I’ve recently joined a rising number of “boomers”, who have undergone cataract surgery. I had heard nothing but positive reports about the procedure from others and so I rather reluctantly said ‘yes’ when it was recommended to me by my ophthalmologist. The results have been nothing short of amazing. For instance, I now ‘see’ colours and textures I’m sure I haven’t ‘seen’ since I was 10 years old. I had forgotten what it was like. Do I see perfectly? No, I’m sure. Do I see much better? Yes; by comparison, wonderfully!
I think this is like what my faith in Christ brings to my life…in this case, true spiritual sight by which I find myself on a pathway leading to something of infinite wonder and beauty. The fullness of the detail where this pathway eventually leads may be impossible for me to take in right now; my spiritual vision just isn’t that good presently. Yet I instinctively now ‘know’ this path is trustworthy because of who is on it with me. I think this knowledge in Christ is what St. Paul means when he compares his current condition of ‘seeing’ like looking through a “dim mirror” in 1 Cor. 13:12. (ESV) I love how he fills out this thought in Romans chap. 8 where he says, “…who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (vs. 24,25).
In describing this ‘new sight’ in Christ phenomenon he affirms…a) the promise of improvement (though not perfection) as we learn to walk on the journey of faith and b) a kind of ‘active waiting’ along the way which roots our hope more in God and less in ourselves. Can we see? Definitely! Perfectly? Well, not so much…yet! Also, please note this approach undoubtedly describes something that is no longer purely individual. As in much of his letters, Paul is addressing ‘us’ together! Suddenly this is a ‘we’ not just an ‘I’ experience. Lo and behold, there are others on this road too!
By now, you’ve probably guessed where I’m going with this. Our soul group interactions have reinforced for me that this faith journey ‘in Christ’ is not a private, though a deeply personal exercise, as he who leads us onward gives us others to help our spiritual vision continue to improve on the way…something like having cataract surgery. Left to our own we can revert to the state of the proverbial blind men holding on to different parts of the elephant guessing that their ‘part’ is the whole thing, thus getting the thing itself entirely wrong. Only as we learn to come out of our foxholes, so to speak, and surrender more fully to the better collective sight we receive in the community of brother and sister travellers are we more likely to see better, especially around tight corners. Of course we still have to ‘walk by faith and not by sight’, but we do so with more joy and humility. Joy, because we are far from alone on the path Jesus walks with us (…and as we’ve indicated elsewhere, the scenery’s better this way…), and humility?…well, that should be obvious. Happy travelling!
This summer I’ve needed to attend to a few additions to existing structures at the cottage. There’s nothing like a needed renovation to remind someone like me that there’s theory and then there’s practice; and that’s why I usually end up holding hammer or leveler for a family member or friend who kindly (…pityingly…) agrees to help often becoming project manager. Pretty well everyone who’s tried their hand at expanding or creating better access for a living area knows that seldom do such projects “go smoothly”. It doesn’t take great powers of observation to see that those who have had success in such projects display theoretical knowledge along with applied skill and innovation combined with a healthy respect for one’s limitations. They have become practitioners because their knowledge is a product of theory plus experience.
As a recently retired pastor still active in different ministry opportunities, it’s become even clearer to me that I’m still called to be a practitioner (see previous entries). Like those in charge of tasks above-mentioned, I’ve needed the skill of applied wisdom…theory plus experience with a healthy respect for my strengths and limitations. The renovation project pastors are engaged in involves the lives of people! This has often felt to me like standing at the intersection of a job to do and the care of people called to do the job. The theoretical knowledge absolutely indispensable for this balancing act which I believe is unique to this call is a working knowledge of the written Word. But the task of the pastor also includes overseeing the healthy consumption in the pews (or equivalent) of same so it becomes food for life, not just information.
This is why I’ve become increasingly aware that such work cannot become a purely solo exercise and hence why our soul group continues to be crucial for me. There’s just too much at stake. It’s very easy to become so imbedded in the task of either the job to do or the care of those called to do it that one can forget the pastor is also part of the renovation. I’m a sheep, not only a shepherd! This where I need my brother practitioners who I have learned to love and trust help me sort out what’s to be applied where and when and, of course, to whom…sometimes I get to share deeper insight into God’s inexhaustible wisdom as it applies to another…more often it’s about what applies directly to me! All of this is priority shaping, I find.
Why should the actual work of pastor be different than any other practitioner? Yes, like most things in life, theoretical knowledge is not enough if it’s to survive the application test….let alone eventually to thrive in it. But what I’m still learning is that my call as pastor doesn’t exempt me from being the product of good news, not just enabler of it. This is indeed good if not constantly sobering. The medicine of the Gospel which shines its healing beam on the Church and world also exposes areas of yet to be transformed darkness and brokenness in me. To work and serve well, with joy I might add ( …this really can be a lot of fun…), this practitioner needs wisdom applied personally in relationship with others likewise called.
