So 52 years on I’m still in church. That’s an achievement in itself given all that’s gone down… But more than that, Christian leadership has become a primary focal point of my life.
If you’d told me as a child, while I was counting boards in the roof of the church during sermons, that I’d be a pastor for over half of my life I would have laughed. But life has a way of sneaking up on you and catching you off guard.
This series came out of catching a glimpse of a pastor who took me back to childhood. He had babysat me once when he was dating the pastor’s daughter in our church. I didn’t know him and I doubt he would recognise me in the street. But one face led me to remember another and another and another… and so on.
And I guess that’s the heart of what I’ve observed.
Some faces have encouraged and inspired me. Others have bred a caution in me and a wariness. I’d like to think that generally I think the best of everyone until proved wrong, but some people push buttons way quicker than others. Some folks drag up memories of other people who were manipulative or abusive and I instinctively hold them at arms length. Some folks exude a natural authenticity that I warm to and that immediately connects us. I’ve become pretty good at reading people, but occasionally I get surprised.
But its more than faces – its structures too. Structures form us and give shape to our identity and beliefs. Those early days of church in formal structures formed some more rigid theology in me and some rigid attitudes. I imagine rigid structures still produce rigid people.
I think my connection with ‘lower’ church forms has been an intentional reaction to the churches that formed me early. They taught me facts, but often left me cold. I imagine lower church forms (less formal, more relaxed etc) will facilitate warmth, but the embedding of ideas and information is much harder in a looser system. I am willing to accept with the trade off, but I’d still like to see some better theological reflection and understanding of scripture in my more recent expressions of church.
I could write a list of people who have given shape to my own identity today, but I’d forget some of them… and some of them shouldn’t be in print because the experiences of them were negative.
One of the major shifts in the last 15 year of life particularly, has been the transition from church forming me to me now ‘forming it’ more consciously and thoughtfully. In the early years of pastoring I was still ‘falling in line’ and playing the game. But those days are long gone. I’m sure some of what happens in me is still a instinctive response to a past experience, but I’d like to think there is a bit more intentional leadership and a better thought out understanding of what church is and what its purpose is.
And in that is the hope that those who are part of communities I am involved with leading will not see their church experience as a time of dread and boredom, but may even be encouraged to see life in the church as inspiring and life giving. Well, that’d be nice…