My problem, as a young pastor was, I wasn’t grieving the glory days with most people around me. I wasn’t grieving them because I don’t remember them.
Even though now I have almost a decade of experience under my belt, I am still a young pastor by mainline standards.
And it has always been tension the church that most people around me are grieving, and the one that I have always known and loved. The church that God called me to seminary and to be a pastor to serve.
The church has always been filled with grey hair in my memory. Sunday School has always been pretty sparsely attended, youth groups have never been more than a handful of kids, budgets have always been hard to meet, and there are rarely times when it is hard to find an entire pew to yourself in worship.I'm a little older than the commonly accepted cutoff for who is considered a Millennial. My youth group was a pretty good size and I can recall the sanctuary being snug in worship. But once I hit seminary and beyond it became clear to me that this is not the same situation I would inherit as a pastor myself.
This is only version of the church I know… and it is the one I am called to serve.
Professionally, I've never known the "good old days." I've heard about them in the settings I've served, but I've never experienced them. And yet this is how things are, the new normal. And it still calls for faithfulness and imagination, just in ways that will look different than what came before.
Related. Rozella White's mainline church is dying, so she's on the hunt for a new Christian community to be a part of:
Recently I have found myself engaging more evangelical spaces. As one raised in a mainline denomination, I was taught to be weary of these communities. I can remember leaders in congregations saying that “It doesn’t take all of that” when referencing the emotive experiences of our sisters and brothers of charismatic traditions.Rozella points out some of mainline tradition's blind spots, which chiefly revolve around spiritual practice, engagement of the emotions, and discipleship. It's not that these or anything else will be a magic bullet for any dying congregation or denomination, but she is choosing to engage in looking for answers for her own journey and she has happened to have found them in spaces that do things differently than what she has known. That's certainly an alternative to grieving a time that will never come back.
I was taught that right theology as marked by rigourous biblical inquiry and contextual alignment was more important than the “song and dance” that marked other worship experiences. We were taught to revere our theological inclinations and liturgical practice as things that were more holy, more righteous and more evolved. Now, this was never articulated in these crass terms, but it was certainly intimated.
When I was in seminary I remember feeling defeated when discussing spiritual practices with a professor. He told me that Lutherans don’t have a spirituality because spirituality was all about getting closer to God and there was nothing we can do to make this happen.
While I can understand the point of the comment, it sent me on a tailspin for quite some time because it felt like I was supposed to engage a faith that didn’t allow for cultural practices that were connected to my lived experience or spiritual practices that reflected a maturing faith.
Also related. Father Marcus suggests that people considering ordination had better think again...and then say yes:
We may see humanity, even ourselves, at our worst, but we also get to see God at God’s absolute best. Sure, there are great difficulties ahead and no amount of seminary or mentoring can prepare you for most of it, but you are also entering that beautiful journey with God where every difficult moment is accompanied by God’s grace. You will be entering a vocation where the very foundation of your calling is to rely on the strength of God to navigate difficult relationships, heart-breaking pastoral encounters, strained-budgets, general angst and anxiety, and your very own weary soul. Just when you have reached the end of your strength, God’s strength takes over. God’s strength is made perfect even in our weakness.
At the end of the day, God doesn’t call us because we are wonderful, or smart, or gifted, or worthy. Ordination as pastors and priests isn’t about us. It is about reflecting the image of Christ into our communities in ways that bear witness to the power and love of God in our midst. We are called to love everyone we encounter – those who love us, those who hate us, and those who are indifferent to our presence. All the while we point beyond ourselves to the God to whom all things journey.
No. Charles Stone asks whether a pastor should be available 24/7:
I believe that pastors who make themselves accessible 24/7 can’t do the job God has called them to do. We must proactively plan how we spend our days, making sure that we allocate time for our key responsibilities that include sermon prep, strategic planning, and leadership development. Although emergencies sometimes must take precedence over our planned schedules, we must manage our time to reasonably meet people’s personal needs while still fulfilling the strategic roles we must play.What follows is a list of ways Stone keeps himself available for people while setting reasonable boundaries. In an era where pastors can be connected to others all the time through social media, cellphones, and other methods, some may find ways to rationalize such constant connectedness. But I've found that such openness can wear a pastor out really fast.
On the other hand, I’ve known some pastors who simply don’t make themselves accessible at all. I knew one pastor who told me that he disappeared after a Sunday service because he didn’t want to interact with people. He didn’t last long in ministry. I’ve found that most church people will not abuse the access you give to them. We are called shepherds and we must spend time with the sheep. Otherwise, we won’t know their needs, hurts, and pains and as a result, we can’t lead the church to help meet those needs.
So in my view, wisdom must dictate how accessible we allow ourselves to be. We must guard our time so that we can accomplish our strategic roles I mentioned above. At the same time we must interact with people which requires reasonable accessibility.
Misc. A recent survey reveals that white Christians are now a minority in the U.S. Oh, and also, black worshippers are leaving white evangelical churches. 10 ways to reach out when you're struggling with your mental health. Jan Edmiston in praise of young clergywomen. A new book about Christian rock pioneer Larry Norman states that he would have hated most of today's Christian music.
(Top image via Flickr)