Wednesday, June 24, 2009

LAST WEEK AS PASTOR

A few thoughts as I walk through my final days as a local pastor

So, I'm walking through my last week as a pastor of a local congregation, preparing to transition to a new role as Director of Advancement for an international child sponsorship organization. I'm tying up some loose ends and taking care of some basic administrative matters while boxing up thousands of books and clearing clutter and anticipating new challenges that begin next Monday morning. It's an interesting juxtaposition of activities, thoughts and emotions.

On the one hand, I believe in the power and importance of local pastoral ministry--as much as ever. In this graced role, I have served as fully as I've been capable to this point in my life. Whatever else in the future I may do, contribute, accomplish, or wherever or however I serve, there will be nothing quite like serving as pastor to a local congregation rooted in a specific community setting. It offers sweet blessings and heart-rending disappointments--both sometimes flowing together. Of the congregations I've served, this is the only one that has not grown numerically during my time of service...and that has disappointed me. But I am satisfied that I have given myself fully to the work of ministry and I now pray that the next chapter of this congregation's life will flourish.

I am challenging myself to let go of regrets as I leave this assignment. I give to God all my "what ifs" and "if onlys" and "why thats" and "why didn't I's." I will not deny my real disappointments and regrets; but I will not hold on to them, either. Owning up to them and expressing them appropriately is not the same as them owning me and going to seed as resentment or cynicism. Letting go with forgiveness and gratitude, and turning the page on a chapter of life may not be easy or immediate, but it is a spiritual discipline that is answered by surpassing grace. That is a part of God's faithfulness I count on.

While I believe in the importance of local pastoral ministry, I do not feel tied to it, defined by it, or that it permits me to fully express the sense of calling and mission that stirs in my mind, heart, and capacities. There may be no higher calling than local pastoral ministry, but it is not the only high calling or the only way for me to serve the kingdom of God to God's glory. I clarified this shortly after working and praying my way through to a personal mission statement in 1994 (read it in the right sidebar). Having only known a life lived in a parsonage and pastoral ministry since I was a child, I was free to serve God positively beyond the pulpit and congregation. That freedom led to invited servant leadership of a major urban community center, a regional planning initiative, and rebuilding/redeveloping a homeless day center as a national model.

That freedom led me back into pastoral ministry in 2003 when asked by Free Methodist conference leadership to do so. Serving at WEMO was and is consistent with my sense of personal mission, though it has not encircled my fuller sense of mission. There may be no single role or assignment or project that does. That's something I pay close attention to. I ask: how does this particular opportunity connect with my sense of calling and mission? What in it helps me express what particular aspects of my giftedness and sense of making a contribution? This is important, because some roles cannot bear what we would unwittingly impose on them. Knowing and monitoring this can lead to a greater sense of clarity, purpose, and fruitfulness in service and ministry.

So, I look forward to working in this new assignment with open eyes and open heart. I appreciate the invitation that's been extended to me. I find this invitation connects with my personal mission in some ways I've never had opportunity to explore or express before. There is a degree of creativity and capacity-building in the challenges ahead that will stretch me. I believe I have much to learn and contribute, and that my best work and outcomes are ahead. Grateful for every opportunity and experience I've had, I look forward to tomorrow with anticipation of the grace that leads me on.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

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