A Young Man Weeps

It is an interesting time to be a young adult and to be in ministry in a mainline denomination. Sometimes it is hard to put into words exactly why it is an interesting time. Okay, really most of the time it is hard to put into words. It is a weird culture where people “desire” to have a young pastor and a young family while at the same time these people often suspiciously hear what a young pastor is saying because, well, “what does some young inexperienced pastor know about how things are?”

This much I have observed. I see broken hearts and spirits breaking from so many of my fellow young clergy (and I don’t exempt myself from the broken heart and breaking spirits club). There is such a passion for God and for the Body of Christ and all that it could be and because of this passion the hurt goes so deep. Sometimes, I myself feel like the picture below. I look at the picture and see my youngest son in the middle of crying his eyes out while my other son sits off staring into the distance (while picking his nose..oh boy) and I can’t help but feel sometimes like this picture captures my feeling. Whether it is fair or not, I sometimes feel like my heart is breaking for the church and the church is just staring off into the distance unmoved and to busy with other stuff (could committee meetings be like my son picking his nose?….okay, probably not fair but that is how I feel sometimes).

I don’t think I am the only one who can identify with this. Over and over I hear stories of friends and colleagues with such deep love and passion struggling with broken hearts and breaking spirits because they know the Body of Christ could be so much more than it is. Some have the strength and determination to push forward with determination to see renewal. Others whose spirits are breaking contemplate walking away disillusioned and still others are becoming resigned to the reality and believing that this is it and just keep going through the motions the status quo requires and desires. I have to admit that all three of the above situations have run through my mind when I look toward the future and I struggle with God’s calling/purpose for my ministry.

But I wonder if many of us need to hear words like Timothy received from Paul. Perhaps we need our elders to stand alongside us and give us the same words, but whether or not our elders do that we need to hear Paul’s words to Timothy as words of God to us:

Get the word out. Teach all these things. And don’t let anyone put you down because you’re young. Teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor, by love, by faith, by integrity. Stay at your post reading Scripture, giving counsel, teaching. And that special gift of ministry you were given when the leaders of the church laid hands on you and prayed—keep that dusted off and in use.

Cultivate these things. Immerse yourself in them. The people will all see you mature right before their eyes! Keep a firm grasp on both your character and your teaching. Don’t be diverted. Just keep at it. Both you and those who hear you will experience salvation. (1 Timothy 4:11-16 from The Message)

This is a message of perseverance. A message to stay the course, but also a message of affirmation with challenge. Sometimes I think we as young people are used to hearing affirmation and perhaps too much affirmation. We have been told from a young age that we could change the world and all the while we often were able to accomplish many things with minimal effort (thanks to technology and well many of our parents protecting us from failure and criticism) and resistance. Now I do think we can change the world and I don’t think the roadblocks to change are as big as some may think they are, but I also realize that it isn’t going to be easy. (I often wish it was though) But often I also wonder if we are too quick to let our spirits break because we fail to hear the challenges with the affirmation. (not always by our own account…sometimes the picture we are told by our elders is one that minimizes the challenges that really lie in the ministry setting and then we face disillusionment after reality is so different)

The question becomes this: Can the challenging affirmation by Paul to Timothy be the message of hope to help us young clergy through the broken hearts and breaking spirits? I want to see my weeping turn to dancing. I want to see the Kingdom of God tangibly breaking through in significant ways. My heart longs for these things and I wonder if my heart can be strengthened through God’s truth conveyed in Paul’s words.

The Power of Positive Thinking

Okay, so I don’t really buy into that whole “If you think positive, positive things will start happening to you….” stuff. Really, I don’t. However, I have realized in my short 3.5 years of ministry that communicating positive things is essential.

Now, that comes easy for some people. You know…those people who always have a “pep in their step” and even on a stormy, cloudy, and gloomy day can still list off what is great about the day. Those people who can frame any situation with positivity (sometimes it can get sickening). Well, yeah one of those people I am not. I think I have figured out why I am not that way and I trace it roots to my early childhood and the desire to be the best so my father would want to have something to do with me. (hey I was 7 years old….) I became a perfectionist (my mother would say that I was this way well before 7 and that I cried when I got a bad grade in preschool..yep we got letter grades at Green Pastures school). As a perfectionist I was never satisfied and I always looked at a situation and tried to figure out what I could do better. This continued on as I grew older and it would drive me crazy whenever there was that little dash behind the A on my report card.

Now if only that would have stayed within the framework of school, but it didn’t. I constantly evaluate myself and the situations I find myself in and try to think of how I could have done better or how “we” could do better. Any success is taken for granted because that is the way it should be. What this leads to is a lack of celebrating the accomplishments and seeing the good changes that our happening.

I witnessed this first hand in my first pastoral appointment. I came it with that mindset and was always looking at what we could do better. I failed to celebrate the things that we were doing well and I failed to witness to the ways that God was moving in great ways within peoples’ lives and the life of the church. Shockingly (okay it was a shock to me at the time) this didn’t work to motivate people. It depressed people and cultivated a sense of hopelessness and negativity. After I knew I was going to be moving to another appointment I discovered the important lesson of celebrating the victories and I quickly saw the attitude of the church change. It wasn’t like the situation changed, but attitudes began to change and hope began to spring. New ideas came forth and new people found their voices, etc. We began to tell a different story. (all a little too late…..lesson learned)

Well, here I sit a year and a half into my second appointment and again I see how my “perfectionist” ways color my perception of the context. I look around and quickly come to conclusions of what we can do better, but because I learned a bit I am also trying to celebrate the “victories.” This is hard work for me. It is hard for me to celebrate, because there is always a longing for more and a knowledge that we can be so much more. But if I don’t celebrate, the culture can’t change. So I have tried to share the stories of movements within the life of the church. Two young boys in elementary school who both took from their own money to help build wells in Liberia through our Advent Conspiracy participation. A family who funded an entire well by their single contribution. A homeless man getting his truck fixed through our benevolence fund which allowed him to get a job that requires reliable transportation. Individuals longing for deeper connection with one another and God who are starting to meet in a home weekly. I could go on with a few more.

The stories are there, but how often are we sharing them? Two weeks ago after a council meeting where we discussed the budget and all the joys that come with that (sarcasm intended), I wrote four questions on the board in my office. The third question I wrote has been continually running through my mind:

How do we create a culture of hope, possibilities, and encouragement instead of a culture of hopelessness, limitations, and discouragement?

Our story has been dominated by who we should be and who we are becoming as two congregations recently merged and moving towards re-birth. But I am afraid we are forgetting to share the great things that God is doing and has given us which point to the hope and possibility that comes through God. We see “financial drain” of buildings. We see a lack of younger adults. We see that we aren’t the church we once were. We see the reality that our finances just don’t match up.

I have to catch myself sometimes (and most of the times I fail) as I add to this culture. I am really trying to help be a catalyst for change and I think the biggest way this is going to happen is by sharing the amazing stories that have happened and are happening. Some positive thinking could really help us open our eyes and ears to see just how God is calling us in our re-birth efforts.

Maybe I need to find some old Stuart Smalley video clips to help me get positive and help change the culture. A little affirmation could go along way….