Pastor’s Perspective – April 2015
When people ask me where I grew up my standard response is to tell them Buffalo, New York. It’s the truth with a twist, like when someone from Peoria tells you they grew up in Chicago. I was born in Buffalo but I was raised an hour away from the city in a very small country town named Lyndonville. Most of my neighbors were farmers, and my own backyard was bordered seasonally by corn and wheat fields.
I grew up a country kid, and though I would never call myself a farmer, I had a set of daily chores that some city slickers might well believe qualifies me to assert that claim. My mornings and evenings were spent feeding our animals: an odd collection of dogs, cats, rabbits, and rare birds. Weekend projects included maintaining acres of lawn; cleaning a small cadre of buildings and extended projects that included everything but electrical work (for some reason that was the only thing that we seemed to avoid).
Growing up in the country taught me some valuable life lessons. Lessons that taught me about the way life worked, its pace and rhythm, and the importance of the small daily chores that prepared us for the more valued seasonal harvests.
One of the most important lessons that my father taught me as a child was shared to me with this helpful adage, “work smart, not hard.” This was my father’s version of the old carpenter’s saying, “measure twice, and cut once.” What he meant was that if you knew what you were doing and executed a plan, then you would avoid unnecessary struggle and extra work caused by mistakes and panic.
Allow me to provide an example; much of our plumbing work was done on what can only be described as a cliff on the edge of the river. My father had traversed the gap between a pumping station, next to the water, and several spigots in the back yard with a series of hoses and pipes. When these hoses and pipes inevitably needed repair, we would take to the cliff and get the job done. Getting there was half the work, and for that reason, we always came prepared. We gathered our tools and any replacement parts that we might need and then we descended the cliff. Working smart meant making sure that we had what we needed when we got to the problem. Working hard meant scaling the cliff many times in order to find parts or retrieve tools. It was always better to work smart (even though smart work was often difficult no matter how well we prepared).
Over the past several years the leaders of First Baptist Church and I have worked hard in order to prepare our Church for growth. I came to First Baptist knowing that we were in need of repairs and restoration. My repair kit was full and well stocked and I arrived well prepared for the work before me. Then a pipe burst, and a seal broke; an important member died or a cherished family moved away or left the Church. Eventually even the most well prepared repair man will run out of tools and parts.
Thankfully when I was called to First Baptist Church, we knew that this day would come. In fact part of my contract with the Church assumed that there would come a day in which I would need to step away from the work in order to restock my tool kit and restore myself. For that reason the Church allowed me to set aside (after my first seven years of service) a Sabbatical period of three months time in order to provide for rest, restoration and education. Now as I prepare to conclude my eighth year of service at First Baptist Church I am preparing to step away from the cliff’s edge and get back to the work shop.
In my time away, I will focus on my father’s question; am I working smart or just working hard. The tools that I am using are good ones. I am proficient in the use of these tools and have used them to the best of my abilities. The problem is simply this: I am unsure if we are fixing the right things.
Let me put it another way, my seminary education taught me that the Pastor’s job was to preach, teach and visit the sick. I have been doing these things, and through God’s blessing have been accomplishing my tasks to a high degree of satisfaction within the Church. I have also provided leadership to the Church in order to reevaluate our structures and constitution, and even retool the sanctuary for the 21st century. Sadly, none of this work has resulted in the growth that we have desired.
So I must ask and consider some important questions while on my Sabbatical, including; what do I need to be about in order to spark the fires of renewal and growth. What do we need to improve upon? What do we need to focus on? What do we need to start doing that we are currently not doing? What do we need to stop doing that is occupying our time and resources? What do I need to do in order to assist the Church to grow spiritually and numerically?
We have already begun the path toward Church growth and transformation. Our recent winter series, which followed the Thom Rainer book, “I Am A Church Member,” has helped to frame the attitudes and commitments necessary to become a healthy and vibrant 21st Century congregation. It effectively revealed the distinctions that separate healthy Christ-centered Churches from struggling, conflicted congregations.
As we affirmed the six pledges we discovered that the key to creating new life in the Church is to expect congregational maturity and Christlike lives of service from the members of First Baptist. This may well be the missing tool in this Pastor’s tool kit.
I have been preaching, teaching, and visiting the sick. I have kept busy and have worked hard. But the one thing that I have not fully accomplished is the scripturally sound vision of the early Church as represented in Ephesians 4: 11-12.
In Ephesians 4:11-12 Paul wrote, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors-teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.”
Perhaps this is the missing part in this Pastor’s tool kit: “equipping the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.”
My Sabbatical will provide us with two very important opportunities; one is for me the other is for you. It will give me a chance to retool and begin to reshape what it means to be your Pastor. The more I study and pray on this, the more I am realizing that it is necessary for me to step away from some of my activity and encourage others to actively participate in these important roles of service and ministry.
Which brings us to your role in my Sabbatical: I leave the ministry of the Church in your hands. Sure you will have a qualified interim pastor (more about him next month), but I am encouraging you to personally act in the coming months. Visit the sick; care for the dying; encourage the hopeless; pray for the lost; BE the body of Christ and minister to each other.
When I return from my Sabbatical I will not be able to do the same things in the same ways that I did before. God is calling me to become a better, wiser version of Pastor Dan. To return unchanged would mean returning to old and failed patterns of behavior. God is always directing us to change what we do and how we do it. To improve daily. It will demand that we learn how to work smart and work together.