Saturday, January 22, 2011

Life in the Wilderness

Life in the wilderness is a recurring Biblical theme, from the Exodus to Jesus' 40 days of temptation. The wilderness is not an easy place to be. But it is sometimes a necessary place to be. Being without a call, and feeling isolated from church life, represents my own time in the wilderness. I wish I was not in the wilderness. The wilderness is a dry and forbidding place sometimes. But here I am, and here I need to deal with it. It is my hope that this time in the wilderness will not last much longer, and that the "Promised Land" of a new call and a feeling of usefulness to others lies just ahead.

What keeps me going, through this period of unemployment and underemployment (part time work at $8 an hour), is the sense that God has placed a call on my heart to be a pastor, which has not been removed in spite of a troubled last call. Ultimately, the sense of call is something deeply individual, and while the actions of a congregation or a Presbytery may impacy upon that, it is still God alone who guides my sense of call and my conscience. And the sense of call is still there. Thank God for that.

Update: and there IS life in the wilderness. Despite the problems of my last call, I have been blessed by many expressions of interest from prospective church employers. I have been as honest as possible about the circumstances of my last call, and while a few churches did withdraw from contact after my last call ended, in general I have felt a real level of acceptance and appreciation for being honest and humble enough to admit mistakes and seek improvement. Maybe that's one of the great lessons of being in the wilderness.

Why I Disappeared

I started up this blog and posted for awhile and then stopped in early November. It has been a busy time. Our third child, Laura Elizabeth, was born on November 15. She is a lovely baby full of smiles and fun (she is also an extraordinarily voracious nurser!). Having a third child after losing one's job is a challenge, but it was softened at least by the severance I was able to negotiate from my former congregation.

Right now my family and I are close to a decision on relocating. It will be too bad to have to leave Erie, but you have to go where the opportunities are. For whatever reason, even part time, temporary church work opportunities have not opened up for me in this area.

This has been a time of reflection and hopefully renewal. I have come to understand a few things about church work and life, namely that there are three major parties to any ministerial relationship. There is of course the pastor; there is the congregation; and there is the Presbytery. The pastoral relationship will succeed when all three parties strive to follow God's Word and will ... which means being ready to self-reflect and improve in areas that need growth. In my opinion, I made many mistakes as pastor of my last call, but my conscience is clear in that I tried to minister to congregants and staff members with love and respect. And, I tried to improve areas that needed improvement. The other parties in the relationship (congregational leadership and Presbytery) will need to discern how they handled aspects of this relationship.

In any case, my ministry at my former church ended rather badly, although I felt blessed by the many people there who did support and love my family and me. Indeed (and this is another aspect of understanding church life), I think a majority of people were and are good, kindly people who wanted the best and tried sincerely to follow Jesus Christ. But from my perspective, the "Silent Majority" (Godly Majority?) did not set the tone of the church. Why is that? I think my biggest regret is that I could not surmount the long-standing conflicts caused by just a small number of people. Instead of mastering the conflict, I was mastered by the conflict.

But God willing, this is not the end of my ministry as a whole.