Friday, July 05, 2013

(Re)Finding My Way

I spent last night on the balcony of the home of a member of our church where our visiting preacher in residence is currently staying. The home is located one block from our church and provides an outstanding view of the building created through the sale of church property in 2005.

It was my first year as the pastor of Mount Vernon Place, and I spent just as much time in meetings with architects, developers and city officials in those first two years as I did visiting people, writing sermons, preparing for worship and doing other typical pastor duties. There were many weeks when I used my hard hat more than I used my Bible.

Last evening, when the sun began to go deeper into the night, I found myself being captivated by the building in the background. I could not stop looking at it. My gaze last night provided tangible evidence of some of my labor. I looked upon the building and remembered tough negotiations that sometimes left me in tears, sleepless nights when our developer was changing, and lots of decisions that had to be made (some of which I'd like to do all over again). I could see the fruit of my labor in the background - a gift.

I know how to do a property redevelopment. I'm a rather fierce negotiator. I can pick out furniture and carpet and hold people accountable. I got a tough New York city developer to let go of our project when we discovered quickly how we were not the perfect match for each other. There are moments when I dream about a vocation in real estate.

But if the truth were told, I'm struggling a bit with what it really means to be a pastor.

So much of my time and energy during my first eight years at MVP has been focused on building - building a physical structure and rebuilding a congregation that had been in decline for 50 years. The words "maintain" and "sustain" were not part of the vocabulary of my call when I accepted the invitation to move from North Carolina eight years ago and be appointed to MVP (and I don't think these are words that should be part of any pastor's vocabulary for that matter). There's little about me that can put up with the status quo, and so I've spent a lot of time strategizing, thinking about catchy sermon series, and trying to figure out how to get people in Washington to see how much God loves them and longs to be in relationship with them. And my efforts to build the church have come at the expense of building my own relationship with Christ.

The building is finished, and we now have a critical mass of people each Sunday morning, the majority of whom are young adults. We've come a long way. I do not take anything for granted, and I am more than grateful for the privilege of serving in this place. There is no doubt in my mind that my call to Mount Vernon Place is as clear today as it was eight years ago.

But, if I've learned anything in the first month of my sabbatical, I've learned that I need to relearn some of what it means to be a pastor who is not a developer of property but one who is a developer of lives. I need to find my way back to being a shepherd who leads one to still waters and fullness of joy by helping others find the presence of the true Shepherd in their lives. I need to find more moments to be in God's presence. I need to come back to my creator, redeemer and sustainer.

I've stocked my Kindle with books by Eugene Peterson this morning. I'm using this precious gift of time to rediscover what God is up to in my life and how to make more room for the sweet Spirit who longs to make more of me. What a blessing.

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