Search

The Basin and Towel

with Indispensable Churches and Tending the Light

Tag

calling

God Bless Us, Everyone!

I’ve started a new book recently – Trauma Stewardship, by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky at The Trauma Stewardship Institute.  She talks about “trauma exposure response” as the entire sum of feelings, thoughts, actions, and worldview that caregivers (and others) develop as they view and interact with trauma over time.  It promises to be an interesting read – I’ll let you know.

But for now – and since it’s the day before Christmas Eve as I write this – it seems to me that one of the ways in which we can see the Christmas story is as God’s own “trauma exposure response’:  His response of pure love to the deep trauma of sin in our world, the trauma that bent and broke everything in His precious creation.  If He were human, how do you think He might feel upon being faced with such a catastrophic event?  If He were human, how do you think He would feel as time and time again He might reach out in love to a people He had chosen as His own (as in the Old Testament), only to find them slap Him away as if they didn’t need Him?  If He were human, how do you think He would feel at such repeated abuse and neglect and hatred, even now, when He is only trying to make things better?

But God’s “trauma exposure response” begins with the truth that God is not human – God is God, and while that may sound trite, it means that God remains true to Himself.  Unlike human caregivers who become enmeshed in the lives and deaths and toils and tribulations of the people we care for, who suffer from too much empathy or lack of boundaries or codependency or hurt feelings (or you name it!), God remains God, and none of these things that affect us, affect Him.

AND YET He sent His Son to become one of us – to take on human flesh – to suffer exactly all those kinds of toils and tribulations, to learn empathy and boundaries and hurt feelings and trauma exposure and everything else that goes on in our messy, sinful, often awful world.  He sent His Son for a lot of reasons – to redeem us from sin, to break the chains of death and the grave.

And just maybe one more of those reasons might be this: since you and I sometimes (frequently?) become overwhelmed with the deep and unrelenting traumas in life, the presence of Jesus in the manger of Bethlehem, in the fields of Galilee, among the sick in Judea and the synagogues of Israel also means that somewhere, in your office or your clinic or your ambulance or your support group or church or hospital rounds that same Jesus, who is also God, is standing next to you.  He knows you and what your job is like.  He knows the pressures you face, and the challenges that rise up.  He knows that you go home exhausted at night sometimes, only to come back for more the next day.  He knows – and because He is not only human but God, then God knows, and loves you as much as the ones you are caring for.

So dear caregivers, trauma responders, whatever you call yourselves, take heart!  The Lord is with you!  And here’s a Christmas verse for you before we break (really?) for the new year –

“UNTO YOU is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!”  (Luke 2:11)

Advertisements

Retirement? Really?

I’m a member of a group of Lutheran pastors that meets regularly to discuss all kinds of ministry-related issues.  This morning as we were discussing “bullying in the church” we were on a side note along the question of when manipulation becomes bullying.  The subject of pastors’ behavior in retirement came up  (three of us are retired, three of us are active).

 

(Note to my non-Lutheran readers:  in our denomination, pastors are not “assigned” to congregations after their first assignment out of the seminary.  We have a “call” system and for the most part it is the decision of the pastor and – presumably – the Holy Spirit as to when and under what circumstances he leaves that call and that congregation.)

 

So one of the scenarios that we have observed in our system is that it is possible for a pastor of long tenure in a congregation to retire from the office of the pastor of that congregation yet not leave the geographic area.  Often the congregation grants him the title of “Pastor Emeritus” to honor his tenure and ministry among them.  But what is his role there after he retires?

 

Some pastors make it a practice to disappear from the congregation for as much as a year – worshiping elsewhere, taking no funerals or weddings, being out of communication almost entirely with the congregation for such a long time.  This is hard to contemplate perhaps, but it has the effect of saying to everyone “This era is at an end.  Everyone (congregation and retired pastor and incoming pastor) now needs to deal with it and move on well.”

 

Some other pastors stay in the area and participate in congregational life, but as a layman.  This is harder to do – to turn down requests for wedding or funerals for people you’ve served in love for years, but it has a similar effect as above.  It’s also hard because the people you’ve served and loved for years keep calling you “pastor” and coming up to you for advice or complaints.  Sometimes it’s just easier to take up membership in a nearby congregation (we have one man who has done this in my church, where he serves as a trusted and gentle Elder) where everyone knows he is a retired pastor but he has never been our pastor.

 

The problems arise when the retiring pastor tries to manipulate congregational life after his ministry ends.  Some pastors do that by staying around and listening to the complaints and concerns of people rather than setting boundaries and directing them to the interim/vacancy or succeeding pastor.  Some pastors try to manipulate the future with elaborate plans and schedules involving the date of their retirement relative to the date of the installation of the new pastor.  We even heard a story of a pastor who talked his congregation into calling a man to be his associate for a few years; then they switched roles and the older man became the associate and the newer one became the senior pastor; finally the older man retired but hung around acting like the Senior Pastor until the newer man left years later and continued that way several years into the ministry of the next man!

 

Having heard all these stories, here are several observations we made:

 

As with many retiring people who form their identity based on their job, the pastor whose identity is based on his role as pastor will often be depressed or discouraged and have a hard time letting go in retirement.  The best recommendation here is, as I have heard Dr. Terry Wardle of Ashland Thelogical Seminary say numerous times, “don’t base your identity on something that can be taken away.”

 

We’re often afraid to confront manipulative / bullying people in the church (including pastors) because (a) we’re afraid they may get angry and leave or (b) we think that we must suffer because Jesus suffered -and “the servant is not above the master.”  Yet although Jesus was not afraid of His own suffering, neither was He afraid to set boundaries against some folks so that they would not cause others to suffer (e.g., the little children parents brought for His blessing, the prostitute being criticized for pouring perfume on His feet).

