10 Things I Learned over the past 7 Years
Yesterday was my last day as pastor of the church I've served for the past 7 years. In preparing to leave and than actually gearing up to do so in conversations, letters, emails, dialog and a goodbye Sunday celebration, I've been flooded by memories and reflected on the time. As therapy I thought I'd compose a top 10 list of what I learned as pastor in a 21st century, urban Presbyterian church:
1. We all are broken in one way or another, looking for, and needing wholeness. The Bible writers call this sin. I like the word broken (which means the same thing I guess as "sin" literally means "missing the mark you're aiming for."
2. A mentor told me long ago that the people of the church will teach you how to be a pastor. A wise truth that we ignore in a church based upon the theory of lay leadership among equals, yet which in practice lifts up the seminary-trained people as "superior."
3. People don't want someone to tell them about God, but rather to be empowered to experience God. They don't necessarily want someone to tell them how to live faith, as much as someone who can empower them to articulate their faith and equip them to practice it in their daily life. In general we're trained to lead worship basically as a spectator-sport or "info-mercial" about God (and most of us our so used to it that we settle for it), when what we really want to do is participate in worship, claiming faith for ourselves, articulating our spirituality in a common gathering|ritual|celebration.
4. The church hierarchy tends to honor tradition and loyalty, often promoting almost-retired leadership to open parish positions, because they're almost retired and need a job, as opposed to looking at the crucial culture-changing needs of a local parish and letting them experiment boldly. People in the church, or maybe just the one I served, in general are more attracted to and by creativity, really radically going for trying to be the church, than simply doing the same old thing with the Book of Common Worship, 3 point sermons and committee structures for report making.
5. Children should be heard not just seen, invited as full-participants in worship, for at times they articulate faith more clearly than adults can.
6. Brevity is always more effective than long-windedness: we over-complicate with incoherent theologizing, instead of speaking authentically and personally about faith/theology in daily life. (Of course in a sense that what we're taught in seminary).
7. A few bad apples do indeed spoil the bunch. We tend not to confront trouble-makers and bad-energy-vibe-producing people (we all know who they are in our respective communities) because we don't want to be mean, gang up on someone, or nit-picky. Yet the bad apples repeatedly set the tone, divide community from its focus, and spoil the whole bunch with their negativity. Jesus was about confronting the bad apples he encountered, to invite them to redemptive wholeness, where did we begin to think that doing so in love is un-Christian?
8. Sometimes folks who are "outside" the church are actually more for the church than those in them. Instead of looking at a congregation as the community of faith, maybe we should consider the neighborhood or parish as the larger community of faith of which our congregation is but one part. I'm not just talking about other religious groups. I also mean that there is community to develop through blogging, local social networks, community organizing, online social networking, and just plain-old hanging out at the "hang out spots" like Peet's or World Grounds.
9. Urban people are more interested in faith and the teachings of Jesus than the Media, or our entrenched modernist church-planting perspectives lead us to believe. They just don't want to believe in the God that they experienced in their journeys (mostly in churchs that ran from culture in the 60s and 70s).
10. Empowering people to be disciples, to be and become leaders of and by faith, is what the work of pastoring should be, and is about. Unfortunately we're often to distracted by people-pleasing and preserving existing traditions (that no one understands any more in general) than addressing the pressing, organically-emerging issues of following Jesus right here and now.
10b. (ok - couldn't do it). In all the hard times, personal attacks, celebrations, joys and gratitude...I must admit that I love being a pastor. As much as I might complain about it, it's amazing. My favorite things about it include being present at deaths or alongside hospital beds, present in the moments of life that are so filled with meaning.