Its been almost 5 years since we started at QBC and we are now in the process of discerning whether God wants us to stay around for another period of time and continue to lead this community, or whether its time for change – for us and them. I think these reflection times are healthy as its easy for all of us to settle into a rut and get comfortable with each other. Sometimes its good to step back and ask honestly, ‘should we still be doing this together?’
But discerning God’s call is a curious process. It is not as simple as saying ‘God told me to stay/go so that’s that…’
I wish it was.
The previous times we have been thru a ‘re-call’ process it has been with a very different emphasis. In those times ‘pastoring’ was something of a career and my thought processes were shaped by that paradigm. There was also a sense of ourselves and our ministry being assessed and weighed up to see if we still cut the mustard. As it was my ‘career’ I was keen to keep it moving and the discernment process felt a bit like a one way street – we were evaluated – albeit kindly and positively. It didn’t dawn on me that we ought to review the church community as much as they ought to review us. We should have asked them about their intentions and the commitments they were making to us as we stayed. We should have given them feedback on some areas of growth if we were to stay.
These days I am not a ‘career pastor’ and I see the role very differently so I don’t feel like a ‘performance review’ is what we are doing. Rather as a community we are listening to God and asking the question ‘what now?’
As Danelle said recently, ‘If we weren’t doing the review then there wouldn’t be any question about what we are doing. We’d just roll on.’ Perhaps so. But I am in favour of times of reflection and review as they stop us getting too entrenched in our patterns of operation and challenge us to consider the future afresh.
One of the challenges I have faced personally in the last 10 years has been one of moving from a place of sharp vocational clarity to one that is more ambiguous and undefined. By that I mean that I no longer live with the laser sharp sense of purpose and personal vision i once did. Now I have a broad concept that shapes my identity, but the specifics of how it works out are much more fluid. I’m ok with that now, although it took some adjusting to.
Occasionally I wonder if my time as a ‘pastor’ is up. I am curious about what it would be like to not lead a church as we have done it in one shape or form for the last 23 years. I wonder what it would feel like to voluntarily return to the pews (like anyone has pews any more…) and be a member of a congregation. I wonder if I could do it even…
I’d go as far as to say that I’d like to experience it for a time. I’d like to see what its like to be out of the loop of leadership conversations and some of the bigger picture church discussions. I’d like to be a ‘fly on the wall’. But reality is that after 23 years of being a pastor you can’t just plonk back into a congregation somewhere and be anonymous. At least not in Perth. Its too small a city.
One of the complications of taking time out, or possibly a change of direction, is that we love the people we currently lead and they have become our family very tangibly. To stop leading would inevitably mean moving to a new church community to allow a new leader room to move. I don’t think its wise to hang around and believe my presence wouldn’t be a hindrance.
But we wouldn’t want to leave… We like these people, this church culture we have been part of creating and I really don’t like the thought of entering a new church culture which wouldn’t resonate with us and having to start all over again with relationships and fitting in. That wouldn’t be fun at all.
I sense the depth of connection and commitment to the community is a very strong and anchoring factor in discerning God’s call. The impact a move would have on our family is also now a significant guiding factor, one that wasn’t so strong during previous transitions or decisions. Now my kids have friends in the church and they would be upset if we moved, left or dislocated them. And fair enough. Its God calling ‘us’, not just ‘dad & mum’.
So – even if I feel like flitting off to some new project I have to consider that part of the call process is listening to what is happening in my family.
Then this morning I had a conversation with one of our church members about vision. The flow of conversation was urging me to fire up a new vision so that people would be inspired and the church would re-ignite and grow. it has definitely levelled out in terms of numbers and for this person that was a major concern.
I explained that we did have a vision. I explained that our vision has been to lead people to live more Christlike lives, to see their communities and workplaces as mission fields and to intentionally live counter cultural lives that challenge the dominant western values of affluence, busyness, superficiality and self centredness.
It isn’t sexy. It doesn’t put more bums on seats, and often it takes people away, but if you want to know what I am committed to there it is.
I knew this wasn’t going to be considered a ‘vision’, but for now that’s what I have… and I don’t see it changing. In fact I own that more deeply than any building project, attendance goal or new program idea.
In that conversation I knew that the hope was that I would have some more tangible ideas for people to rally around and see as a shared project – to galvanise the community into some corporate action. I am open to those ideas, but I don’t think they are our ‘vision’. They are just things we do to serve God and our community and they can sometimes contribute to our vision and sometimes detract.
Seeing people become like Jesus is slow work, three steps forward and two steps back often. It lacks the visible and tangible expression of a new drum kit. And I know that if we just ‘played the game’ a bit more then maybe more people would come thru our doors… More people would speak of QBC as a cool church and the numbers might jump again. But my heart isn’t in that. I don’t think it ever will be again.
The word selfishness is in the title of this post because some of my reflections on this subject are shaped by just that. Some times I want to slip out of Christian leadership because I am tired of it all. I could do it under the guise of God ‘leading us into a different season…’ (love Christianese…) but truth would be that we were just weary of carrying the responsibilities of leadership. To constantly be the voice that calls people to surrender, follow, give, serve, step up etc is tiring, particularly when it often feels like you are repeating yourself.
And then sometimes I would just like the option of staying in bed on a Sunday, or taking a few weekends away camping, or generally seeing the church as there for my convenience. Pure unadulterated consumeristic selfishness… Its in me as much as everyone else. I wonder if I would still be a committed part of the church if I wasn’t leading it. I’d like to think so… But we do fool ourselves so easily don’t we?…
So as a review approaches and we consider this question we do so without any blinding lights. Without any booming voices or even deep convictions that this is the only place we should be. I think that if its just down to us we will keep going at QBC for a number of reasons:
– we have done it for 5 years and now have relationships and credibility. It’d be a shame to start over when the foundations are there.
– we belong there as a family. It would be hard to see ourselves anywhere else. The culture of the church is as relaxed and easy going as I have found anywhere.
– we love the people there and we’d miss them. I wouldn’t like that at all.
– there are no other attractive options popping up.
– we don’t want to move from Yanchep.
And I think at core there is still a very strong sense that God has gifted Danelle and I to lead communities towards the vision I articulated earlier. We both believe deeply in the importance of forming people into Christ, of equipping people for mission in everyday life and of challenging people to lead a counter cultural life. If you want KPIs and strategic capacity development then maybe we won’t be your people. We’ve been there done that (today I opened a file from youth ministry days with 78 goals in it for 1999…) but if its the simple stuff of discipleship and mission then I think we’re up for it for another period of time.