Friday, April 22, 2016

Foster Parents, Adoption, and Other Metaphors For Pastoring

Let me start by thanking everyone who reads this blog who has been praying for me in the last couple of weeks as I end my Interim at Heritage Baptist Church in Annapolis.  I wrote in the last post about my feelings as this Interim comes to an end and about the difficulty of not knowing what comes next.

Now I know what comes next.  On Sunday, April 24, I will preach my last sermon as Interim Pastor at Heritage.  On May 1 I will preach my first sermon as Interim Pastor at First Baptist Church of Hyattsville, MD.  I am honored to have served at Heritage and grateful and excited about what lies ahead at Hyattsville.

All of which got me thinking about pastoral ministry and the metaphors of foster parenting and adoption.  Interim ministry is a lot like foster parenting.  You work with a congregation that no longer has a pastor.  Often that congregation has "issues" that need addressing.  But you know that sooner or later, you're going to have to let that congregation go.  And yes, there are times when the Interim gets called to be the settled Pastor-just like there are times that foster parents are allowed to adopt.  But those times are the exception rather than the rule.  Regardless of who becomes the settled Pastor, you will pour yourself into the congregation with the end goal that they will be healthy and ready to call a settled Pastor.

Those who wind up as Settled Pastors are more like adoptive parents.  They focus on the long term life of a congregation.  They are there through season after season; sharing the births, and deaths, the graduations, the returns from the military of children who they used to see running in the halls and going off to youth mission trips.

But the more I got to thinking about these two metaphors for pastoring, the more I realized that none of us is a church's "natural parent."  This is the second insight in Paul's comment that "I planted, Apollos watered, but it is God who yields the harvest."  Unless you are a church's Founding Pastor (and even then, if you think that church exists solely because of you, you need to do an ego check), you are "adopting" a congregation with a history and a DNA all it's own.  You forget this at your own peril.

All of this leads me to my final conclusion.  One that many of us (myself included) can loose track of if we're not careful.  Pastoral ministry is a privilege. It is an honor when a community of people allow us into their life.  They share with us at a level of intimacy that is amazing.  They let us into their joy and their pain; their gut wrenching failures and their soaring victories.  And God privileges us as well by allowing us to stand with these people in places made holy by God's presence in the middle of the kind of life events I've just named.

Truth is, while I've been hanging out between my two trapezes (see last blog) I've been reminded how intense and beautiful and sacred this work is.  In all it's muddy, daily grind, intense, zero to 100 mph, boring is holy ground.  I am grateful to be standing here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Leaving, Waiting, And Some Thoughts About Getting Older

Heritage Baptist, where I have been Interim Pastor for almost two years, recently called their next settled Sr. Pastor.  He is Scott Shelton from Athens, TX.  I had the pleasure of meeting with Scott when he came for his candidating weekend.  Though we are very different people, I believe that he will do a good job; and I believe like Paul (yes, I'm agreeing with Paul) that 'one plants, one waters, but it is God who will yield the harvest.'  Scott and I, like Paul and Apollos, are field hands, hired help in bringing in the Kingdom.  We each have a job to do.  Mine is ending.  His is beginning.

But leaving is hard.  Even in good situations like this one, there is grief.  I am allowing myself to feel that grief and to share it when appropriate.  I've come to love much about Heritage.  Carole and I have made friends here.  I've worked with two incredible fellow ministers in the Revs Skye Hallman McQuillan and Dr. Ralph Manuel.  They've set a really high bar for teamwork and collegiality.  I am grateful for them both.
I've gotten to go to Passport for two years with our youth group and to work with VBS for two years.  The youth and children here have become family.  I've watched the young adults participation increase and have found new fishing buddies in all age groups.  One of our Deacons even started teaching me to fly fish.  Leaving is hard.  There are things we've accomplished; but it is the relationships that I will miss the most.

Then there is the waiting............and get the picture.  I have no idea what comes next.  What does God have in mind?  Another Interim?  A settled pastorate?  A break? (Lord knows what I'd do. My practice has been a small part of my work life for the last 3 years).  These are questions that I ask myself as I box up the books in my office.  If God has given you any messages to pass along, leave them in the comments section :). 

My age is an issue.  I'm not old yet (at least not in my own mind), but I'm aware that if I were to be called to a settled pastorate and stayed for 10-12 years, it would probably be my last full time pastorate.  That gives me pause.  It makes me think about my life and my life in ministry.  It makes me think about successes and devastating mistakes.  It makes me put it all in God's hands and trust that God will reap the harvest.

In a recent sermon I used the image of a trapeze artist hanging out between two trapezes.  That's where I am.  Hanging out.  Waiting.  Trying to say goodbye in a way that is healthy and makes my next hello healthy as well.  That's where I am.  I covet your prayers.

Thanks for letting me share.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Collateral Inmates

They come every week;
Saturdays mostly, 

              sometimes Sunday.
They step off the bus that drives them to the gate
  or park old cars, often borrowed
          from friends or parents
in the lot where toddlers and small children
   tumble out of vehicles
like dice from a shaken cup.
Young mothers with babies on breast or hip
     sullen teens pulled away from weekends
            elderly parents, faces lined with shame.
Inmates come to visit inmates.
     if it weren't for the glass partition
           and the regulation dress code,
Just looking at the faces
      you couldn't tell
   who will go home when the visiting hours are over
         and who will go back to the cell block