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Category Archives: 12 steps

Response to editorial about pastoral mobility

This is my reply to this editorial:

http://www.thebanner.org/departments/2014/04/time-to-move-on

I’m responding as a preachers kid and preacher who is now a Specialized Transitional Minister — where moves every 2 years or less are the norm. There is a frustration to that part of it, because Transitioning is about culture change, and 2 years just barely gets you out of park.

About moving frequently: This will affect each person according to their constitution and the way parents handle it. In my youth, moves were just announced to us kids. With my own family, the entire family was made aware and as much as possible was part of the process. Since one of our moves was to the real Holland, I have gained a ‘culture reading’ ability that is a crucial tool in my work now.

About leaving before the church wants you to: The writer may be clinging to a notion that was once appropriate for his father, but is no longer so. In a day when our churches were more mono-cultural and cookie-cutter pastors could fit almost anywhere and repeat their evening Catechism sermons somewhat creatively enough to maintain interest for 3 to 5 years, and a day when democracy and pop-poll-arity were not strong in the church, it may have been valid. But today churches believe too much in democracy (one strand of the problem) and that a pastor has to ‘keep them happy’ (a second strand in the bigger problem) and where each congregation and pastor position within them can be very different from church to church (strand three) and where – from both sides, pastors and congregations – we have tremendous difficulty being clear about expectations and abilities in an open and transparent way (four) the case is no longer valid. Plus, the statement “leave before they want you to” hints at a lack of biblical perspective on serving God in a congregation, where it is God who might want you to stay while the congregation wants you to leave (fifth big strand ‘prophetic calling’ and sixth strand ‘discernment’). I take pleasure in reading the first part of Numbers 14 with people and asking what would have happened if a congregational meeting had been called followed by a vote?

Clergy Mobility: I do see the housing equity and spousal career factors which have changed mobility ability. But the writer needs to make the case for why itineracy should be the norm, rather than simply state, like a traditionalist would, that this was handed down from the forefathers as accepted truth.

We most definitely need to revamp our calling system:

In my work I have seen that churches have lost touch with the principle of the two-fold calling, where a personal sense of call must be confirmed by the church. Congregations do not know that they are affirming a person’s called-ness when they extend a call. They tend to see it more as a ‘hire’ or electing someone (there is a lot of ‘gaming’ of the equation that happens around the ‘vote’ to approve extending a call) who they can then un-elect and un-hire. Re-teaching is needed on calling.

Pastor Church Relations has a new book out that can help a lot with the search process, but still, if a pastor is deluded about their abilities or inabilities, or a congregation is misrepresented by it’s search committee as wanting outreach when the congregation really wants to hunker down and be safe with ‘their own kind’ we end up with stuckness. In one of his books, Eugene Peterson, in one of his books, even refers to the search process as “Ecclesiastical Pornography” where too much airbrushing goes on and shock sets in when the real blemishes become apparent. The church could learn much from the recovery movement about the value of being open about struggles, rather than continuing to hide the fact that we all create dirty laundry and carry that baggage. We need much more transparency in the call conversation.

I don’t know much about the past, but pastoring has, in my experience, become much to political and resident chaplain-esque. Buying a house and having a spouse with a good job, or having massive student debt will hinder most preachers from risking-in-faith in a pastorate. The unstated value in congregations seems to be that the pew must remain comfortable and the pastor may be unique or intriguing, but may not speak God’s word in a way that rattles comfortable core values. We need a return to strengthening the prophetic side of pastoring. (I know that may mean all kind of things to people, but have to risk that misunderstanding).

More and more it is a fact that churches and pastors seem to get ‘stuck’ with one another. Too often one or the other or both languish in pain for too long and then there is a rupture. We certainly need new and creative processes to get churches and pastors unstuck from each other, and for preventing stuckness in the first place.

My thoughts here are in no way comprehensive. All of this is evidence to me that a major change in the way we are church, based on scripture, Reformed principles, and cultural context is needed. This will not be fixed by more mere tinkering. The kind of change needed is Adaptive (as another article in the Banner describes), it needs to run deep into our hearts and worldviews, and we need to find the courage to drop everything Egyptian and Pharaohic that has become comfortable for us, and forge ahead into whatever shape God’s promises have for us in the land of the future.

 

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I am not good at not wielding power!

I currently feed myself by being the caretaker in a summer Camp run by a church. I was the chaplain last summer and am biding my time until that role kicks in for 2010 again.

Recently, delegated regional leaders from the various congregations met and decided to put the Camp up for sale, hoping they can find a buyer who will commit to protecting the increasingly rare environmental treasure the camp is, and who will let Christian camp ministry continue. If both are accomplished there is no doubt God will have had to be active.

I was witness to this process as an employee. I was not an active delegate, not an appointed clergy person, I was merely an employee of the camp witnessing others undertaking the process of making a choice. It was agony! Being powerless to the point even of being voiceless pushed many of my buried inner buttons. And in that there was a lot of hard learning for me.

