This summer I will have spent:
6 years serving one PC(USA) church as associate pastor for youth and mission.
9 years being an ordained minister of the word and sacrament in the PC(USA).
16 years working with youth in PC(USA) churches.
Many hours, days and months and yet at the age of 38, I still have my looks albeit with several
extra pounds. (Har, har, har). However as Indiana Jones tells Marian in Raiders of The Lost Ark, “It’s not the years honey, it’s the mileage.” When it comes to ministry these days…
I’m hitting the wall.
I’m burning out.
I’m drying up.
(Perfect time to have a second child, born in November, right?)
Knowing that a significant part of my life–God’s call of me to serve–is broken, I flew out to Minneapolis, MN at the beginning of the week to get some repairs done.
But what I got from The PC(USA)s 2014 NEXT Church Annual Conference (held at Westminster Presbyterian Church) wasn’t a quick fix or an easy answer that would allow me to apply a technical change in my life, i.e. get 12 hours of sleep and you’ll be good as new or attend these workshops and worship services and your frustrations/apathy/pain will instantly disappear.
While technical solutions are applicable when the heat goes out or a pipe burst in the church building, they are useless when it comes to nurturing the holistic being of a church or inspiring a gifted church leader who is feeling spiritually empty.
What I received from the NEXT Church Conference was…
an invitation to consider an adaptive approach,
an invitation to be still and listen for God (Psalm 46:10) who is actively speaking and moving in the world in God’s own way and time
an invitation to be moved by the Spirit to reflect, ask questions and imagine new ways to be whom God calls me to be and do what God calls me to do.
an invitation to discover the welfare God has for me by seeking the welfare of the city and its people (Jeremiah 29:7) who have been exiled into a concrete jungle of poverty, homelessness, addiction, abuse, and violence.
an invitation to be part of a present and future that God infuses with hope (Jeremiah 29:11)
an invitation, per the theme of NEXT, to Lead. Create. Discern.
Accepting that invitation to be and let God move me wherever I needed to go was invigorating and liberating. A beautiful gift…
Sermons by Alika Galloway, Daniel Vigilante, J. Herbert Nelson and Maryann McKibben Dana reminded me that I have to let go of my fears, worries and self-doubts (something I struggle with daily as I take medicine and go to counseling for depression and anxiety) and not allow myself to get stuck in the muck. I have to let it go. (Or as my wife says, not let my frustrations make me the victim.)
Leader Testimonies, Ignite presentations and workshops like Not Church, Theocademy and 90 Second Sermon and fellowship with friends (old and new) sparked my imagination and tapped into a yearning I’ve been having to smash clay pots and create something different from the shards.
Worship (which I don’t get to do much strictly as a participant) stirred up my passion for serving God and doing ministry. Listening to varieties of music styles and songs (African-American and Native-American and Taize) and hearing scripture retold in unique ways refreshed my weary soul. An afternoon of prayer, in particular, moved me greatly as our individual petitions to God regarding the heaviness of pain we carry inside were read out loud.
The centerpiece of worship as well as the conference and our lives and ministry was a communion table that NEXT artist in residence Shawna Bowman created during morning worship on the first day and which we decorated in the days following. As Shawna proclaimed: “Isn’t it amazing that when we build something new, it gets filled up.”
I also have been filled beyond measure and beyond what I deserve from this conference.
The challenge, though–as I find myself re-entering the routines of everyday life, family and church–is not getting stuck in a particular way of being and doing that depletes my energy, intelligence and imagination.
I wish I knew exactly what I needed to do (a series of steps or a one-size-fits all solution) to ensure that I don’t lose this newfound sense of creativity, leadership and discernment that I want to share with others. The last thing I want is to dry up to the point where I have nothing life sustaining to give to God, my family & friends, and the church.
I wish I knew for sure that the ideas I’d like to try–in an effort to enrich ministry and life–are going to stick and flourish beyond my wildest dreams.
There are, of course, no guarantees.
All I can do is take a risk and trust in God who only knows what’s next.
Photo Credits: “Dry Land” courtesy of Google Images, other photos from The NEXT Church Conference by Andy Acton, 2014.