Posts Tagged ‘pastor’

Driving down the interstate cruise on 75 and Springsteen on shuffle my imagination takes the wheel. I push the throttle in, gently pulling back on the steering wheel with two left fingers as the wheels below me come off the ground. I push the nose over hard and trim it out, flying just off the ground. Watching the highway stripes fly by below my window and the airspeed indicator climb I keep my eye on the power line crossing the highway just ahead. The yoke is pushing back. These wings want to fly. Too soon and I might stall, too late and the wheels may clip the line. Hold it… hold it. As soon as I clear the line, all that speed is going to shoot this plane up like a rocket. I’ll let her climb fast and steep trimming it out just before I stall, bank left and head into the sunset.

I have no idea how many times I’ve caught myself daydreaming about flying over the years on the road. I haven’t flown since December 20, 2004. Fuel prices shot up, work slowed down, “I just won’t fly as often, but I’ll still go,” I told myself. Before I knew it a year went by and I was due for my physical and check ride to stay airborne. “Whenever I get the time, I’ll go get that physical done and schedule my check ride. Maybe in a month or two,” I thought. Life happened, work didn’t, and neither did flying.

I’ve met a few older guys who told me they had their pilot’s license but hadn’t flown in decades. I used to think there’s no way I could go that long without flying. You sit and listen to them. It’s in their blood. They talk about it with a romantic glare in their eyes, like they’re somewhere else outside the conversation. “How did you become a pilot who doesn’t fly?” I ask.  “How did you become a preacher who doesn’t preach?” They ask.

I don’t think I planned on it anymore than I decided to stop flying. I was going to work for a living. I had a family to support, and the longer I stayed in full time pastoral ministry the more I became convinced that something about the whole way we do church just isn’t right. I took a few months off, then began pastoring part-time while building a business. There was only so much of me to go around. I wasn’t doing the pastorate justice. The church deserved more attention than I could or wanted to give. I left. Within a few weeks I was getting phone calls to fill in for a Sunday or two. That turned into an interim position with no end in sight. A few months later they found a pastor. I was relieved in every sense of the word. Another church called. I went and for the first time in a long time really enjoyed going. A few months later they wanted me to stay for good. I knew it wasn’t meant to be and slipped out gracefully, opening the door for restoration between the church and its founding pastor who had desperately needed a sabbatical to take care of himself and his family.

The phone gradually stopped ringing, perhaps, because I always had “other obligations” that kept me from filling in. I had changed. A lot. I never felt compelled to drag people with me. I took no pleasure in telling people they were wrong and I was right. I always felt it most polite to avoid confrontation and let them believe whatever gave them peace. It just wasn’t for me any longer. It’s been a couple years since the last interim pastorate, but I don’t daydream about pastoring.

Although I don’t fly anymore and I don’t preach anymore, I still consider myself a pilot and a preacher. I haven’t vowed to never do it again. I just don’t know when I will again or how. I saw a book title yesterday, “Be Yourself Because Everybody Else is Already Taken.” I’m trying real hard just to be me. I really like it. It suits me. For a long time I was somebody else, anyone else. Everything and everyone shaped me into who they wanted me to be. No longer.

I never craved the spotlight. I ran from it when I could. Let me do what I need to do, say what I must say, then I’m out the door. Preaching was never about being center stage for me. I was the lens and the conduit through which the message was delivered, but I never wanted to make it about me. I started reading the Bible when I was 15. I mean really reading it, studying it, contemplating it. For some reason I understood it and could explain it simply. People began recognizing this and starting giving me opportunities to speak and teach. I just wanted people to see what I saw, hear what I heard. It was up to them what they wanted to do with it.

I still don’t miss the pulpit, but I do miss sharing things with people, showing them what I’ve found. I get excited over ideas and possibilities, like a new rock or a new bug I found in the yard as a toddler. Everyone must see it and be amazed like me. A lot of people aren’t amazed though. Most people, it seems, want someone to tell them what they already believe. They don’t want to be challenged. They’re not comfortable with having their imaginations stretched or their assumptions second guessed. No, sir. No, thank you. I’ve never been confrontational and would rather people go on in their delusions if that’s what makes them happy, but what do I do? What about this amazing, shiny, colorful rock I found? Doesn’t anyone want to see it?

