I know I am not alone in being a pastor who after coming back from an exciting conference, workshop, or gathering, was ready to put in place the “necessary” changes to turn the church around. In fact when a vision came to me about “risk-taking” I was sure that it meant that I needed to take more risks in my pastoral life. I was playing it safe by not wanting to make people mad, or scare people, or make them uncomfortable. Maybe if I did more edgy kind of things then people would “wake up” and we would be more fruitful in our work together.
My view of things actually was strengthened when my spiritual director gave me Matthew 14:22-36 for me to reflect on for a month. As I read about Peter’s call by Jesus to come to him I was sure that Jesus was calling me to “get out of the boat,” to “take risks” in my pastoral life.
Now I hope that you have followed the link above and read this wonderful story from Matthew’s gospel. It has become in fact “my story,” one of those scriptural text that I will always hold dear in my heart. If you read it carefully I think you will notice that Jesus calls Peter to come to HIM, and it is only when Peter looks down, when he takes his eyes away from Jesus, that Peter begins to drown.
Maybe I should have read it more carefully!
Thankfully I did not take my revelation as a mandate from God to conquer Squyres UMC. I did propose some changes, I did suggest some ways that would help us improve our life together. I also had many conversations with many people in my congregation about our future, about our mission, and about who we wanted to be in that community. I knew what I felt God was calling us to be but I understood that in the end God’s people need to hear God’s voice and follow where God was leading. As a leader I cannot make them, and I really should not, I can just constantly invite and that’s what I did.
As many of my expectations were not met, I began to realize that the real challenge was to my discipleship not to my “pastoral ideas.” In fact the work that God was doing in me was a work of re-organizing my inner life. I realized that when we say that our calling begins at our baptism that it really does, and it does for all of us. So being in this place with its rhythms of life gave me the room to wrestle with the inner cornerstones of my pastoral identity. Jesus was calling me to “get out of the boat,” but not to come up with some glitzy new program or worship service, instead Jesus was calling me to go to the roots of my calling, to my baptismal identity to be about the work of Jesus everywhere. Unrealized expectations are part of life. If we are honest with ourselves there will always be things left undone, expectations unmet, dreams unfulfilled.
If we look closely there have been things that we never dreamed of, that we never talked about or planned for, that have taken place. God in very sneaky ways has used our time together to do some amazing things. We must celebrate that, we must give God thanks for that, and trust that God is with us along the way, that God is challenging all of us as the Christian Church to be about the work that God has called us to from the very beginning. God’s kingdom being made incarnate through people like us!
Three years ago Bishop William Hutchinson placed his hands on me and called upon the Spirit to empower me to lead God’s people in their life together. These last three years have helped me realize that my pastoral life, my life as a leader of God’s people, is an extension of Jesus’ call to follow him. In its rhythms, practices, and ways of life together, the people of Squyres UMC forced me to “get out of the boat” and be a more faithful follower of Jesus. I pray that I have returned the favor and that their life together continues to blossom as they live the way of Jesus for the people of Ragley/Longville.