I need to admit that I failed to remain powerless. I “used” my knowledge with words and process and cashed in on my awareness that I had some respect – some ‘trust equity’ in the room – to finagle a chance to address the decision making body. So I failed to accept my powerlessness and clutched and grabbed for power anyway. I largely knew what I was doing. I didn’t strategize to accomplish it, but when little opportunities presented themselves, I instinctively leveraged them, I pried them bigger, so I could have a voice and feel empowered. Others did not have the opportunity. They were kept powerless. How frustrating that must be.

I didn’t know until this series of events how much I need to have power and voice. Alternatively also, I became freshly aware how much as a clergy person I was used having extra power and was accustomed to ‘managing’ such processes. In the past I “presumed” it was my responsibility to maneuver every step of things in a certain direction. If I were up on the podium, I would believe I was “doing my job” in that manipulation. So I was not angry so much at the leaders. I was astounded at how it felt to be on the receiving end of that kind of treatment, and astonished at how badly I needed to be the one dishing it out rather than receiving it. I don’t believe these words I’m typing can adequately share how frightening that is and how afraid of my sick need for power makes me. It does.

 

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Confession and Birth

My job, put into simplistic common descriptors, is to be a midhusband to confession.
I had no idea going into this what a privileged role that would be. Beforehand, I worried about what I might hear from gang-member addict dealers, from PTSD suffering military personnel, from spoiled irresponsible cocaine dependent rich kids, from addicted anesthesiologists and from hulking bulking policemen and sports figures, from ordinary seeming mothers of young children and supposedly doting successful husbands. I worried I’d be loaded up with ‘crap’ that they’d offloaded onto me.
It doesn’t work that way at all! With one or two exceptions God lets me ‘forget’ or certainly not carry the burden of someone else’s erroneous behaviour. That does not mean that my naive ears don’t feel they’re losing their virginity though. They do. It is painful. I am repeatedly deeply troubled by the height, the breadth and the depth of self-and-other destroying behaviour the human creature is capable of creating and enduring and persisting in.
My job is to assist patients in writing their 4th step and then to ‘hear’ their 5th.
The process has such wisdom to it. Its wisdom affects me, has me feeling privileged, feeling part of something ageless and not bound to earth. The longer I am in it the stronger is my grief of over how the ‘church’ handles the same issues. There is a better way.
Step 4 consists of taking a “searching and fearless moral inventory” of oneself. Its best chance of working well is if the inventory maker has accepted they — believing they are the makers of their own destiny — are not running their life well at all and had allowed a substance or activity to take over their lives, creating unbelievable chaos and destruction. They then need to turn to some power outside of and greater than themselves for help and turn their destiny and life over into that power’s control.
Then they look at their life, and get a GPS fix on where they are and where they have been and what exactly life has been like. They write it all down: their believing they know best, their not being in touch with their true feelings or corking them and presenting something more pleasant so people will like them more (or so they believe), their unrealistic expectations that cause them to let themselves down and be let down by others, the fears they hold (most often fear of rejection or abandonment), the things they feel guilty for, the grudges they hold and carefully nurse by restating their case to anyone — grudges that bottle up anger inside them. And then the way they always end up feeling sorry for themselves. ALWAYS, no matter what they try differently, they end up hating themselves and those around them and in the despair of misguided understanding of life they turn to a chemical or gambling or sex or work or exercise for relief. It doesn’t come.
So they come to us chaplains when they do their 5th step and share all that. They know they are sharing it with God as they understand God as well. It takes 2 hours on average. And in the process many are completely astonished to find they’ve lost heaviness. They come in hunched, anxious, jittery, eye-averting, burdened, fearful and sometimes still playing sleight of word distraction games. Protecting their disease, not even seeing they are doing it. They leave lighter and enlighted to have found that confession is good, that holding is unhealthy.
And that result is the tremendous privilege of it! It is akin to the being born again that Nicodemous could not understand. The inner child who’s emotional and psychological growth was halted when it learned it’s feelings did not seem to fit being expressed in their world, FINALLY makes contact, and begins to stir the person toward Life abundant, Life as God intended.
The process works for Atheist, Agnostic and Hindu alike. It works for Jehovah’s Witness, Muslim and Buddhist. And it works for both excommunicated and righteous Christians. A salvation process is born in a place we don’t expect it. A spiritual journey is undertaken. God is connected with a sinner, and freedom is found. The sinner is taught to be open to let God be known to them. The barren place becomes fertile again, the place of shame transforms to a place of Glory.
It is truly a wonder to be a midhusband in Confession and ReBirth

 

To be three years sober and God-guided

I write this reflection as a tribute to a God who gave me privilege and the blessing of getting on the rollercoaser thrill ride with someone on a journey out of active addiction and into a new life led by a power outside himself. Monday night (the 19th) I got to attend the 12 step meeting where he was awarded his “three year cake” and a medalion and a necklace, and many words of admiration.

It will be too long for a post, so I made it a page, which you can read by following this link: Swallow your pride and reach out for help, and you end up proud of how God lets you reach out to help others.