Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Standing at a Crossroads

"Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls." Jeremiah 6:16 (NIV)

I've been standing at a crossroads since Easter. There are two paths in front of me. One path is marked with the sign, "It is enough." The other path is marked with the sign, "It is never enough." Each morning I set out at the dawn of a new day, and I know which path I should take - which path God longs for me to take. But I've too often settled for the path, "It's never enough."

It started Easter Sunday when we believed we would have the biggest crowd to gather in our sanctuary in the last ten years. We printed enough bulletins and newsletters to make the ink run dry in the copier. We positioned extra greeters at each door. We were ready to welcome the multitudes. Dozens of people came. It was a joyful celebration that included dancing to "Happy." But it was not enough - at least not in my mind because there were less than 300 people in the pews.

I've continued down a path of brutal comparison since Easter afternoon. I've looked at where we are in comparison to other congregations. I've watched dear colleagues advance to large churches where their gifts are breaking glass ceilings. I've received extraordinary notes and emails about how God has used our church to touch and transform people. I've felt the Spirit work in real, tangible ways. I've taken risks in the name of Jesus and heard stories about lives being changed as a result. I've baptized several children and welcomed many new members. A rich complexity of emotions and experiences have filled my head and my heart, making the decision more difficult on some mornings when I'm deciding which route to take. And still, somehow, I keep being led down the path marked, "It's not enough."

I understand how Vital Congregations may be necessary for some pastors and some churches - how a system of accountability that requires churches to enter the number of people who were in worship, the number of people who participated in small groups, and the number of people who served in mission each week can be helpful for some congregations. But Vital Congregations has robbed my joy more often than not. I can set out on the path marked, "It is enough" and sometimes the one marked, "It is more than enough" at the start of a Sunday only to change course after seeing a number recorded in a tiny notebook in the back of the sanctuary that holds the data for each Sunday worship service. Somehow this little number regularly leads me to walk down the path marked, "It's not enough."

I'm tired of the scenery on this path. I don't like the darkness that fills the gaps on this journey. I much prefer the joy and light along the path marked, "It is enough" and "You are enough." And so I'm seeking to learn a few new holy habits. I'm standing at a crossroads this morning and eliminating the sign marker that reads, "It's not enough."

Spiritual direction with Father James this morning gave me new language for my crossroad. Father James reminded me of the choice I have each day to learn new holy habits. On the edge of turning 42-years-old, it's time to uncover new emotions buried within me - emotions that say you are more than enough. You are good. You are bright. You are funny. You are faithfully successful. You should be at peace. And it's time to purge the emotions that lead me to compare myself to others, to believe that success is related to numbers, and to evaluate myself by worldly standards instead of Gospel standards. Father James reminded me of the heart of the Gospel - a story of our savior who had just one of his disciples make it all the way to the cross with him - just one!

Father James listened intently as I described the fruits of the last nine years. He heard me share how I was able to incorporate the fullness of my heart on Sunday when I compared myself to Sarah - one who got everything she asked from God and then bitterly said it was not enough until Ishmael and Hagar were gone. Father James looked me in the eye and said, "It's not a bad price to pay to remain in such a place filled with so many signs of God at work and a congregation that you can be so transparent with." He's so right. What a gift I have! Morning my morning new mercies I see!

I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is using me. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is at work in real and powerful ways at a church called Mount Vernon Place. I know what God's call sounds like, and I know what my ego and the world's standards sound like. I've heard both loudly this season. But I'm choosing to listen to God - to one who has said nothing about leaving and countless words about why I'm called to continue to serve this remarkable, diverse, beautiful, risk-taking, healthy congregation. And all of this, my friends, is more than enough.

Dear God, thank you for this complex journey we have taken together. Thank you for the ways you have used a painful season to enable me to learn more about myself and about you. Thank you for reminding me that I am always enough in your eyes. Give me the strength and courage needed to resist comparing myself to others. Help me to smooth the edge of my competitive nature. Show me, God, what a life entails with the Gospel at its heart. I want to be faithful. I want to see that I am enough - and that what we are doing together is more than enough. Thanks be to God. Amen. 

1 comment:

Pastor Mandy said...

it is hard to measure "success" in the church, especially given the upside-down nature of the whole Kingdom and gospel. Faithfulness, the thing we all strive for, is also hard to discern much of the time. Most of us would do the "faithful" thing if we knew ahead of time it was the faithful thing...(Is it faithful to do X or Y? Am I being faithful when we take this risk or is this my/our ego talking). Part of the joy and burden of leadership is discerning the next faithful step God is calling us to take...and in that way, we are always confronting some aspects of "not enough." And that part is OK. I mean, it's not like Moses just went, "Enough already, let's just stop here..." (grin). For me, it's helpful to remind myself that the church is NOT MINE, or even OURS, and that the fun of ministry is following that annoying and surprising Holy Spirit...My first year as a senior pastor I thought, well, this is gonna be hard, since I like to get an A in things...and A's are hard to after every hard day, instead of being mad at myself for making mistakes, I would say to myself, "Wow, I really learned something today! Thank you, God!" For me, it was a helpful reframing. After all, it's God's gig... ; )