In part one, we talked about how volunteers come with a story. This story shapes their expectations more than they realize. To pastor volunteers begins with managing expectations and helping future volunteers see the beauty as well as the difficulties they may unwittingly bring to a team.
Our next step is to clearly name how the consumer inside each one of us can damage our view regarding how to use our gifts and why we use them. Let’s take a look. (more…)
Unwisely, Santa offered a teddy bear to James, unaware that he had been mauled by a grizzly earlier that year.
Receive an email titled, “concerned” or an invitation for dinner in order “to talk,” and a seasoned pastor can suddenly resemble little James in the cartoon above. So it is when someone risks making an appointment with the pastor, risks joining a small group, risks seeking a role to play as a volunteer.
Good words in themselves such as “pastor,” “committee,” “mission,” or “service for God” can dishevel us. A friend or teammate meant something good. We see ghosts instead because of past experiences.
Sometimes our preaching doesn’t connect with our hearers. Before we conclude that we are not called to this particular place, we want to remember that whether as a Rookie, who preaches for the first time at our first church or as a seasoned veteran starting again at our third church, every congregation has its own culture, its own storyline with God and its own providences and people prior to our arrival. Here are six markers to help you assess the obstacles that might exist between your sermons and the culture of your congregation. (more…)
I hurt my friend. I did not mean to. I would not have known it without his help.
He is black. I am white. We are men. Both of us are husbands and fathers. His brown eyes and my blue eyes both require the aid that glasses provide.
Our community, mine and his, possesses a rich history of African American life here on this side of the tracks where Kirkham avenue companions alongside of Shady Creek for a while. Crossing back and forth across these railroad tracks has required multiple efforts over the years. Memories of pains and hopes and even blessings are the results of such attempts at this kind of travel.
Crossing the Tracks Together
Over the last two years this man and I have become friends along with others. School administrators, police force representatives, local university persons, civic and business participants and a few clergy have met together and facilitated forums designed to aid us in our attempts to talk, heal and change amid what unites us and separates us racially.
On this occasion, a team of people asked us as leaders what five words we would use if we wanted to describe what we are about and to get the word out to the broader community. My friend offered three words.
I entered the exercise earnestly and suggested that those words might not make sense to the community and I would lean toward other descriptors. Other folks joined in and led us quickly off of my friend’s three words onto other “more understandable words.” I thought nothing of it.
After the meeting I asked my friend how his week was going. His thoughts though remained fixed upon this day in which we presently stood and still on the exercise with words we had just completed. He was hurting. This was new for us.
Light Pouring In
As we talked I realized that not only is my friend black and that I am white. I learned also that he has been at this a long while and that I am new to the table. Apparently groups like this one have come and gone over the long years. White folks who start but fade. What for me is my first real attempt at racial neighbor love in a community like this is for him his fourth or fifth or sixth try. “You can’t see” he said to me. “I want to,” I answered. “Please help me to see. What has hurt you today?”
He then gently risked with me. He asked me a simple question. “Remember when you said to the group that people will not understand the words I offered?” “Yes,” I answered. “What people did you mean?” he asked. “What people will not understand my words?”
He paused and looked earnestly and sensitively into my eyes. All of a sudden, there in the long pause, I felt like a flare went off in my soul and lit up the night sky of my thoughts. His question searchlighted my hidden assumptions and brought them into plain view.
Conviction tenderly earthquaked my inner being. I saw in the pause of his presence that I had people like me in mind when I said that “the community” will not understand–white people like me. Because obviously, the words offered by my friend who has lived and served for this community long before I ever arrived here, come out of the history, experience and local knowledge of this community. I realized that I had done at least four blind things.
1. I did not listen or inquire to find out the meaning of these words to my friend or to his part of this community.
2. I quickly implied to him that he will have to surrender the language he offered to the language that my part of this community will provide for him. (as i look back I realize that almost everyone else who agreed with me and dismissed the language my friend offered was also white–they too offered “better” words)
3. At the end of the day who knows what words we would have landed on. The words weren’t the point. Ironic isn’t it? We were developing words to aid us in our attempts to create racial understanding in our community by doing the very thing that hinders it in the first place.
4. I realized in my friend’s eyes that his hurt did not rise because the others that he didn’t know so quickly dismissed his point of view. It is that I had. We were friends. Friendship means that I am no longer, just a white man sitting with a black man. He thought I’d know as a friend; that I’d try to listen further to why he might use the words he had chosen. After all, we’ve been doing life together and that’s what friends do–they listen to each other.
And when friends fail to listen to each other and they hurt one another, they ask each other’s forgiveness. They wait amid long pauses with each other, for each other. They learn together and they go get a sandwich at Wendy’s. Trust deepens.
I’m looking forward to lunch today.
I get to eat french fries and learn from a friend.
Immediacy offered William Jay a chance to do something large and notable as a gospel preacher. A great door for the gospel lay before him wide and open. A fan base for urban ministry waited eagerly for his sermons to take London by storm. Taking up this post, Jay would have served as a right hand man with one of the preeminent pastors of the moment. He also would have labored within proximity to other renowned pastors of reputation at the time. How could anyone say “no” to such a future? And yet, “no” is exactly what William Jay said. He turned the offer down and chose instead to start his pastoral ministry in a small, obscure and impoverished pastoral call in the country. Why did he do this? What was the result? What can we learn?
Why did he choose to start small?
First, because his older pastoral friend and mentor, Cornelius Winter advised him to. Jay listened to his mentor’s counsel, even though at the time, he did not foresee all of the reasons why.
