May 12, 2015

Grounded


Worship pastors, nobody in your church will have the big picture the same way that you do. And that’s ok, because it’s your job to coordinate all the things that go on for Sunday - music selection, stage design, service order, tech tools, volunteers, timing of each element, keys and arrangements, etc. But as a result, your role will be under constant criticism because nobody will quite know all the things that you take care of throughout the week, since three-quarters of what we do go unnoticed (at least, until those things get dropped). To the average attender, your role is to pick out a few songs and then play them with a few other musicians … which clearly anybody should be able to do, right?


So don’t  be surprised when most people think that they could probably do your job; after all, they don’t necessarily know that your choice of songs is made by anything other than your preferences. That’s not necessarily their fault - it’s an innocent enough mistake - it’s just that they have no other point of reference. With the easy availability of so much music these days, everyone thinks they’re an expert. Don’t be surprised when people wonder what you do with all your time; most people don’t know how long the creative process can be, how long research takes, nor do they have any idea how many different things you do (remember how hard it was the last time you tried to compile the whole list?). Don’t be surprised when you get questions that start with that awful phrase, “why can’t you just …” because nobody there but you knows the complexity of service design or video creation or even the creative process. Don’t be surprised when you get a bunch of anonymous notes criticizing a simple change; change is hard for most people, it pushes them outside of their comfort zone, and let’s face it, nobody likes to be uncomfortable. So don’t be surprised when you feel like a lightning rod in your role, because as the one who facilitates all things artistic, you ARE the lightning rod of your church. You work with, manipulate, mold, and curate the most sensitive expressions of identity there are - the arts - and when unspoken expectations are not met, it will be your hide on the line.

So stay grounded.

(also pastors)
Staying grounded means recognizing your humanity, that you are in fact fallible and will make mistakes, and that this is ok. But staying grounded also means being humble and vulnerable enough to admit these mistakes and apologize for them, learn from them, and move on without dwelling in them. Staying grounded means being accountable to a community others, especially your lead pastor and lay leadership, so that your decisions are not made in isolation; when lightning strikes, you want to make sure the charge gets dispersed, and the bigger the community, the less you yourself will feel it. Staying grounded means learning new things, keeping your mind flexible and your heart open to the incredible possibilities that come when we allow experience and wisdom to align with creativity and innovation. 

Staying grounded means taking a vacation occasionally - actually leaving your work behind (the world will not end without you) - and releasing your stress. Staying grounded means being aware of your personality and your tendencies and your coping mechanisms so that they don’t get the best of you during hard times. Staying grounded means saturating yourself in the story of the scriptures, in prayer, in times of quiet, for it is in these times that God will take what you’ve learned and mold you further. Staying grounded means keeping your eyes focused on the reason that you do what you do - you have been called by God to curate space each week so that your church community can respond to God’s mercy together.

Staying grounded is an ongoing discipline, but it’s worth it. It means you’ll serve your church community better. It means you’ll be available to your family (whatever that looks like). It means you yourself will grow more into the image of Jesus. It means that, instead of being a liability, you’ll be part of advancing the Kingdom of God.

April 2, 2015

In Which I Avoid Sleeping Through Holy Week

“This week is kind of like your superbowl, right?”



A friend said this to me the other day after she’d asked about what my week is like this week. I’m a worship pastor, and this is Holy Week, the busiest time of the year for me. But the metaphor felt funny, like someone handing me a gardening glove when I’m about to get a chicken out of the oven. I’m not a sports guy, for one, but aside from that, the goal of this week isn’t about a competition; the “win” is providing space for people to engage the story of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus, Son of God. The goal is giving God space to give new life to our congregation.

But how many of us begin this week already tired? I know I did. There are so many things to do this week - multiple rehearsals, arranging parts, finishing tasks I’d forgotten about or that had gotten buried, planning for things that come AFTER Easter, extra worship gatherings … there are so many things. And in the midst of it all, normal life stuff with family, finances, and maybe, just maybe, eeking out some time for myself so that I don’t go completely insane from stress.

And in the midst of all of the tasks, the stress, the WORK, it’s easy to get caught sleeping. Oh I don’t mean that I’m actually asleep - though I could stand for a few more hours of rest every night - but the tasks and the stress themselves can be like sleeping on the job for a pastor. It’s easy to forget - especially in this season - that I am first and foremost a child of God. While my responsibilities include creating space for other people to engage the story of God, to find their place in it, to worship together, what often happens is that I forget to create space for myself to do the same. 

It’s a bit like a restless, fitful, tense sleep from which I wake up more tired than before. When we fail to create that space in weeks like this - especially in weeks like this - we are very much the worse for wear, and our leadership reflects that. When we do not take the time to wrestle with the incarnation and crucifixion and resurrection - in this week, of all weeks - we do ourselves and our congregations a disservice.

This time, of all times, can provide evidence of just that: incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. It starts out so innocently, a job for which we were built and which we love - an incarnation. But then the tasks start piling up - the extra hours away from our families and extra services and the anxiety of wanting to get it just right for our guests and church families - and we end up drained, lifeless, entombed … crucified. Our resurrection might come a little too late, after Easter’s already come and gone, and our families or churches have to slap a little life back into our drained, listless forms.


Or.

We take the time now to die to ourselves and let God breathe life anew.

