Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Nature of Failure in Ministry, Part II

(If you haven't read the post immediately preceding this one--my post on how we as senior/lead pastors can fail at times--I gently suggest that you scroll down and do so, as this post is a follow-up to that one. -E.A.)

When I was asked by my now-regional minister, Sandy Messick, to prayerfully consider the job opening I now have--as pastor of Longview FCC--I realized after much prayer, deliberation, and counsel from trusted friends and mentors that the only way I could ever be able to accept this call is if I was okay with the possibility never achieving any of the objectives the church needed from its new pastor.

Read that again: the only way I could accept this call was if I was okay with the possibility of failing at this call.

To greatly oversimplify matters, the ministry I am predominantly involved in here is a church revitalization: when I arrived, we had an average worship attendance of 25-30 people in a sanctuary that accommodates a congregation seven or eight times that size.  We were far too small for our beautiful, historic building.  And, like many mainline congregations across the country, we were getting older and older.  It's a tough spot to be in, but I saw that this was a congregation that firmly believed that God was not finished with them, and I found that I shared that conviction.

But I had allow myself to be okay with the contingency that I would be the pastor under whose watch this congregation closed its doors, if  (God forbid) it ever came to that.

Because I didn't know if I could do what this congregation was asking me to help them do.

On a theological level, this is a practical sort of a leap of faith that existentialism's grandfather (and my theological mancrush) Soren Kierkegaard talks about.  Walking on solid ground only gets you so far--at some point, you have to leave your feet.

So I left my feet, and accepted this church as the place God was calling me to be right now, by trusting in Him rather than in my own skills (or lack thereof).

And, as I wrote in Tuesday's post, I felt like I had absolutely no idea what I was doing for my first few months here.  I am told, however, that I hid it well.

In thinking back over that time in my ministry here, though, I realized another truth that I had half-wittingly stumbled upon:

The whole shebang of ministry is like that.  Becoming a pastor is all one big leap of faith.

After all, the average length of a pastor's career in ministry (before either retirement or a career change) is only 14 years.  By that math, I have an average chance of being out of ministry before I turn 40.

Even in order to say "yes" to God and enter ordained ministry, I had to be okay with eventual "failure," of burning out, dropping out, and doing something else with my life.

Now, I want to emphasize that I do not believe myself to be burned out all: I routinely take time to pray and ask myself how high my job satisfaction is, and it is usually quite high.  I love what I do and where I get to do it.  But I have also experienced things that I can understand why someone would feel discouraged about ministry by.

After all, I'm on call 24/7, even on my days off.  As a solo pastor, I am constantly putting out little fires here and there.  And as an introvert, being around people for any sustained length of time exhausts me.

And in the midst of those influences, the pressure to do well is always there.

So despite my own weaknesses and shortcomings, I (and I imagine a great many other pastors) still fear failure.

One of the biggest things I have tried to do over the past two years of my time here is to purge myself of that fear.  I am not so naive or vain to say that I have been successful at achieving that goal.

But once I began to let that fear go, I did begin to see new and amazing things begin to happen at this church that I love and serve.

And for that, I know that I have God to thank.

Yours in Christ,

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