Second, because Jay thought that his experience did not yet match his gifts. Because he was so young, it would prove wise for him to “secure more preparation for the office” of a pastor.
What was the result?
After three years of pastoral work, Jay received a call to a church in which he would serve for the next sixty-two years. “In terms of long-sustained usefulness” Jay’s ministry at Argyle Chapel, “can scarcely have a parallel in English Church history.” He likewise became anyway, “one of the best known preachers in England” for over half a century.
Looking back, William Jay said that if he had chosen to respond to the London call when he was nineteen, it would have been a “wrong step.” For truly his mentor (whom he deemed a “friend and father”) had foreseen things clearly.
What can we think about from this?
- Saying “yes” to a wonderful opportunity to do something large, notable and immediately, requires, not just one set of skills, but two. The “before you get there” skills and the “after you get there” skills. The “before you get there” skill set, allows one to imagine a future, dream, assess, and make a move. The “after you get there” skill set is what one requires in order to stay in the new place once you arrive. It is one thing to dream of a thriving urban ministry just down the street from the likes of John Newton as it would have been for Jay. It is another thing to actually do the work day after day for those people and also as a young man apprenticed to the authoritative direction, personality and fame of a Mr. Rowland Hill, whom Jay would have served under. Possessing the gifts to get us someplace does not mean that we have the experience, seasoning, temperament or savvy to keep us there. We need wise counsel to assess both.
- Saying “no” to a wonderful opportunity does not mean that our lives and ministries are over or that we missed out. A different kind of ministry, which Jay could not at the time imagine, was on God’s heart for him. We do not experience William Jay’s story today as one of the greatest preachers in church history (even though those who heard him then may have felt the worth of such a statement in their own way). To most of us his story remains unknown. What those who do know William Jay remember is this: a body of pastoral work–a long sustained usefulness of weekly preaching, occasional writing and daily pastoral care in a local place; A legacy that stands out in time even today.
Charles Spurgeon said: “O for more Jays. We would give some two or three dozen of the general run of doctors of divinity for one such a Master in Israel as William Jay of Bath.”
(See The Autobiography of William Jay, pages 52, 130, 348. See also, “William Jay the Preacher” in The Banner of Truth Magazine)
Grace is everywhere.
Whenever I read and read again, this novel by the French Catholic, George Bernanos, I am reminded that God’s presence and activity is not dependent upon the entrances or the exits that we pastors make. He remains when we leave. He was already there when we arrived. Ours is a vocation of listening and waiting in order to detect the holy ground that exists within whatever moment we enter and with whomever we find ourselves.
The pastoral life is shown in this book with all of its humanity. Loneliness, money, faith struggles, prayer, and difficult people all find their way into our hearts and minds through this compelling narrative. Within this terrain, this formation in listening does not come easy to us. “I began chattering at random as I usually do when I feel uneasy. There are silences which draw you out–fascinate you, till you long to throw in any words, anything to break them” (89). Sometimes, we listen and listen again waiting because no answer or insight comes yet–tempted every moment to choose instead “the chatter of a madman with his shadow” rather than wait for God (104).
The Comfort We Bring
This everywhere grace insists that we learn from God to see others not as we want them to be and not as they should be, but as they are. “Don’t think in abstractions, see men as they are” (67). Throughout this novel, the pastor must learn by grace to see himself as he is too, not in abstraction.
To see us as we are, everywhere surrounded by God, we learn to choose denial less and less when we enter the life of another human being. “A priest can’t shrink from sores any more than a doctor. He must be able to look at pus and wounds and gangrene. All the wounds of the soul . . .” (151). Why? Because the everywhere gracious God does not wince, squint or squirm at such things in His love for sinners. Though we are not Him, His grace invites us to a vocation in which we learn truly if not gradually to say: “My life is first and foremost a cure of souls, I have no right to remain ignorant of cares–on the whole quite legitimate–which loom so large in the lives of my parishioners” (34).
Their cares after all are ours. For we too, in our pastoral garb, are human after all who look with those we serve to the grace of God. We too can say, “Therein lies my whole strength, the strength of children and weaklings” (59). We too come to recognize “how vulnerable we are before mankind and life itself” (73). “How little we know what a human life really is–even our own” (87). But God knows us truly. God sees us as we are without pretense, injustice or lack of gracious empathy.
So, we pastors learn to speak to the atheist not only what we’ve been taught but what we in our own souls are coming by grace through fits and start to own for ourselves and to declare, “There is no peace save in Jesus” (83).
We learn to say to those we serve, that we “don’t look for forgetfulness in prayer, but strength” (268).
Grace is Everywhere
We get to enter the broken lives of others with our own broken lenses and from the comfort we have received we give it. And sometimes someone writes us a letter to describe what happened in their lives because of us (when we ourselves had felt our inadequacy and our awkwardness so keenly). “Hope!” they write to us. “I’d held it dead in my arms, on a windy, desolate, horrible evening in March! I’d felt the last breath of hope on my cheeks, on a spot which I know. Yet now I hope again! This hope is really all my very own, nobody else’s: no more what philosophers call “hope” than the word “love” is like being loved. This hope is the flesh of my flesh. I cannot express it. I should have to speak as a little child. I wanted you to know all this tonight. I had to tell you . . . I’m saying it under my breath as I write–and it seems to express miraculously, ineffably, the peace you’ve given me” (175).
We too have come to speak such words from our own hearts. Human, with bouts of loneliness, suffering, faith struggle and mistake-making, we too see His love lift us up, fuel our longing and hallow His name. “Grace is everywhere,” we say.