Monthly Archives: June 2016

On Leaving Ministry

The Long and Winding Road

My first sermon at each church I have served has been on the call of Abram (who becomes Abraham):

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. (Genesis 12:1)

Each time I found myself in a new community, a new place to work and serve, a new adventure. It is time for another such adventure in answering God’s call.

For much of this year I have been discerning the next steps in my middle-aged life. Late last year I had a health scare that turned out to be something minor. But the experience left me reflective on the trajectory of my life. And this November 29 I will turn 50. A time for thinking about the second half of life and work.

For several years I have been sure that I would not end my pastoral career at retirement age. The reasons are many… the journey has been a long and winding one. Some pain and struggle. But also a deeper understanding of how God has gifted me. What do I do well? What gifts and experiences has God given me? And is the best stewardship of them in professional ministry? I have many years of work remaining and plenty of time for another career.

In early May the call came as it did decades ago. As clearly as God called me to leave a great job and future, so God has called me again to leave what I know to journey to what God will yet show me. My personal ministry is not ending – just the professional one. I know God will continue to use the gifts I have received to serve others, to speak and to share, to honor Christ in a new way.

I thank God for a spouse and children who support me in following this path. It means a huge change in our lives and perhaps lifestyle in the near term. My children have no memory of living anywhere except in a church parsonage. Or of their dad as anything but a pastor. And Dana has sacrificed much over the years including professionally to follow me around Ohio. I am grateful that they understand and affirm my decision and are excited, too, about this call to a new season of life.

My last day of ministry at Aldersgate UMC and as a professional pastor will be October 31. What comes next I do not know. Like Abram I can see some paths ahead to follow, some of what might be. Like that adventurer long ago – not just Abram but the young man who in 1992 began a journey – I know God will show me a new land and life. I am looking forward to it.

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Getting to the Divine “Yes”

These past six months have been a time of intense and expanding prayer for me. I have grown more in my prayer life than I have at any other time in my walk of faith.  The biggest change has come in my seeking to hear God’s “yes” to my prayers.

To intercede for others… to seek God’s answers to pressing personal, community, and even world problems… to believe that God has the power to do what we ask is all a real and vital journey. And I would be the first to give witness to the reality that God has answered in specific ways quite specific things I have asked.

But there comes a moment in the journey of prayer when one realizes the “yes” that matters is not God saying “yes.” It is not some slippery slope of seeing prayer as successful or not, It is not in finding some pattern that one believes will force the divine hand. This last one vexes me the most. I catch myself thinking about prayer as technique – if I do X, God will answer. If I say Y, God will respond. Read a few books on prayer and you will understand the allurement.

No, the “yes” that sounds the sweetest is the one echoed in the Lord’s Prayer – “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

This is not resignation to fate (as it can easily be misconstrued). It is rather saying to God “I want this that I am saying… but what do you want for me? I want you to do this… but am I asking you for what you really want to give?”

The genuine divine “yes” comes when we say “yes” to God, to the divine will above all else. I don’t mean to suggest that I am there. I do mean to say that I have discovered a new freedom in seeking to say “yes” – to understand more clearly what God wants for me rather than to keep asking for what I want from God.

I have been praying for a long time for something very important to me. Early this year as I began this journey of prayer God showed me almost immediately that what I was asking God didn’t want to do. To answer me was to deny something better, something more wonderful that I could not imagine possible. Only in the last few weeks has this reality become clearer (more on this another time as it is still unfolding). I have said “yes” to something that I would have once thought was a repudiation of what God wants for me. Arriving at a moment of understanding that I project on God what I want far more than I genuinely want what God wants was a spiritual corner I had to turn.

 

 

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