As mentioned in my last post, this past Wednesday was my first day at work in two months. While the main objectives of my sabbatical were to rest and seek discernment on a significant ministry decision, God had other things that he wanted to teach me during this time. And while there’s not enough space here to share them all, there is one lesson that has risen above the rest. It comes by way of a lengthy quote from Eugene Peterson‘s memoir The Pastor.
The vocation of pastor has been replaced by the strategies of entrepreneurs with business plans….I love being an American… But I don’t love the “American Way,” its culture and values.
…Many pastors, disappointed or disillusioned with their congregations, defect after a few years and find more congenial work. And many congregations, disappointed or disillusioned with their pastors dismiss them and look for pastors more to their liking. In the fifty years that I have lived the vocation of pastor, these defections and dismissals have reached epidemic proportions in every branch of the church.
I wonder if at the root of the defection is a cultural assumption that all leaders are people who “get things done” and “make things happen.” This is certainly true of the primary leadership models that seep into our awareness from culture – politicians, businessmen, advertisers, publicists, celebrities, and athletes. But while being a pastor certainly has some of these components, the pervasive element in out two-thousand-year pastoral tradition is not someone who “get’s things done” but rather the person placed in the community to pay attention and call attention to “what is going on right now” between men and women, with one another and with God – this Kingdom of God that is primarily local, relentlessly personal and prayerful “without ceasing.”
I have lived my entire life under the assumption that my job as a pastor and a leader is to “make things happen.” During my sabbatical, with no deadlines to meet, no sermons to write, no meetings to run, no programs to maintain, I found that I was drawing my identity from my productivity and efficiency. The more I accomplished, the more valuable I was. The more things I got done, the more important I felt. And it wasn’t until all of these things were removed from my life that I was able to see just how much I was building my identity on my misled pastoral vocation of “making things happen.”
Through my time off I was graciously reminded that God is at work even when I’m not. And now, as I re-engage in ministry, I’m having to relearn what it means to be a pastor. And what is needed to relearn my vocation is a new imagination. Not one revolving around productivity and efficiency, but an imagination revolving around what Jesus says in John 5.
In John 5, Jesus is being condemned for healing (doing work) on the Sabbath. And by all appearances it looks like Jesus is about “getting things done” and “making things happen” when in fact, he should be resting. Now, I know that this passage isn’t about productivity and efficiency, but it’s Jesus’ response to the condemnation that I’ve been meditating on over the last few months. In response Jesus says,
My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working… I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does (v17, 19-20).
The new imagination with which I am trying to work is, as Peterson says, one of “paying attention” and “calling attention” to what God is doing. Jesus postures himself before the Father as one who is dependent on the Father, not as one who has an agenda and hopes that God will bless it. For the longest time I have postured myself before God saying, “God, here’s what I’m up too, now let’s get after it.” Now I’m learning to say, “God, what are you up too? Where are you at work? Where have you already been at work before I showed up on the scene and how can I partner with you?”
In all honesty, this way of leading scares me. It scares me because in order to live, work and lead in this way, I have to relinquish expectations and control. I have to allow God to be God and I have to follow more than I actually lead. The funny thing is, that’s exactly what Jesus teaches, doesn’t he. He first and foremost calls us to follow not lead.
So, armed with this new way of thinking, I have started back to work. I am sitting on the edge of my seat with eyes wide open and with an expectant heart. Because after all, as Jesus says in John 5, “the Father is always at work.” And as Peterson says, the Kingdom of God is ”primarily local and relentlessly personal.” That means the action is right here. Not elsewhere, but here, right in our own back yard.
Be on the look out because Kingdom break through is happening all the time. The question is whether or not we have eyes to see and willingness to participate.
Grace and Peace.
Where are you finding God to be at work in your life?
How are you responding to the Kingdom breaking through in your local context?