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Moving Forward

by jpack, November 4, 2014

I haven’t been posting to my blog because changes have been going on in our church that have kept me fairly preoccupied.  Working with the students for the past year, I have seen a lot of changes in my behavior, actions, attitude, and in the things I find important in ministry.  The greatest realization I’ve had is exactly how important a pure heart and pure motives are to following a calling.

The calling is, to an extent, the easy part.  That’s not to say that “finding your calling” is easy, but it is easier than answering the calling in the way God can use you best.

For many are called, but few are chosen. (Matthew 22:14 NLT, Source: Bible Gateway)

Perhaps the most frustrating thing to watch in ministry is when a noble calling is answered, but is tainted with the baggage that a fallen creation is so tempted thrust upon God’s work.  In the past, I have been just as guilty of this as anyone, and probably more than most.  I often refer to my current work with our church’s youth as “this time around” because there is a stark difference in how I’ve pursued this service versus some prior ways I’ve served the church.  Rather than building a fiefdom or adopting a persona to enhance my personal appearance or to develop some “legacy” within the church community, I spent time in academic study, devotion, prayer, and sought the mentorship of others more educated in ministry than myself.  During the most draining and disruptive evenings, I felt energized and fulfilled because I knew that what drove me was a sincere desire to serve God, not an expectation that I would reap some ‘effect’ out of a gaggle of teens or achieve some level of celebrity.  When I was told of the ‘new direction’, which involved far more than just the youth and children’s programs, our church was pursuing, it was certainly easy to have an initial reaction of “what did I do so wrong?!”  What made my emotional reaction even more confusing was that I wasn’t angry or bitter.  If I was, it would have been easy to point at that reaction and state that I was either being too “possessive” or that I was holding some animosity in my heart.  When I realized that I felt neither of these emotions, I knew that I couldn’t attribute any negative feelings towards the ‘typical causes’ of hurt feelings in ministry.

Changes Out Of Our Control

As I have written, Free Will is a tricky facet of God’s creation.  God’s plan is mysterious and can occur in many different ways and Free Will acts as a stimulus where creation can choose a path towards God’s ultimate goal.  Throughout the scriptures, we see occasions when individuals made Free Will decisions and God adjusted the consequences appropriately.  Just consider Jonah 3 and 4 where God decided to not to destroy Nineveh because of the actions of the people.

When I consider my current dilemma in ministry, I feel that I am caught searching for God’s plan in the midst of decisions that are being made based on the Free Will of others.  The perspective is nothing if not confusing.

The pastor of our church approached me roughly 6 weeks ago to let me know that there was another position in the church that he felt I could serve far more effectively and that there was another couple that had also stepped up to take over for the youth during a transitional period that our children & students are currently going through.  The desire for the children & students is that we could start with a “clean slate” and reformat how we currently think about traditional weekly ministries.  The pastor emphasized my having a technical and musical background.  Since assuming leadership of the youth last January (really, since being truly ‘in control’ of the ministry plan and organization starting over summer of 2014), I have been diligent in reminding myself that the student ministry is God’s work administered by our church, not a personal ‘hobby’.  That doesn’t mean it didn’t still hurt when the pastor told me a different direction was being pursued.

God’s Vicar

Because of my church background and upbringing, I have always believed that the ordained pastor of a congregation has been commissioned by God to lead that family of believers.  That means that I hold a recognition that when the pastor says, “I feel this is the best move for our church” it may be less of a “Free Will” decision and more of God’s conviction on the pastor as an ordained minister.  That requires some additional respect and consideration.

When my pastor approached me about this move, I wasn’t angry about the news (though the mode of communication left something to be desired) and I wasn’t bitter about any of those involved.  I was, and still am, confused.  Were my motives not pure enough?  Did I not believe enough?  Was this simply another “Free Will” decision made by another possibly fallible human being?  There are certainly enough questions to keep you up at night.

That said, just as staying up at night is unhealthy, so can fixating on the ‘wrong’ questions.  I trust our pastor as a man of integrity.  Because I trust him as a person, I can more easily have faith that when he is making a decision, it is based on a conviction of what is right for our church and convicted by God’s influence over the pastor’s heart and intentions.  Of that, I am certain.

Pontificating On Purpose

What I am not certain about is what my own future holds.  An invitation for “the next need of our church” has been presented to me, but I struggle with what direction to take.  Was God calling me to ‘a different ministry’ or was this God’s way of removing me from a place I had committed to so He could take me somewhere completely different?  These are questions that can be bounced off of other individuals, but can only truly be answered by shutting up and patiently listening to God.  I can’t lie: God sounds pretty silent on this front.  The again, God has been known to speak in the silence among all the noise.

For the last year, there has been a family issue I have been discussing with the pastor.  It was a draining and emotional roller coaster that forced my family into a situation where I had to rely on God simply because we were completely out of control.  Recently, all of those prayers were answered and in an instant I didn’t care about anything going on at my church.  It put everything into perspective, including how petty and insignificant some of the conversations, drama, and ‘events’ were that had taken while working with the church.  Maybe that is God’s message to me; maybe I need to focus on other aspects of my life and realize that the important thing is communing with God, not frantically keeping busy.

Where Does That Leave Us, Now?

The one constant of ministry is that we are never (at best, rarely) totally certain of what God wants us to be doing next.  If there was a definitive route for us to take, there wouldn’t be much of a function for Free Will, would there?  I don’t know what God wants me to do, but I know what decisions have been made by others.  I have made it very clear that I am here to support whatever the “new” youth team needs, but I am not inserting myself or getting emotional over the decisions of others.  Again… I’m confident that God’s Will will be done, regardless of what, or who, that involves.  My chief concern at this time is listening for that still, small voice (1 Kings 19) telling me what is on the horizon and where next God can use me.  Until that voice comes, I will spend time not focusing on the question, but meditating on the answer.

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