Hope Sustains Us!

Last night my new District Superintendent, Cindy, and I went to have our Introductory Visit at my new appointment. The Staff-Parish Relations Committee was great as is the church! It is so wonderful to get to know people and begin conversations about new ministry opportunities. To share in the grief of a beloved pastor’s move and start a new chapter with a new pastor and church is holy ground that is fertile with hope and emotion. I was very impressed with everyone’s thoughts, comments, and expectations. They energized me after a long and draining post-Easter day of Cabinet meeting.

The Cabinet’s work is grueling and impacts so many lives. It carries a holy heft of responsibility. Add that responsibility to the usual after Easter gasp for more air and you get a sense of my plight and that of many clergy and staff, choirs with Easter Cantatas, worship committees and all of Holy Week’s services, parking lot greeters who directed newcomers to sanctuaries, and all the other myriad people who help facilitate worship during the past week and what do you get?

The answer is a collective sigh that is either a sign of church overload or the best kind of tired that there is. It’s a good tired if you knew that you did your best to serve God and others. However, a lot of the folks I know need a vacation from their Easter vacation, and God bless the school districts who wisely gave students the week after off! A lot of us after Holy Week feel kicked to the curb by all of the activities. It’s almost like trying to adjust to daylight savings time or resetting our biological clocks three time zones over.

No wonder the Sunday after Easter is called “Low Sunday” with low attendance, low offering, and low about everything including energy. It’s supposed to be the happiest time of the year. Easter Sunday’s expectations were for a great sermon, great music, great attendance, and a great Easter meal to boot. For most of us all of this came true, but how do we keep Easter’s triumphal pace?

For me it boils down to one word: Hope! In tiredness, illness, or sheer exhaustion the question is, “Do I have hope?” I must let resurrection hope capture my worries. That’s what the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection did, and this is exactly what our world is longing for. Everyone around us is looking for renewed hope. The church is essentially a people and place of hope! The very reason the early disciples switched from Saturday Sabbath worship to Sunday was because Jesus rose on the first day of the week! I want that kind of life altering hope!

When we feel our spirits sagging and our worries mounting we should embrace God-given hope. Listen to Paul’s reminder: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith…if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all people (I Corinthians 15:13-19).” Easter hope is now and forever!

Therefore, no matter how drained from a post-Easter let down we might be, this is exactly the time we should cling to hope. Hope for me isn’t an exuberant emotion. It’s a sustained positive outlook in spite of feelings or circumstances. Yes, problems and challenges exist, but Easter reminds us that we can have a hope that is everlasting. Easter candy and chocolate Bunny ears disappear a lot more quickly than the ubiquitous artificial “grass” from depleted baskets, but the hope of Easter, the enduring triumph of Easter is should always remain. So, hang in there! I have hope and am expectant of happiness – got to embrace hope first! Give Pharrell’s “Happy” a listen:

Staff-Parish Committees & Clergy/Well-intentioned Dragons

Ill or Well-intentioned dragons abound in some churches. I have been set up before by a person who said that she was concerned for her church and wanted to come by and talk. Through her tears I unfortunately said “yes” to her request only to be greeted by a group of 8 or more people. I gave them hospitality but quickly said, “You need to take this to your SPRC.” I have a meeting like this coming up.

At first glance I thought let’s have the pastor present, too, so it’s a fair fight and I get to stay out of the triangle, but then I thought better of it by the grace of God. If I pulled the pastor in, it becomes a contest between conflicting sides escalating into a win by the dragons who just want to go back and say to people, “We told the preacher off in front of the DS!” So I’m not going to meet with the people and the pastor. I’ll meet with the people and limit the number, defect in place, show them Jesus, hear their concerns, AND, the biggie, determine what the spiritual issue is.
You have to hear people’s grievances in this office, but you don’t have to empower the naysayers. Paying attention to the emotional process and not submitting to it is the key. Hoping to pay more attention objectively to the content is important, but, nonetheless, a rabbit-chasing fallacy. Anybody can juggle facts to suit their emotional purpose or their agenda. If their agenda isn’t Jesus then the conversation becomes a counseling session of pastoral care thereby defusing the anger not by authoritarian fiat, but by relationship salvaging. I’ll call the pastor later and give that person a heads-up, but I am NOT going to be caught in the triangle of “they said, you said” ad infinitum.
This time of year is anxiety laden for clergy and congregations because of last week’s move or stay deadline. People are taking sides and getting in digs or bribes to try to get the best appointment either for the pastor or the church, often at the expense each other’s expense. Of course, this isn’t the way it always is. Thank God there are churches and clergy who amicably part ways just because it’s time for someone else to take them over Jordan.
I pray that I can avoid the manipulation, the anxiety, the arguments, and the unrealistic expectations of both churches and clergy. I am reminded once again that this whole process is mostly about churches, then preachers; but most of all it’s about Jesus and the Kingdom – not friendships, sucking up, or people making up “bad” stuff about a preacher they have supposedly loved for so long. Rather than face the fact that it’s just time for a change people start the rumor mill of innuendo just to have an excuse to push someone out, or to leave a church. I have even had clergy tell me in my office they want to leave then go home and tell their spouse that I’m making them leave. Then I catch it from the spouse. It’s a strange dance that we move to in this process.
Well I pray that we move people this year like every year based on gifts, graces, needs, and primarily what Jesus wants for the Kingdom. So I’ll be heading to meetings with SPRC’s and consult with pastors, attempt to speak the truth in love, and show them all Jesus, both meek and mild & forthright and faithful. Here goes!