Lately my wife and I have been fascinated with HGTV. Perhaps this says something about our age and our stage of life, or perhaps it indicates that we have no life. Either way, as of late it has become our default cable tv channel. One of the reasons we’re drawn to the station is because of the renovation shows. Shows where people buy a house and go to great lengths to recreate the space inside.
During the renovation process two things typically happen. One, a huge mess is made. Walls are torn down. Floors are ripped up. Electrical work is rewired. Plumbing line are rerouted, etc… Major renovations require for just about everything to be torn apart. The other is that unexpected issues and problems are discovered. In many homes there are certain issues that remain hidden to the naked eye and are only discovered when you tear down walls and rip up floors. Sometimes these problems are major and delay the completion and increase the cost of the project.
Greater tension is experienced when the homeowner and their family are living in the home during the project. It’s incredibly inconvenient and completely disrupts their lives. People are constantly in and out of the house. Tools are all over the place and debris and dust can be found in every corner of every room. The family finds themselves living in perpetual state of disarray.
In most cases, these two things, the mess and the unexpected issues, scare the homeowner and at some point make them regret embarking on the project all together. The homeowner has a vision for what they want their house to look like when it’s done, however, they don’t always have a grasp on what it takes to get there. The contractor, on the other hand, has both. And in those moments when the homeowner is having a panic attack, it’s the job of the builder to say, “Trust me. It’s gonna be ok. I know exactly what I’m doing.”
Reflecting on my few years of pastoral ministry, I find that this tends to be a somewhat appropriate analogy of what it looks like to lead a small church. God is continually inviting and challenging us to something new. Not new for “new” sake, but rather new in the sense of taking His church and His people to a more God honoring place, a place where we are more fully surrendered to Him. While there may be initial excitement about this new place where God is leading us, in order to get there, sometimes things need to be taken out, ripped up and rearranged.
As a pastor, at times, I feel as though I am the homeowner who’s still living in the house. And even though I am excited about what will be new, the process of getting there is inevitably messy. Unexpected things take me by surprise and there are moments when I wonder if this project was a good idea to begin with because I’m coming to realize that it’s taking much longer and cost way more than I originally anticipated.
Now, I’m not saying that I regret being a pastor, cause I don’t. Nor do I regret pastoring where God currently has me. The longer that I’m a pastor, the more certain I am that I’m doing the very thing that God has called and made me to do and where He’s called me to do it. But rather, what I’m saying is that through this process God is continually teaching me to redefine my understanding of what it means to be a pastor. He’s teaching me that the extra cost of the process and the fact that it is taking longer than expected isn’t bad. It’s actually the point.
I love to fix things. I love to solve problems. I love to continually refine procedures so that things run more effectively and efficiently. I love seeing progress. And I love it when it happens NOW. But when I am able to accomplish these things out of my own competencies I can actually miss out on the “real” work that God is trying to do in and through me. Because while I am so fixated on being competent, God is more concerned with my character. He is more concerned with leading me into the mess so that I can have opportunities to trust Him rather than my own competencies as we work through the mess.
This doesn’t mean that we resolve that life is one giant mess (even though it is) and therefore throw up our hands and stop working or stop trying, but rather it means we start to look at the mess differently. It means we start to have different responses to the unexpected challenges that hinder our progress. Instead of getting angry and/or just barreling ahead, we pause to ask questions about what God is doing and what He’s trying to teach and shape in us.
God is ultimately taking us forward. He is taking us to new things in new places. He is renovating and rebuilding the house in new and glorious ways. And the journey to get there is as equally important as the destination. So when it gets messy, and it definitely will, and when unexpected things slow down progress and increase the cost, we are given an opportunity to respond in faith when God says, “Trust me. It’s gonna be ok. I know exactly what I’m doing.”