Notes to Neophytes

Posted: June 21, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

Neophyte (N): But the search committee told me one thing, dreams they had, and assured me they needed someone just like me to lead them into the next grand era.

ChurchWrinkle (C): Listen well and learn. Search Committees lie to their candidates, but not that way, not because they are malicious. It’s because they are so hopeful. So they paint a story of how things could be, but not what they really are. You will always find the truth after the blush of courtship is over.

N: I keep preaching and teaching about the way of faith, of Jesus, and all the rest. But it seems like we make decisions just like any other community group might. I don’t see much difference except we might say a prayer first.

C: Yes, it’s like that. And because you are so idealistic it is troubling. You believed you were called to a very high-minded way of life, and you were. But not all people are, though they all live side-by-side in the church. You always have to keep a spectrum of commitment in mind; some are very faithful and committed, and are motivated by the highest ideals. They are a slender minority. Next are large numbers who do it because they somehow feel they are supposed to – an ethic of obligation. And then there are the consumers. Church is like a religious WalMart, just shopping for the best deals. This is your introduction to human nature. They are all there, side by side, but motivated differently because the depth of faith is different. You’ll have to accept this, learn to work with it. You will observe some of the greatest virtue ever known in this place. And you will become acquainted with its opposite. 

N: But some people are so selfish, so power-hungry. How can they call themselves Christian, I mean, by the way they act?

C: There are some of those and their negative energy can ruin it for everyone else. They even can do great harm to the church in the name of some principle, a smokescreen for their own egotism. But don’t focus on them. Focus on the many remarkable people who make this world better just by virtue of the fact that they are in it. Focus on the beauty all around you. Focus on the things people didn’t have to do but did anyway, just because it was right and compassionate. Choose to focus on these things, even when other people rattle the cages and claim that the sky is falling. Be something else, don’t settle, and don’t get pulled down by their gravity.

N: At first it seemed like they adored me, I could do nothing wrong. But more and more it seems like I get blamed for anything and everything, even the things they are responsible for. How can this be?

C: The adoration is an illusion and so is the blaming. If you dare to be who you have been called to be you are like a movie screen upon which people project every wish or frustration or left over issue they had with someone. Don’t be that. Be who you really are, deep down. That will last after their projections have come and gone.

N: But they gave me authority to lead, and then resist my leadership. Why? Why don’t they just hire a secretary, a custodian, a chaplain? If they know what they want already, just hire someone to to implement their desires. They say they want leadership, but I’m less and less convinced. I mean, don’t call a pastor. Just hire an administrator.

C: In the same way there is no free lunch so there is no free leadership. They, the people, temporarily confer authority on you. It is provisional and can be withdrawn, at least in our free church tradition. Focus on the vision you share and help them to discover. Love them and in time – sometimes a long time – they will love you back. And when they love you then they may be responsive to what you have to say, the directions you point, the wisdom you share. But that authority is not often conferred before the trust is earned, not entirely. The church is dying for lack of leadership, that’s a fact. They both desire and fear it. And people are so afraid they will lose some kind of control they usually tread water in place, pretending to go somewhere when they are not.

N: But I’ve prepared academically and spiritually for this. I’m ordained by the same church that has affirmed my calling, told me how important this role is. And I take it seriously. They set me apart for this. And then I share some things and they look at me like I just landed from Mars.

C: Well, you have just landed from Mars. It is the Mars of what they don’t know and the fear that you will confuse them with ideas that don’t make sense. You have to become an earthling before you can talk about your experience on Mars. It takes time. Be patient. Don’t be anxious. Some will have positive regard toward your ordination. Others will see you as a paid professional because that’s how they see the rest of their world. Don’t get trapped by all those perceptions; know who you are and whose you are.

N: Everybody seems to get upset about what we can and can’t do, how limited we are. I look around and all I see is bounty, potential, provision and blessing. But all I hear instead is “we can’t.” They sing a constant song of scarcity. How can I convince them that we have to walk by faith and trust?

C: By believing it yourself, Pilgrim, by believing it yourself.

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Comments
  1. Menina says:

    It is so important, and so difficult, to always remember that our faith will allow us to be the hands and feet for God’s work if we can just keep trusting him to be the brains. It is that easy, and that difficult.

  2. Jan Coffman says:

    “By believing it yourself, believing it yourself.”

    This is so true.

  3. Brian Kirk says:

    Excellent. THese words need to be shared with every seminarian before graduation. I particularly appreciate the analogy of being a person from Mars visiting Earth. You DO have to become an Earthling first, otherwise you are often speaking a foreign language from a distant planet.

  4. Ben Bohren says:

    After 20 years of my own experience in local pastoral ministry in three churches and then 17 years of general church ministry where I visited dozens and dozens of churches and listened to dozens and dozens of pastors, I now am 7+ years in regional ministry where 80% of our churches have called new pastors.

    The courtship of a search committee and a candidating pastor…and then the marriage of a called pastor and congregation is truly a dance lesson. We called you to teach square dancing and you only know the samba! Hip Hop, what’s that? Ballet you say? And the dance goes on…

    Sometimes the Holy Spirit gets invited to the ball/fiesta/hoedown/etc. I offer a few questions/tenets of faith, our regional staff has found helpful in calling the God’s people to be the Living Body of Jesus Christ:
    1. Do you worship a God of Abudance of a god of scarcity?
    2. Would you rather be “right” or be in “right relationship”?
    3. A pastor who sits by the bedside or casket and holds someone’s hand will most often find a helping hand through many a hard church challenge.
    4. Our society teaches us to debate; Jesus calls us to listen.
    5. God does not call the church to survive but to thrive! God does not call the church to maintenance but mission! God does not call the church to mediocrity but mighty actions!

    And by the way, the truth does set us free…but a whole lot of people don’t want to be free!
    “I’ve been dancing tbis way for ___ years; why would I want to learn a new dance?” Because being “in Christ” means “we ARE a new Creation!’

    So, God, what was that dance you wanted to teach me?

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