Yes, simple but profound truth….pastors need pastors!!
I process almost everything outwardly. It is in my nature. Whether I take a Myers Briggs test or Birkman analysis or any one of a dozen personality instruments I discover that I work things out in the field. My process is to float ideas and thoughts on the sea of others reactions and feelings and modulate my interior reflections carefully and thoughtfully. The danger is I can rely too much on what is safe and allow others responses to dictate my own convictions based on what is benign and inoffensive, or at least, on balance, down the middle and never extreme.
I need others…I need my brothers. Speaking with them I know they will hear my heart and my mind. Collectively they will bring fresh words and perceptions to me that I never considered, to then rehabilitate my own thoughts to be more whole. But more than that, with time, we will have the courage to speak of convictions that come from unresolved places, some even dark; places that need outing and cleansing. This only comes from time spent with and in the company of those who are not afraid to speak and not perturbed by challenging false assumptions.
My tendency when under pressure and doubt is to retreat into myself, to a place even bordering on self-pity. How tragic that is. What it does to my creativity and ability to dream is to close off the juices of the Spirit. Those fresh winds come mostly through people I trust and relationships that are transparent and free to see me and speak into my life with laughter and seriousness mixed in a joyful soup. Our little experiment to do that together as men has proved to be what the doctor ordered. It is daunting at times but the excitement felt as we drive to our location for lunch and coffee is the anticipation that we are heading into a place of peace…and a lot of fun.
Not so long ago, I was at my home church having been away for awhile when I ran into a friend in ministry from another tradition. I expressed genuine delight at seeing this person with their family at ‘my’ church and voiced my assumption that they were visiting. “Oh”, they said, “we’ve been coming here for awhile now.” Mildly taken aback, I expressed even greater delight while stifling my surprise and my temporary embarrassment. Actually, I wanted to say, “Yes, of course you’re here now. How come I didn’t know this? I thought you belonged somewhere else.”
Please don’t misunderstand. I was truly pleased to discover that this couple had chosen to sojourn with us. They are gifted mature disciples of Jesus Christ who would not have made a decision like this without careful thought and prayerful discernment. My ‘mixed’ reaction probably had more to do with coming to terms with the reality of change experienced recently ‘in transition’ myself. I truly believe, in fact, that this family’s transition could be an example of God ‘shuffling the deck’ for his kingdom purposes.
Not far into my newly-minted tenure as an Anglican rector (translate ‘senior pastor’) of a relatively large urban parish, I was confronted with a dilemma. “You are pastoring a lot more people than you’re used to, David. Who’s pastoring you?” As has already been documented in these pages by Doug and Brent, the fabric of our ‘soul group’, which has been woven together by our mutual calling as pastors in the city, has been at least a partial response to that question.
That weaving project began 15 years ago and is still under way. Many of my issues and concerns are different now. I have recently retired from a ‘full time’ senior pastor’s role and find myself formally in transition. I have a new set of joys and challenges, including a beautiful country property to look after in the summer along with some recently diagnosed health issues. But, two related themes keep me more motivated and passionate than ever in pursuing transparency in peer-to-peer community.
I am a raging introvert. In a Myers-Briggs test, my introvert score was 98%. God wired me this way, and he also called me to be a pastor. This just proves that God has a sense of humour.
The Urban Monastery is about telling our adventures in community. It costs an introvert to be in community. My energy is best restored when I am alone. I feel drained when I am around people for too much time. As a pastor I am around people a lot. There are times and places where, if I don’t show up, I am missed – like Sunday Morning. Being with people is not optional. As a pastor I need to spend time, either leading, or discipling or planning and administrating. One of the gifts a pastor brings to people is the ministry of presence.
Where does one turn when one does not know where to turn?
To a place where a set of relationships have been carved and have formed a deep and trusted rut over years of use. That would be with friends who truly know one another.
For many years I struggled and survived pretty much alone in the wilderness of ministry. Our life as pastors is to know and study people and to not be surprised by anything that floats our way. We are to be good listeners and better physicians of the soul. The problem: we have not taken care of our own…souls. That place that is deep and integrates the varied thoughts, convictions and passions of our life. Without constant reflection we end up talking to ourselves and continually being trapped inside our own circular arguments. Speaking for myself, I am driven to please myself and protect myself from any exterior harm. What I needed were a couple of friends to listen unreservedly and knock me out of the habits that dominate my thinking and acting.