Yes, I know “Follow me,” are the words Jesus used to call his disciples to ministry, but I use there here because I’ve learned that a lot of people who followed me as theunexpectedds lost me when I became nottheperfectpastor. So, I wanted to post the link here to the blog I created when I returned to the local church. Please “Follow me” if you are so inclined. Not the Perfect Pastor
Until next time, keep looking up…
I’m up early this morning (earlier than usual). Call it anticipation. Call it anxiousness. Call it giddy-ness. I’m not actually sure what to call it, but I know I was awakened with thoughts of the future filling my mind. Today I begin my last full day as “The Unexpected DS,” so, I’m doing the only thing I know to do when the Spirit wakes me up this early in the morning–I’m writing.
I’m posting today’s blog on “theunexpectedds” because after today (lunch tomorrow, actually) I’ll no longer be the District Superintendent of the Monroe District. I thought it appropriate that on the last official day of this job I blog from this page. What’s on my mind this morning? Only a few things. I’ll get up in the morning (probably early). I’ll make my coffee. I’ll pray. Maybe I’ll write. I’ll check facebook. I’ll go to the gym. Then, I’ll go to a new office to begin ministry in a new way with new pilgrims on the journey. Mentally, I’ve been there a few weeks already. Physically, tomorrow’s the day.
I’m also thinking about the work still to be done in the District. I finish with what I hope is a bang. I go this morning (traveling with my successor, Rev. Ellen Alston) to conduct two charge conferences in the District. Hopefully, at the end of the day, we will have the birth of a new congregation in the Monroe District. Two District congregations will discuss becoming one congregation. My prayer is they will both pass resolutions to unite together, proving once again that the Holy Spirit is at work growing the Kingdom of God in new and exciting ways in spite of the “bad news” of the demise of Christianity in the western world. That is great work, indeed, to conclude the ministry entrusted to me two years ago. Maybe that will be a positive legacy I can leave to the Monroe District.
I’m not sure if the merger of two congregations qualifies as a legacy or not, and I’m not sure if two years on the District is enough time to leave a legacy. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to leave a legacy when we leave the District, but I have always hoped to leave a little something behind wherever I’ve been…to believe that my presence had made a difference, if even in a small way. I’m sure there are a few people in the District who would say the difference I’ve made has not been all that positive. To those, I can only ask forgiveness. I can confess there are a few situations I would handle differently. But, hey! Gimme’ a break. It took me one whole year to figure out what I was supposed to be doing. It wasn’t until the second year that I somewhat came to believe I could actually DO the job of a District Superintendent. I’ve told my colleagues on the Cabinet that I stayed just long enough to figure out what I was doing.
I hope I got a few things right along the way. I got to meet a lot of great people, a lot of godly people who earnestly desire the greater things of the Kingdom of God. I suppose it’s the people I’ve met over the past two years that will be the legacy the District leaves to me. Can I say how much I love the pastors I’ve worked with these last two years? I guess I can, I just did! Getting to know the pastors of the Monroe District (yes, some better than others) has been manna for my journey. If I could, I would have spent all my time just being with pastors. The breadth and depth of wisdom and spirituality, and pure love for Jesus I find in this group humbles me. I take part of every one of them with me. I pray I can find some way to maintain those relationships. It’s like feasting on the manna from a bountiful supply (I know, it’s an old hymn–but it’s true!). I’ll never tire of that food. And you part-time pastors? Your commitment to the Kingdom humbles me even more. I thank my God upon every remembrance of you!
I thinking now would be a good time to dispel a myth. District Superintendents DO NOT HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS! There is no magical annointing that comes when the Bishop appoints a person DS. We don’t automatically become the answer person for every rule of law or question of Discipline, let alone know the correct way to handle the conflict of every church in the District. I was like a deer in the headlights the first year. I have chuckled (albeit under my breath) as I’ve watched two colleagues join the group at the table with the same “deer in the headlights” look in the two years I’ve been here. All I can say to them is, “Don’t worry. You’ll figure it out. It just takes time.” It’s still funny, though, until I remember that’s how I looked, too.
I’m also thinking about the job every DS has ahead of him/her. As I reflect on the time of deep change within our culture, and within the United Methodist Church, it almost seems an overwhelming task. Not only overwhelming, but almost impossible. I suppose that’s okay. After all, God is a God of the impossible (at least that’s what Jesus said). That’s a good thing, because if there is to be change in the UMC, it’ll be a God thing. I don’t envy my colleagues who remain on the Cabinet.
I know I have a tall order ahead of me as I move to 1st UMC, Monroe, but it’s nothing compared to the work that our Bishop and Cabinet have before them. Why? Well, I know from experience that we can make a difference on the local church level. Transformational ministry happens all the time in the local congregation. Our colleagues on the Cabinet are walking a new path. No, let me rephrase that…they’re making a new path…a path through the wilderness…going a way that’s never been trod before. They’re doing their best to discern God’s voice along each step of the way, but the distractions are as overwhelming as the task. It’s tedious work. It’s challenging work. It’s tiring work. And, it’s work in which the results are not immediately seen. Perhaps that’s the worst part of the work. We entered ministry because we desire to see the transformation of lives that God makes real. The transformation that comes from the work done now by the Cabinet will not likely be known for another generation.
The wisdom (see my tongue in my cheek?) of General Conference has said that the new role of DS is that of “missional strategist.” The only problem is no one knows what that means. There is great freedom in knowing one can define the term in whatever way is necessary. There’s really not much way to screw it up. Do something wrong and you have a built-in excuse. “Oh, that’s what it means to be a ‘Missional Strategist’.” Seriously, who can argue with you? They don’t know what a “missional strategist” is, either. No, I don’t envy our colleagues at all, but I do pray for them. There is a part of me that longs to be on the journey with them, but it is only a small part. The greater part of me longs to be “feet-on-the-ground” busy at 1st UMC, Monroe. No offense, sisters and brothers on the Cabinet.
It’s not enough to look behind. I’m also looking ahead this morning. I’m reminded again of the words of a hymn writer who wisely said “From the past will come the future, what it holds a mystery.” I take some great lessons with me of the last two years that should serve me well as pastor at 1st UMC, Monroe. Someone asked me about my vision for 1st UMC. I can only answer I don’t have a specific vision for 1st UMC right now. That will take time…time to pray…time to talk with the people…time to serve…time to get to know them. What I have is a deeper vision for what it means to be the Church (yes, big C). That vision will guide me as, together, we cultivate living out the Church as a part of the body of Christ at 1st, Monroe. I wouldn’t trade the lessons of the past two years for anything. They will make me a better pastor. I pray they make me a better disciple.
Yeah, a lot of things on my mind this morning. I’ve only touched a few of them here. This will do it for theunexpectedds. Tomorrow, and everyday afterward, I’ll be “Not the Perfect Pastor.” So, I guess today is not really a day of new beginnings. It’s a day of endings. But as the hymn writer again reminds us, “From our end is our beginning,” so I take this ending as my beginning, praying that God is in this day of new beginnings, believing that God is in this day of new beginnings, agreeing with another hymn writer who says, “our God is making ALL (emphasis mine) things new.”
Until next time (oh, wait…there won’t be a next time!), well…keep looking up, anyway!
Hymn of Promise,
This is a Day of New Beginnings,