I wrote about Rachel at one month. I got excited about Julie and Jerome at one month. But I have not said too much about myself as I have been moving through this interesting transition year. Someone wondered why. So here I am. I’m almost a year into being the “Development Pastor.” I’m telling some of my own story.
My new role feels a bit like my village was raided and we needed to move — it is more of a transition than I expected! It is life-changing, but it is also life-affirming, in the sense that a lot of what God gave me along the way is like a tool chest for this new territory.
No, I did not retire
I went to the General Conference of the Brethren in Christ in July (like I have every other year for decades) and must have been asked twenty times, “How is retirement?” I’m shaking my head as I write. Retirement?!
I might have said, “I wish retirement!” (since 60somethings supposedly thirst for it), but I don’t wish.
My new role in the church is less hands on and supposedly less time (not yet, really), but it is no less an occupation to which I feel called and fully deployed. I actually started another part-time profession when I began to apply my new doctorate to psychotherapy in Circle Counseling’s new digs at 1226 S. Broad St. So I won’t be retiring any time soon.
That is odd.
It is odd for the founding pastor of a church to step away and let his descendants take over. Usually, they wheel him out in a coffin or wheel him into a fancy office where he can keep looking like he presides over everything. Or, if that doesn’t work out, he just disappears and leaves the future of the church to “whatever.” I think many people think disappearing is more normal than transitioning to another role in the body—fired, tired or expired, you are supposed to go.
But last week Gwen and I sat in our usual spot at the South Broad Sunday meeting — we still like it right up front. But that is as close to “up front” as I got. I have been asked several times if taking a back seat feels sad for me. I must miss giving speeches. Or worse, I must feel disappeared, since, in the past, people came to see me like I was an episode of The Big Bang Theory and now there is a crime drama at that time so they are into crime drama and forgot The Big Bang. A lot of pastors do disappear when they are not in front every week. It is actually sort of pastor protocol for them to not infect the career of their successors. Instead, I was sitting next to Rachel last week.
I don’t miss it that much. I never really thought being “up front” was the heart of my leadership, anyway — I never found myself in the footlights, I guess. And Circle of Hope is more of a tribe than a production company, anyway, so I grew into another role. That feels right to me. I am still a member of the tribe; I’m just doing something else that fits where I am and where we are now. I suppose it does seem odd that our employees are not mere interchangeable parts we could order out of a catalog, but that’s how we are.
What do you do now?
One of the Coordinators asked this question the other day even though I report to them every week. I think I have been predictable so long it is unnerving to let me change, “If you are not that, what could you possibly be?” Sometimes I feel like that too. We’re all getting a handle on it. I think of what I do now as all about the future. Circle of Hope has an amazing identity and a wonderful community. I am all about developing us to take who we are and move it into the future God is laying out for us as a whole church. We are a much bigger deal than we used to be and we have a bigger responsibility to develop and use what we have been given. I think the world and the church needs us to be deep, conscientious and strong.
The three big titles in the description of what I do are Formation, Teaching, and Development.
- Formation is about spiritual and psychological health – I try to give the church tools (like Daily Prayer and the Way of Jesus), but mostly this is about personal counseling, mentoring and spiritual direction.
- Teaching is more obvious – sometimes I am back up front, but all over the church in the Sunday meetings and training times. I invent and organize Gifts for Growing (like the 30something Retreat and Doing Theology coming up). I write like this.
- Development is the largest area right now – we have new systems to use to build our institution and we have new needs to face as we grow. I’m into developing all the systems and facing the needs. I help the Leadership Team grow (that’s my main team). I often deal with conflict and goal setting. I help with the practical matters of moving over the edge into new territory. Somebody noticed that it was nice to have “your very own older person” around — things happen when you are out on the edge.
What is our edge?
What the church has done with me and how we are multiplying a congregation right now is so remarkable people have a hard time understanding it. I love how we can take risks and let the Spirit empower us and save us. If you are not excited about that, I think you ought to be. You are edgy. But there are further places to move.
I think we are going to go against the grain of the Northeast’s spiritual devolution and keep church planting. Plus, like our Map says this year, I think we are going to create a mutuality web that is the antidote to the soul-crushing individualism being written into law in the United States. What’s more, I think our new ideas for “good business” are going to start a very practical expression of our creativity. Those are the first things that come to mind.
What about teens? What about urban parenting? What about school care? What about finding a voice for alternativity? What about art? Climate change? There is a lot going on, and there should be. It is a challenging era to be a Jesus follower and we have been given a lot to contribute to the Lord’s cause.
What gives you strength?
I’ve had several conversations that pointed this out to me this week. I realized that my capacity is all learned. I have some native ability to do what I do, of course. But most of what I need has been an acquisition, a gift received, not an inner discovery.
- Simplicity – My money is a tool. My success does not define me. Life is what I am living. I stick with my calling.
- Centered prayer – Silence and contemplation are essential. Being with Jesus all day is a joy.
- Teaming – I don’t do anything alone. Relationships of love are how the best things get done. I am a covenant member of the body of Christ.
- Focus on goals – I like getting things done and I will risk failure to do them. I try to keep it simple and determine to do what I can actually accomplish. I am not a perfectionist. Thinking and acting ahead is important.
- Reading widely (and yes FB and Twitter) – Nothing much is new under the sun, I may just not know it yet. I think the art of repurposing is more important than invention most of the time. Humility and foolishness lead to good things; I listen from that vantage point.
What will be new?
I’m feeling a bit uncomfortable after writing all this about myself. Presuming that someone is interested in me is not in my inner script. But I got to the end of it so the curious would feel more secure about what is happening in their church. It is odd. The new me is kind of odd, I guess. But I hope the change is very good. I am not sure what will happen, but a few things are coming into focus:
- I hope my next ten years are full of children: spiritual children, grandchildren, and other people’s children.
- I am going to enjoy letting go of our “2nd act” structures, once they can all walk —many of our innovations are still babies.
- I intend to do more psychotherapy and spiritual direction.
- I already write more.
- I expect to teach more in the Hallowood Institute Gwen is founding, as well as throughout Circle of Hope.
- I will apply myself to whatever I am given by God as I have always tried to do.
- And, of course, Circle of Hope will be new. It is changing right now before our very eyes. Like I said, I actually feel a bit uprooted from the pleasant valley we used to live in. But I look forward to what will become of this much larger place into which we have entered. Much of it is unexplored, but what I have seen is beautiful! I look forward to what it becomes in much the same way I wonder if the baby’s eyes will stay blue — it is yet to be revealed but a sweet anticipation.