Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Nature of Failure in Being a Senior/Lead Pastor...or a Senior/Lead ANYTHING

This June marks the four-year anniversary of my being continuously engaged in some form of ministry.  I began as an intern chaplain in the inpatient psychiatric ward of California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, before transitioning to parish ministry that autumn as a part-time student associate minister of First Christian Church in Concord, California, and then to my current position here in Longview.

And with four years of experience to look back on (I know, I make myself sound old, when I'm still not yet 30), I have realized that there is simply no substitute for the proverbial trenches.  Sitting in a classroom may not be yours (or mine, at times) cup of tea, but I have come to believe that it is infinitely easier to come up with answers from behind a desk, considering questions and examining case studies that are either purely hypothetical or carefully sanitized of any identifying information.

And probably the way I have experienced this the most has been in the transition from associate to senior pastor.  Because all of the sudden, the buck stops with me now.  Not only are all those case studies actually real people for me, but I also have become the person spiritually responsible for them.

Talk about the blind leading the blind.

I joke about this with my congregants, but there is a kernel of truth to this: I probably had no idea what I was doing my first three or four months on the job.  Sure, I knew I had to preach on Sundays, I had to sit in on and report to our Board of Directors meetings, I had to cast a vision for the congregation, and about a million other things.

I knew I had to do all those things.

I just didn't know how to do any of them.  Or at least do any of them particularly well.

Admitting that truth isn't me trying to knock on my seminary or my field education.  It's just reality.

I was a 25-year-old pastor who had (and has, now, at 27) plenty of desire, drive, and determination.  But I was still in over my head.

And that meant that I have had some pretty spectacular failures so far in my two years here, including:

-Attempting to get a Sunday evening Taize-style prayer service going.  I eventually had to take that poor worship service out back and shoot it.

-Mistakenly thinking that we could pull off having our new youth group on Saturday afternoons.

-And flubbing my sermon for a graveside funeral so badly that the deceased woman's daughter got up and basically filled in the blanks for me.

All of which leads me to say this, to all y'all:


We make mistakes.  Sometimes, big ones.

Which in turn leads me to say this to all my pastor colleagues:


(I know, I really should go into motivational speaking, right?)

Don't get me wrong--we should be good at our jobs.  I should be a good pastor.  And I should want to be a good pastor, because I have been entrusted with this expression of the body of Christ--this parish that I serve.

But being a good pastor doesn't cause God to love me more.  It doesn't get me an extra slice of grace or anything of the sort.

God loves the people we may think of as screw-ups too.

And so, ultimately, attaching too much importance to my successes--and trying to bury too many of my failures--is how I think many of us get led down the road of egoism.  We worship ourselves and our deeds rather than God.

And so, today, I have publicly admitted a few of my bigger goof-ups in ministry (see above).

Not because I think confession should be public.

But because it is liberating for me to do so.  It allows me to get the focus back on God.

And I encourage you to be able to do the same--in whatever arena in life you lead, be it at the workplace, at school, at home--wherever--be okay to admit your finite humanness.

Because, paradoxically, rather than chaining yourself to your mistakes, it helps to free you from them, while still keeping the lessons you have learned.

Now, if someone would like to tell me my penance as a part of this whole public confessional post, that would just be spiffy.

Yours in Christ,

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