In keeping with the new format of reclaimingthemission.com, we are adding a second post every week on Wed-Thursdays by other/former pastors of Life on the Vine Christian Community and our church planting network. This week Ty Grigg is up again. Read about him here.
I possess many “pastoral” instincts that I am learning not to trust. They are bad. Misleading. Dangerous. I used to think that being a “good” pastor meant that the church would be a place of belonging, a shelter from the storms of life, where everyone gets along, knows what to think, and knows what to do. Some of these things I am learning I cannot create; it has to be the Holy Spirit. And then there are the things that the Holy Spirit has even passed on. If the Holy Spirit has decided not to do it, maybe I should pass as well? So here are some “jobs” that I am resigning from (effective immediately):
1.) I resign from protecting people from pain. The pastor in this instance is like a personal bodyguard. In some instances we know that we cannot protect people from pain. For example, when we encounter death or loss, we know to let our words be few. We are aware that we are not in control and ultimately there is nothing we can do to take away the pain. We provide support, comfort, and presence. However, the temptation comes when we are faced with a situation where it seems we can do something. We can come to a person’s defense; we can minimize the consequences of people’s own actions; by not saying ‘no’ to someone, we can protect them from the pain of rejection. But I am learning to not do something just because I can. I am learning not to shield people from pain for pain can be holy ground where God is at work in powerful ways. My efforts to “protect” might short-circuit the work of God in a person’s soul. Instead, I am called to walk and pray with people in the path of pain, which requires far more courage and vulnerability than simply protecting.
2.) I resign from squelching disagreements. The pastor in this instance is like a referee trying to resolve all disputes. Reconciliation is important, a place where we find Christ to be present (Matt. 18:20). However, unity does not necessitate conformity. There are plenty of issues where it should be okay to disagree and to live out of different convictions without threatening unity. Around the disagreement about whether it was okay to eat meat sacrificed to idols, Pauls says: “Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them.” (Rom. 14:3).
If Paul was okay with difference on such an important issue as eating meat sacrificed to idols, maybe we can be a little more okay with differences of convictions within our own churches. Then we can quit the business of enforcing conformity on every single issue. This level of conformity does not capture the complexity of real life and it’s not even healthy. Instead of squelching disagreements, I invite people to listen to God, to their own conscience, and to their posture toward others in the community. Another way to say it: to invite people into the messy lifelong process of discerning our discipleship.
3.) I resign from telling people what to do. The pastor is the vending machine which, when pressed, will reliably dole out the right answer or the perfect advice. She is seen as the one who can pull back the curtain and reveal God’s will for any difficult decision. Most of us would not want to be that person. The problem is that we often are not aware when we are being the vending machine. We know we don’t have all the answers but we want to be helpful. It feels good to be helpful. And what is more helpful than giving some practical steps that will fix what needs fixin’? A fine line is drawn between being a resource and being a fixer. A fixer often is blind to the importance of questions and unknowns in a person’s walk with God. The questions are not always to be answered (or answered quickly) but lived with and in living with them by faith, the kingdom can put down deep roots that will sustain long-term growth and productivity. A “resource” tends to the questions – nurturing, cultivating, fertilizing. A “fixer” pulls them up as if they were weeds. Instead of being a fixer that tells people what to do, I am called to be a gardener of the questions.
What things were once on your ministry “job description” that you have learned to quit?