 

Toward the end of Moses’ ministry God took him up to the mountaintop and handed the reins over to Joshua, then removed Moses from the picture by taking his life (He did the same to Elijah).  For both Joshua and Elisha, for the people of Israel as well, the ministries of the great predecessors had definite ending points that all had to deal with together – with neither Moses nor Elisha in sight to oversee the transition.

 

Samuel, on the other hand, was “voted out of office” when the people decided they wanted a king.  While God told him that they were acting against God and not Samuel, I guess Samuel had to live with that.  But since they had rejected his leadership he couldn’t very well pretend to keep leading them, could he?  So perhaps he lived the rest of his life as a sort of pundit / prophet, commenting but not leading.  Yet I’m pretty sure that this is not the most healthy role for a retired pastor, either, as there can be a mighty fine line between “prophet” and “grump.”

 

Finally, David had in mind to build a temple for the Lord but was told “not you, but your son will build the temple.”  David was satisfied with this, though, and spent considerable effort gathering resources and materials so that Solomon wouldn’t have to waste time doing that himself.  Perhaps it is wise to make appropriate preparations for retirement, to prepare the congregation and the people for the need to face the event and the issues; but like David to understand that though you can assemble the materials, it really is the successor to whom it falls to build them into the next ministry.

 

Church and Ministry 2

See the previous post for an explanation of what prompted these reflections.

2.  Describe your understanding of the Office of the Public Ministry

If the church is the Bride of Christ, and Christ is the Bridegroom, those who stand in the Office of the Public Ministry fill the role of the Friend of the Bridegroom.  They take care of the Bride, keeping her safe and protecting her so that she is ready for the wedding.  They take care of the arrangements, the food and drink that the guests will have.  They take care of the guests, providing them with the robes of forgiveness and righteousness that they will need to celebrate this wedding properly and enjoyably.  They make sure everyone has a place and feels welcome in the celebration.

And they look forward with great anticipation to the arrival of the Bridegroom.  He has been away a long time and has entrusted all the arrangements to His Friend.  The Friend is glad of His trust, and wants everything to be good and right.  He is not afraid of losing the approval of the Bridegroom or of disappointing Him; but he is such a Friend to the Bridegroom that He cannot imagine how anyone would not want to join in the celebration.

5.   Describe your pastoral approach and practice

In addition to the basic Friend of the Bridegroom image above, my approach and practice center on the idea that the word “Pastor” means “shepherd.” It does not mean any of the following: chairman, CEO, leader, vision-caster, strategic planner, fixer, analyst, or administrator.  Each of these words carry with it a certain array of tasks to be done and skills to be exercised, but even taken all together they do not entirely comprise the calling that is named “pastor.”  Yet in the United States in this day and age many in the church tend to look outside the church for models of how to operate.  We find exciting, “successful,” and “growing” techniques and images, and turn to them because they give us a sense of accomplishment.  Yet it seems like a shepherd rarely “accomplishes” anything – he just cares for the sheep over a long period of time, without any measure of “success” or “achievement.”  But he probably doesn’t care about those kinds of things, because he just loves the sheep that are entrusted to his care.

My “approach and practice” has been growing in recent years to be much more like a “shepherd.” In the end, I’d be disappointed if people summarized my “pastoral approach and practice” by saying things like “he was a successful pastor” or ‘he knew how to run a church.”  In the end, I’d much rather that people summarized that “approach and practice” by saying things like “we caught glimpses of Jesus in him.”

Amos, John, and You and Me

Readings for July 15, 2012 / Revised Common Lectionary:  Amos 7:7-15, Mark 6:14-29

One of the discouraging things about undertaking any new ministry is that, while you seem excited and all “visionary” about the possibilities, others just don’t seem to care.  It takes a long time for your ideas to catch on, if ever.  Pastors new to their congregations come with good ideas, but they fall on deaf ears.  People go to seminars, like Formational Prayer Seminars, and see the exciting ways in which God is working in the ministry of Formational Prayer.  Then they go home to stony faces or glazed-over eyes or unresponsive boards, and get discouraged.  So they come back to the next seminar (or email some caregiver like me, or maybe the seminar office) and ask what they can do to get a ministry started in their congregation.  How can we move people and get them motivated?  There are a lot of techniques, I suppose, that will help, but in these two readings especially there is at least one possibility that we almost never consider.

Perhaps we should begin by saying, seek the voice of the Holy Spirit to discern just what your calling is.  Not just “pastor” or “formational prayer caregiver” or whatever other ministry you may want to undertake.  But what is your calling in the place you have been called to?  What is your calling in this kairos?  What is it that the Lord needs you to do, has called you to do, is giving you the gifts to do?  His calls to Amos and to John, and his messages through Amos and John, were very specific.  Both of these men could have asked “why isn’t anyone excited about my message” when in fact their messages were intended to upset their ultimate targets – and upset them they did!  In Amos’ case he was lambasted by the priest at Bethel; in John’s case he lost his life because of his calling.

I truly pray that neither you nor I lose our lives because of our callings as pastors, or caregivers, or formational pray-ers, or whatever ministry we may be in.  But we know that others have been martyred for their testimony, and so maybe you’re OK with that.  What we don’t expect is cold silence or unreceptive gazes.  But before we get upset and wonder what’s wrong with these slow people, stop and spend some time in the company of the Holy Spirit and try to learn what it is He is calling you to do.  It may not be what you think and expect.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