I have to rethink community and what it means to me. I’ve had to rethink friendships and wonder who they really are to me. I think about sages and mystics from long ago. They didn’t climb a box in the middle of town and shout to the world. They were alone in their thoughts and those who craved to know more and to be more sought them out like moths to a flame. Like minds, like spirits attract one another. So, I’ve learned to find kindred spirits in unlikely places.

I don’t regret my time as a pastor. It’s part of who I am. It was another step on the journey. I don’t see my task as a pastor any different than my passion today. I have an innate desire to know and be known. I am working out my salvation and my humanity with fear and trembling. I am participating in my own evolution. That is the highest calling I believe we have.

“When I grow up, I want to sell advertising.” No, not quite. Far from it, but that’s where I find myself today. I don’t remember really what it was that I wanted to be when I grew up. I thought flying planes would be cool. I got my private pilot’s license a few years ago fulfilling that childhood dream, but I’d never want to fly commercially. Advertising? I can’t imagine many kids listing that as their lifelong ambition. My five year old’s career wishes change with the hour most days.

I certainly never hoped to grow up and become a preacher either, but that I did too. A relative I hadn’t seen in years asked me last week at a funeral I preached, “Why of all the things that you could be did you decide to be a preacher?” My immediate, knee-jerk answer was, “I have no clue. I wonder that myself some days.” These days I’m only a moonlighting preacher and sell advertising for a living.

When I was in high school, I settled on the idea of becoming an engineer. In fact I took college prep courses for that purpose. I got full paid scholarships for it. I made the Dean’s list my freshman year majoring in Electrical Engineering. I transferred after that first year to another school and graduated four years later with a Bachelor of Arts in Religion with a minor in History. Eight years of pastoral ministry later, and I’m out.

If you ask me if selling advertising is really what I want to do for a living, I guess my answer is “no,” but I love what I do and wouldn’t want to do anything else. I want to be myself and enjoy life for a living. If selling advertising pays the bills and enables me to pursue my passions, then I’ll gladly sell advertising. I think what most people mean is “Wouldn’t you want to do what you love and get paid for it?” Well, sure. I guess, but I do enjoy what I do.

I would have never in a million years told you I’d end up in sales, because I was so introverted as a kid. I didn’t like meeting new people and making new friends. I was all too content to be alone. Pastoring churches changed a lot of that. This job continaully challenges me. It’s not an intellectual challenge nor a physical one, other than the many miles I put on my vehicle and my body. It is mostly a challenge of will and perseverance. It requires an enormous amount of self-motivation and self-discipline. I’m addicted to the reward also. It pays good. As hard as the challenge can be at times, especially when bills are piling up and money is low, it is a huge high to finish a job and know you did it.

Advertising is a means to an end for me. I don’t consider myself to be contributing to the betterment of mankind from what I do for a living. I really see myself more as a “grease man” in a big corporate machine. I’m definately expendable, but I don’t care. I don’t allow people or the business to use me. Subversively, I’m the one exploiting the machine. I don’t live for work. I work so I can live. If this thing ever comes to a close, which isn’t likely in the healthcare industry, I’ll find another nitch to slide into, but what I do for a living will never change. I choose to live for a living. I never want to become my job or my title. It’s a matter of priorities.

One day when the kids are grown, I plan to use my job travels to see the country and be a vagabond for a while. I’d love to save up enough cash on the side to open a little coffee shop one day, if all it ever does is break even and be a cool place for people to hang out. Maybe a few rental properties would be a good steady income too. In the end it doesn’t really make a difference to me. It won’t change who I am. I refuse to let it.

A Hobbit's TaleTrying to describe the personal journey that I’ve been on for the last four years is like trying to nail jello to the wall.  I’ve gone through a thorough detox from vocational and institutional Christianity, plunged headlong into the “dark night of the soul,” and am slowly emerging with my head above unchartered waters. Bilbo’s story could well be my own, “There and Back Again: A Hobbit’s Tale,” yet the place to which I’ve returned is different and familiar all the same.

For those of you that don’t know I spent roughly 10 years in pastoral ministry, or I could say that I spent 10 years in pastoral ministry roughly. I broke from full-time ministry to become self-employed in healthcare marketing, a job I still have five years later. For 18 months I tried to be bi-vocational while building this new business, but aside from preaching on Sundays, my job didn’t lend itself to be compatible with pastoral ministry.

