A year ago I was reflecting on what I wanted to do differently in the new year. Most of it revolved around my work-life balance. See I love my work, there is nothing I rather be doing with my life, even in the hard days I am thankful to be a pastor. At the same time my love and passion for pastoral work can turn into something unhealthy when it places my pastoral role in front of my relationship to God, to my spouse, and to my children.
It was clear that I needed to re-calibrate. I remember speaking about this to the St. John’s UMC’s staff-parish relations committee when we gathered early in January. We all agreed that I needed to slow down a bit, get in the balcony, and be more attentive to my days off and vacation days.
Soon after that meeting a series of pastoral care issues arose and I ended up working three weeks straight. I can still remember how tired I felt as I entered another hospital, did another funeral, and preached another sermon. Then I woke up with the flu . . .
Yes, now I had no other choice but to lay on the couch and stay away from everyone. Chills, body aches, and dry cough, you get the picture, it was a miserable experience!
I was again reminded of my own limits and of the power of God’s people called the church when they live into their call. I was also reminded of the importance of rootedness and the beauty of being part of a community over time. Pastoral tenure provides for growth in trust, in understanding, and in shared vision as the church lives its life together.
It is difficult to explain the nature of itinerant life. I believe in rooted in our call to follow Jesus and our way of discipleship in and through our calling and ordination as an Elder in the church. There are other professions that are also itinerant, in fact I grew up in an itinerant household as the son of a federal prison chaplain. I have also met corporate executives, healthcare workers, and military personnel who also live itinerant lives. I think the main difference is rooted in the particular needs of congregational life for stability, trust, and relationship against that at times find themselves on the sideline each time a pastor moves. It takes time to build relationships and relationship is the primary agent of fruitful curing of souls, so it makes sense that the tension exists.
For me the itinerant life is rooted in my willingness to go where sent not in a desire to constantly move. This includes an understanding than in some real concrete ways I am giving away my right to self-determination on behalf of the larger mission.
I am not making a case for or against our itinerant system or a commentary on appointment making. I am merely speaking out loud about how the reality of our choice to live an itinerant life hit home this year as we made our transition from Baton Rouge to Shreveport. For in the midst of it all we experienced the power of the connection — the church — to allow for mutual healing, re-rooting, and the building of relationships.
In the midst of surprises God has been at work. This should not shock me by now for I’ve been itinerant all of my life, but it still is a reminder of how incarnate God’s grace is in our lives and in the lives of those we love.
Although at times difficult I am thankful for this year of learning, growth, and challenge. For the ways that God has been present in our lives and in the lives of God’s people both here at Grace Community and at St. John’s United Methodist in Baton Rouge. It is years like this one that remind me of the importance of our life with God through the community called the Church. I look forward to many decades of service as pastor and leader and who knows maybe we’ll be surprised by a long tenure of shared ministry with the people of Grace Community? I also look forward to continuing healthier patterns of work, play, and time together with those I love most. A more balanced and whole life is key to our walk with God and one another.
So we’ll continue our walk of discipleship, looking for God in the rhythms of our shared life at home, church, and neighborhood, and living lovingly, justly, and mercifully each day. What an amazing year this has been, there’s no telling how God might surprise us next . . .