As we leave 2011 behind and enter into 2012, it’s natural to reflect on where we’ve been over this past year and also hope and dream for where we’re going next. Yesterday morning I got up a little early to do just that and to write down my thoughts. And as I sat down to think and write I found myself reflecting not just on 2011, but on 2009 and 201o as well.
Over the past two and half years the church where I pastor has gone through more change and transition than I have ever seen in my life. When I was hired four and a half years ago, I was one of six on staff. Now, I am one of three on staff. And of those original six, I am the only one remaining. I am not sure what that turnover rate is in percentages, but let’s just say it’s high.
And through out these past two and half years not only has the staff changed, but the make up of the church has also changed. Because of the changes, people who I dearly loved and cared for have left. Some left quietly. Some left angry. Others left distraught. Needless to say change is never easy, is it?
And on top of all the change, over these past two and half years we grieved the loss of three significant people in our church family, a longtime member of our elder board, a new born baby and a man whose life was cut short at 47 by cancer.
And in all honesty, through out all of these changes and hardships I have thought about leaving myself. In fact, a couple of times. In the midst of all the change there were days when it seemed way too hard to continue. It seemed like every time I turned around there was someone else who was upset, another fire to put out or another person who wanted to unload their frustration and anger. And in those moments I often thought to myself, “This is not what I signed up for.” When I was in seminary preparing for ministry, I would dream about all of the exciting experiences that vocational ministry would bring and all the ways I would change the world. But over the last 2 and a half years, there were days when it seemed like the only thing changing was the make up of our church. And there were days when I thought, “I should just move on.”
But, as I sat yesterday morning to reflect and write I came to realize that there were three reasons why I’ve stayed.
1. Calling – I believe that God calls us to specific places, for specific times, to do specific things. And sometimes God intentionally calls us to challenging situations. I have this vivid memory of one Sunday morning in the spring of 2010. I was standing in the doorway of our worship center greeting people as they made there way in for worship. With each passing person it was as though the voice of God was growing increasingly louder in my ear, “Bryan, I have called you right here for right now. Lead these people. It won’t be easy, but I’ve called you to be here for this time.” This was coming on the heels of a significant staff change, growing tension in our work place and a fair amount of angry people. Needless to say, it wasn’t the ideal work situation and there were many times I thought to myself, “I wonder if staying here is the best career move?”
During that same season, our church was teaching through the book of Acts and one of the passages I was assigned to teach was Acts 9, the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. The one verse that stuck out to me in that chapter was v16. God says about Saul, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” God’s calling on our lives isn’t always glamorous. It isn’t always fashionable or fun, but knowing that God has called you to a certain place, for a certain season, with a certain purpose gives you the confidence and courage to confront challenging situations head on.
So first and foremost, I’ve stayed put because God has called me to stay.
2. Laying myself down – Not only did God call me to stay in order to lead, God also called me to stay in order to teach me a few things about leading. In our celebrity infatuated culture, in the last ten years, a whole new generation of pastors have entered into a ministry landscape that is filled with “celebrity” pastors and christian leaders. Because of this, the temptation is there for pastors to enter the ministry with the motivation of one day being one of those celebrity pastors. The reason that I know this is that I fall into that category of pastors.
I believe that God called me to stay and to walk through a difficult season in our church’s history so that he could show me what leading his people is all about. The passages that have taught me the most about leading over the last few years have been John 10v11, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” And John 15v12-13, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
So, two in staying, I’ve learned what it means to love God’s people. And that in loving and leading the church, at times God calls you to disadvantage yourself for his people.
3. A Fruitful Future – Lastly, I’ve stayed because I believe there’s an incredibly bright hope and future for our church family. Also in John 15 Jesus uses the metaphor and word picture of a grape vine in order to talk about following him. In this passage he says the end result of following him is to bear fruit. But sometimes before we can bear fruit we first have to be pruned. In v 1-2 Jesus says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”
The truth about pruning is that it hurts. Having certain things cut out of your life always hurts. But the result of pruning is flourishing. And I believe that in 2012 our church will begin to flourish. We may not be busting apart at the seems or have more resources than we know what to do with, but I am not sure God measures fruitfulness and “success” in the same way we do. We tend to measure church growth by the “Church ABC’s: Attendance, Buildings and Cash.” God measures church growth by counting disciples. People who are really walking with Jesus, not just showing up on a Sunday morning and throwing a few bucks in the offering box.
I think God also measures church size not by by numbers, but by impact. And I believe that our church has the potential to be a very impactful church.
So, that’s why I have stayed, because
1. God called me to stay.
2. God had to teach me what it meant to lead with love.
3. I believe God has a bright and fruitful future for our church family.
With the dawn of 2012 comes a new season of life and ministry for me. And I really do believe that God is going to do abundantly more than I could ever ask or imagine in the years ahead.
Grace and Peace to you in 2012.