i look forward to see'n where you'll go. peace on the journey and prayers for the discernment.

Jeff Nelson said...

Well, I've got a sabbatical scheduled this coming spring, and as far as I'm concerned it couldn't have been timed better. I think that many/most pastors need to wait seven years or longer before they earn one. That can be unfortunate due to 1) the turnover/burnout rate you mentioned, so they never get that far, or 2) burnout may have been avoided if they'd earned one sooner. If the questions I've been pondering are any indication, it may be beneficial for all involved if pastors could earn sabbaticals after a slightly shorter period of time.

It's worth noting that my sabbatical will only be five weeks long, so when I suggest that it become more regulatory for pastors to earn sabbaticals after shorter periods, obviously the amount of time earned should be proportional.

Besides all that, I wonder whether part of the reason for the high turnover rate for pastors in churches is due to getting to a point like mine, deciding that they've run out of tricks, and decide that trying them in a new setting is the only viable option.

The thought of going through the same process of settling in, getting to know new people, trying to earn trust, taking risks, earning permission, etc. every 4-5 years makes me tired. It's one of the many reasons I'm sticking around. Neither church nor pastor benefits from a string of short pastorates.

A bigger reason is, as I've said, we're doing fine together. I/we have some good things coming up. The key is to find ways to maintain a certain level of creativity and joy and resources, rather than a bag of tricks. I give big ups to the emergent movement, which has been a big help to me personally as far as that goes in terms of worship, preaching, teaching, and mission.

M.A.C. said...

Sounds like marriage to me fellas good luck sorting out your pastoral woes gentlemen.

Luke said...

"good luck sorting out your pastoral woes gentlemen." -M.A.C.

i can just feel the love dripping in every word. ;-P


thanks for being so candid and honest. i hear ya about the short pastorate not helping churches.. but these long times without a long break wear out clergy. i happy that you're self-aware enough to see the need to "update the bag of tricks" as well as a time to rejuvinate. within this process, i'm hope'n for a transformation of both you and the congregation. if we take the "Still Speaking God" seriously, it just may happen. i'm looking forward to hearing more. maybe this time next year, meeting in a local cafe in Ohio talking about where your congregation is and what insights i can learn from you as i get more familiar with my own. RAWK!