This week marks the one-year anniversary of my time as an ordained minister plodding away on Vancouver Island so I thought I would offer 12 thoughts in no particular order.
People are nicer and more generous than you think. The popular perception is that people are bad (and yes we do live in a broken world with a lot of pain) and that we need to be protected from each other and we might as well save our breath because no one is going to volunteer for anything or ever part with a single dollar. This past year I have been shown repeatedly that this just isn’t the case. That, at least in the church, people are more than willing assist others financially and with time than the culture would have me believe.
Fishing is awesome. This year I caught a lingcod that weighed about 24 pounds, which was fun and provided my family a few very nice meals. More importantly I fished and fished for ideas that God would move forward, that the people would jump on saying that they would love to do. Many ideas have fallen flat and gone nowhere other than excitement in my own heart that one day they may come to fruition. Enough have come to something already to keep me excited and trusting that God is really at work in this place.
Group discernment is intuitive. This one is harder to explain. There is a weird sense in which a group of careful people often knows what to do when presented with a problem, challenge, or opportunity. They somehow sync together so that what seems like too big a project can come together without anyone doing more than their share. This wisdom often comes out of taking the time to slow down, talk about something at length, listen to each other, and let the solution or conclusion come about naturally. I am amazed at how well this works, if we have trust in each other and we don’t short-circuit the conversation.
Ministry can be good for a family. I know the burnout rate and the bitterness amongst many ministry families is high but that hasn’t been my experience at all. People have given us evenings away from our kids by not just offering to babysit but paying for dinner our, or theatre tickets, or whatever. They have also offered mini-vacations where we have been able to go away for 1 or 3 nights with or without the kids, a luxury we couldn’t afford but deeply appreciate. Most importantly my schedule is busy but flexible. That means that even if I at times work more hours than I can sustain over the long haul, those times are counter-balanced with times of greater leisure. Also, even in the busy times, I can get home for lunch with my boys, go on the school field trips, and be sure to be home for diner.
Preaching every week is hard. I love preaching, I don’t always love preparing to preach. Almost every week I am uncomfortable with what I am about to say either because I believe I am following God against the headwinds of our culture or because I think I haven’t quite got the words right. Every. Single. Week. I am my own worst critic (I think) and I am rarely satisfied with a sermon. I am however, more than satisfied by God’s goodness because without fail the sermon hits home with someone who needed to hear it that week.
God’s in charge. Over and over again the sermon reminds me of this. I am also reminded of this anytime I try to force something, push for something, hurry something up (all of which I constantly have to stop myself from doing). Things happen in God’s time.
God’s word is endlessly deep. I read the bible everyday. Most days I read it more than once. I never cease to find new insights, new ideas, and to be stretched by it. Every sermon I write, every blog post I write, every personal journal entry I do, there could be 8 other ways to approach. I hope, I pray, that this remains the case as long as I am in ministry.
Every week I am making it up as I go. That may be a bit of an exaggeration but one year in and I often feel like I am in the deep end of a big pool and only know how to doggy paddle. It isn’t so bad, I won’t drown or anything, but it always feels like there is something just beyond my reach that if I could figure it out would be immensely helpful. I suppose that’s how the marketing world works. Occasionally something hits me in the face and I know that there really is more out there than meets the eye.
Living in a small town is nice. I meet a lot of people; I meet them at the stores I frequent, at the pool I swim in, at my kid’s school, and while I am running. It is pleasant to bump into people all the time. It’s also pleasant to run in fresh air, on a path that doesn’t see a ton of traffic, in fact, my 5 year old often bikes in front of me while I run, it may not seem like a big thing but this would never have worked where we lived in Montreal.
This is the right place for right now. When you move across the continent, especially with little kids, you have to wonder if this is really smart, grandparents are helpful, familiarity of surroundings is comforting, rootedness is something you can feel and value. A year into it I am certain this was the right move for us, that God’s hand was and remains upon us in this season and that we are blessed to be here.
Seminary will never cover everything we need to know. Seminaries around North America are trying hard to prepare ministers for the church world that awaits them, that’s their job. It’s an impossible one. The mechanics of Easyworship (or even how to use a pc if you’re a mac person), the dynamics of session, the energy required to lead multiple services, the finding of mentors and accountability partners, how to bless a region through the work of a ministerial, how to close a church, how to help someone open a church, there are things that can’t be taught but must be learned. I hope mine isn’t the only congregation that knows they have as much to teach me as I have to teach them.
The future of the church isn’t bleak, or desperate. Talk to people in a lot of churches and they will tell you about how hard it is to be a church today. This past year I have met more people joyfully doing work for the church, volunteers and ministers, bloggers, podcasters, youth group leaders and church planters, all sorts of people doing all sorts of things out of their love for God. I have met many people who can honestly tell you how meeting Jesus transformed their lives. It’s never been easy to be church, just look at Paul in chains, but that doesn’t mean the church can’t be full of joy, and it sure doesn’t mean the church is without a future!