My departure from full-time ministry was against the grain of the church-growth mentality. I was capable and expected to move on to bigger churches to continue my “ministry.” Not only did I demote myself to a smaller pastorate, but I also went “secular.” There was a lapse of 9 months before I began the bi-vocational pastorate, leaving many to circulate rumors that my last church drove me from the ministry. Beginning with leaving full-time ministry I began to contemplate ways to reinvent the wheel. I had a deep gnawing awareness that something was wrong with the way we did church. I slowly began to peel back the layers of tradition trying to find something of an authentic spirituality worth practicing.

My earliest attempts at deconstruction focused too much on models and methods. I began to see small-group/cell-driven churches as a panacea. I even started a prototype group of potential leaders with the intention of duplicating into a small network of cells that would eventually begin corporate gatherings. One of the families went back into a traditional ministry role, leaving myself and a good friend of mine to discover that the root of our problems went much deeper than having the wrong model.

The reality we came to face was that we who had spent years in the ministry were completed isolated from normal people on the outside of the four walls of the church. You cannot reach people if you’re not with people. As we began to rethink our approach to reaching people, we became acutely aware of our own hidden agendas to “win friends and influence people.” There’s a powerful quote from the movie Big Kahuna with Kevin Spacey and Danny Devito that describes this well:

It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling Jesus or Buddha or civil rights or ‘How to Make Money in Real Estate With No Money Down.’ That doesn’t make you a human being; it makes you a marketing rep. If you want to talk to somebody honestly, as a human being, ask him about his kids. Find out what his dreams are – just to find out, for no other reason. Because as soon as you lay your hands on a conversation to steer it, it’s not a conversation anymore; it’s a pitch. And you’re not a human being; you’re a marketing rep.

This realization has forever changed the way I interact with people and what I think of evangelism. I want to know people and value them for who they are and what they can teach me through their stories regardless of whether they agree with me or not.

It was about this time that I began trying to focus on being incarnational and became sympathetic to Celtic Christianity, in particular Celtic Daily Prayer of the Northumbria Community. I appreciate their focus on incarnation, prayer, contemplation, and service. It was a different, gentler form of Christianity that touched me deeply and sort of nourished me back to wholeness as a person, leaving one last link in my life to Christianity.

Aside from serving twice as an interim pastor for a few months following my bi-vocational pastorate, my wife and I quit going to church altogether. We felt no guilt whatsoever. We actually felt relieved and much happier. We didn’t disavow church for all time, but we were too well acquainted with the churches, parishoners, and pulpit personalities in our area to want to attend any of them. It was not long before a year had passed without darkening the door of a sanctuary.

In the process of deconstructing tradition and trying to be an honest broker of my motivations and convictions I became obsessed with trying to find answers to questions. Every answer yielded only more questions but better questions. It was not long before every truth I tried to stand on felt like mush beneath my feet. I found the most compelling answers not in theology but in the realm of science and reasoning. In particular my study of astrophysics and eventually quantum mechanics opened my eyes to a whole new way of seeing the world and my place in it. The Matrix is a definitive movie of our time for expressing the dynamic shift in worldviews taking place.

When your eyes are opened to see the world in a new way, there is a mixture of emotions ranging from anger for being hoodwinked to wide-eyed wonder in a new way of engaging life. Perhaps mainly for comfort I continued to come back to Celtic Daily Prayer and continually tried to rethink my way through all that I had been taught about God, the world, and who I am. I sort of came to a place where I was prepared to leave behind everything I had professed to believe in and go my own way. I realized that if I was willing to forsake it all, before I did I might as well try to start with a blank slate trying to reconstruct some semblance of a real world, liveable faith that worked for me. Demythologizing became a pathway out of the dark night of the soul for me. I began to find far more power and truth in looking through the lens of metaphor and symbolism than I ever did through literalism.

I suppose I’ve become theologically liberal. Although I never thought that was possible, I’m completely comfortable in my own skin for the first time in a long time. In no way do I consider to have to come to the end of my journey. I’m not dead yet. I find myself in a familiar place again. We’ve been visiting a few churches and found a church and a pastor with whom I can identify. I don’t have to agree with everything to find value in something. So I find myself retracing old steps but going in a new direction with a new way of seeing the road ahead. So I say with humility that I’ve been “there,” and I’ve come “back again.” There’s nothing to say I won’t end up “there” again before the journey’s over, but I’m sure it would not be the same as last I found it. I’ve discovered that I haven’t been wandering aimlessly in circles after all. I’m winding up A Spiral Staircase and though each turn around feels familiar I hope I’m gaining ground.