Thursday, June 12, 2008

Tough Business

The Church of Jesus Christ is the most amazing creation of God. Nothing else that has been created in the world can compare to the ongoing testimony of God's redemption through the substitutionary atonement performed by Christ when he died on the cross, and then rose bodily from the grave the third day. The stars, the planets, mountains, lakes, flowers and even the complexity of the human body cannot compare to the glory of God's redemption in Christ Jesus. Therefore, the chief display of that redemption (namely The Church) is the pinnacle of creation. Pursuing its mission is the highest of human endeavors. Gathering in its ranks is the highest of human associations. Worshiping together is the highest of human expressions.

As a result, it naturally follows that it would be among the most difficult of human tasks. People who engage in the mission of the Church are constantly participating in a fundamentally impossible task; for they are applying their human energies to what is wholly a work of God. I've discussed before about how the incarnation of Jesus Christ gives us our ministry paradigm. He was fully human and fully God. In like manner, the church is people working AND God working. These are simultaneous realities.

I say that to say this: the work of the ministry is tough business.

This does NOT apply merely to those paid to do it. In fact, the vast majority of those working diligently in the Church around the world are not paid for what they do. This applies to anyone who gives of their energy, time, talents, creativity and heart-felt passion to the work of the Church. The work that is being performed takes all that is in a person. On top of that comes the awareness that God uses it to perform far more that one humanly can. This knowledge is both exhilarating and draining. Burn out among ministers (again do not confuse this as applying mainly to paid ministers) is rather frequent. The full extent of human reserves have been spent, leaving the minister with "drained batteries" that are not easily recharged. Vacations or hobbies that help ministers put out of their mind the intense foci of ministry can be vital to longevity. I struggled for the first few months as a pastor with what would be my refreshing hobby; then God granted the necessary rest through my purchasing (and riding frequently) a motorcycle.

For others it's not as simple as taking a ride through east Texas and the mountains of Arkansas. It sometimes means completely pulling away. This is especially true when a new pastor comes in to lead a congregation, the previous one typically steps out of the picture altogether. This often is not due to any conflict between the two. The incoming and outgoing pastors may actually get along very well. However, simultaneous with the incoming pastor developing new instincts, the outgoing one must suspend or shut down instincts developed through years of service. This is necessary for him to rest from the labor to which he had applied himself (in many cases rather diligently). The formerly exhilarating (and draining) work of ministry now calls for a rest, and the environment that once developed the pastoral instincts is not conducive to suspending them.

This is part of the human aspect of the Church that is tough business. Because the Church is God's work, we can sometimes expect that human dynamics will not come so much into play. We must always remember that the Spirit works with human nature and he may even redeem human nature, but he seldomly suspends human nature. The Church is a divine activity AND a human activity. We must not be caught off guard when human needs influence the work of God. It is not tragic when God calls a pastor to a season of rest; as though a great sin had derailed the work of the minister (which can happen at times, but is NOT the subject of this entry). In like manner that God "called" the minister into service, so also God will "call" a pastor to rest for awhile.

What makes it "tough business" is, again, the human component of attachments and relationships that are painful to set aside. The pastor knows that this is (though not desired) potentially part of his reality. God uses him as He wants, and moves him where He wants. The pastor must develop genuine affection for people, knowing that God may call him to another place where he'll have to develop authentic relationships there as well. Ministry is tough business.

It's also painful for those who "say goodbye" to the outgoing pastor. Deep affection is often developed for the pastor, and their exit may sting like losing a family member. At times, the pastor has been so integral to the seasons of families' lives that his leaving is quite excruciating. They may question why they gather in their local church if the one who formerly embodied the "family feel" there is now missing. Like a die applied to a stream so that hydrologists can observe which way the water flows, so also the pain of a pastor's exit can filter into all those places where people had let him in. Even when leaving on generally good terms, the exit of a pastor can be agonizing. Ministry is tough business.

For Woodcreek Bible Church, we presently have these things to wrestle with. Because the former pastor and I got along so well, and he appeared so willing to serve in a supportive capacity, many of us (me included) thought he would not feel the need to exit. As a result, even though most congregations "say goodbye" and mourn the exit of the outgoing leader at the front end, our congregation had come to believe that no such "goodbye" would ever be necessary. We thought that we might be the glorious exception to the rule. Not to be too critical, but we may have been falsely marginalizing the human nature of ministry through this assumption. To assume that God was so much at work among us that the (quite normal) set of human dynamics described above did not apply to us is uncomplimentary to our foresight, and wisdom concerning God's design of people.

Our present "goodbye" to the former pastor (now having served faithfully as "Associate Pastor" for nine months) is painful, but quite normal. He's a pastor. In his heart, he has been knit together as a shepherd of people. The season of rest that God is "calling" him to now will not be accomplished in familiar church surroundings. I support his wisdom in acknowledging the necessity for such a difficult decision. Many in our church will agonize over it. But in the end, God has not suspended human nature, but will use it to inaugurate a new season of life for that pastor, his family and the church the tearfully releases him.

Ministry is tough business.


pastor trent said...

We are praying for you and the church. Let us know if you need anything

Doing Life Together,
Trent Brown, Lead Pastor

Gateway Fellowship

Naomi said...

The way you wrote this, though stuff we have talked about already, gave me a different feel. It made me cry a little. These are things they don't teach you in seminary.