I’ve been reading the book of Ezekiel every morning. I don’t know why I chose it, other than the fact that I wanted to read something I’d not read much before, and I’d remembered some pretty interesting imagery about spinning wheels and angels with four faces. When I got around to chapter 37, this (slightly) more familiar story popped up:
The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” 
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.’” 
So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet — a vast army.
Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”
Maybe this week your bones are dry and weary, your hope feels dead and buried. Maybe there’s more going on in your life than just the exhaustion of holy week and all that it can bring. Maybe this week you identify a little too much with the valley of dry bones, or with Jesus being whipped by the cat of nine-tails or hanging on the cross. Maybe all you want is to lay in a tomb so that it’ll all just be over. If that’s the case, it’s time for you to put down the to-do lists, the meetings, the tasks, the rehearsals, the work, even your bible for just a few minutes. Take some time to

pause

and

just 

breathe.

God’s got this. Let Him breathe new life into your dry bones, and wake you up before this season is over. May your resurrection come now, that God may do through you amazing things in all of the events and the people you lead.

March 24, 2015

The Transient Home

One of the things I’ve learned about ministry in the last year is that all ministry is transitional; every position is temporary; all jobs are for a time;

every Call will end.

A little over a year ago, I left my job of a little over 3 years. It wasn’t something I wanted or would have chosen for myself, but nonetheless, it happened. I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on the change over this last year, asking why, asking what next, asking what wasn’t my fault, asking what I could have done better … asking how to make the hard stuff never happen again. And through my ponderings, the words of a friend and colleague have rung true: all ministry is transitional. It wasn’t just THAT job, and it wasn’t just the transitional role I currently occupy; we’re all preparing our ministry for the next person to lead it. Nothing is permanent; even if your stay in your role for 25 years, eventually somebody else will take your place to work with whatever you’ve left behind; and you won’t know it will last 25 years until you’ve been there that long.

You can imagine how this has messed with me, especially since my dream right now is to have a job that’s not interim/transitional/transient. Having moved fourteen times in the last ten years, my family and I desperately want to live somewhere - *really live there* - for a long time. We have all sorts of ideas about what “ideal” might look like, but beyond all the little preferences, we want to be able to invest in the community and put down roots. We want the safety and relative security of a house. We want to get to know our kids’ school principle and teachers, to get to know neighbors. We want our kids to have friends to play with next door, a yard to call their own.

But the transience of our culture and of employment these days feels like it doesn’t allow for that. Transience means that at some point - whenever that might be - we’ll have to leave, and so instead of investing in the people around us, instead of allowing them into our hearts and lives, it feels far, far safer to have superficial surface-ish flat relationships, to do a job, to check the boxes on a list and move on. Investing in a community in a transient world means that eventually, it will be torn, ripped, wrenched away. Investment eventually will mean suffering and pain and loss; at some point, we will be taken away from familiarity, from things we have grown to love - friends, a house, schools, a favorite restaurant, even family.

It feels easier to just avoid the whole thing.

Introverted though I am, I crave a solid community, one that cares deeply for its members and for the world in which it finds itself. It turns out that I’m really just like everyone else - we all want that. It might look different for different people, but deep down what every person wants is a place to belong and a people to call their own. Though accepting the reality of this might be difficult, what I’ve come to realize is that the transient nature of our world doesn’t mean we can’t have those things.

What it means is that we must accept that those things, being so desirable, will cause us pain.

A great existential crisis grips my generation. We're masters of our electronics, but not of truth; priests of our own customized religions, but victims of our circumstances; over-educated and dangerously entitled. We're all Solomon, sitting in our palaces, surrounded by more than we could ever want (or afford), wondering why we're still so unhappy. And I think it’s because we’ve not yet learned how to handle pain. In fact, our whole first world economy is geared toward pain avoidance. That’s what it MEANS to have convenience - it means we can avoid all different kinds of pain;

The pain of doing something I don’t like …
The pain of waiting, of being alone with ourselves …
The pain of our bodies in injury or age and the realization of our own mortality …
The pain of wanting but not having …
The pain of not knowing something …
The pain of hunger or thirst …
The pain that comes from the consequences of our coping mechanisms in trying to deal with the other kinds pain …

Our economy and our culture say that we can buy our way to happiness, because to us, happiness means the state at which we are in the least amount of pain. Suffering from envy of your neighbor’s stuff? Take out a loan and buy that stuff yourself (no payments for a year)! Suffering from the pain of having to go to bed before the Oscars are over? Buy a DVR and cable and record it! Suffering from a growling stomach? Buy some drugs to stay thin AND full! Suffering from the pain of being left out? Buy a North Face jacket or an iPhone 6+ and feel included! Suffering from not knowing? Google is here for you!

But what if pain isn’t something to always avoid, but something to embrace? Pain leads to solidarity with others in pain; through that shared experience, a community can grow deeper, more aware, more willing to give of itself to others in pain. A community that doesn’t know pain will never empathize with the world around it because in the Kingdom of God, we’re not promised an irritant-free, pain-free, suffering-free life; we are promised that pain and suffering lead to something greater: 

resurrection.

We have a choice about how we will live. Home is, after all, what we make of it. So for me, home is where my wife and kids are, not where all my stuff is, not where I find myself with the least amount of pain. We may move to new jobs, change houses or apartments, move to new social circles, or lose family members. To really thrive, our safety and security - our faith - must be placed outside of our circumstances, beyond ourselves and our resources and our comfort zones. 

In the midst of good seasons, but especially in seasons of transience and pain and suffering, our faith should be put in the God who walks through the pain with us,

because our God is the God of the Resurrection.