Reflection can be an engaging, thoughtful, and a dangerous use of time. This morning when checking my newsfeed I was reminded by Facebook that 8 years ago I was recovering from the “Inaugural Reformation Lectures” hosted by my previous congregation. My dear brother and colleague, Dr. Jeffry Jahn, and I put together a weekend which included: Academic Lectures surrounding Church, Culture, and the Reformation, an Oktoberfest, and a Festive Reformation Service. The weekend was creative, engaging, and energizing. The community of the faithful were spiritually (and physically) fed and the excitement about the future was limitless.
8 years later how different is my life and ministry. I am 4 years removed from that congregation and living on the opposite side of the country. My dear brother and colleague, Dr. Jeffry Jahn has been in the arms of the Lord in His Kingdom for nearly 3 years, and the “Reformation Lectures” and festive weekend are dead and gone. As I reflect I have come to understand that simply saying “It is the Lord’s will” is a cop out and a failure to truly (and thoughtfully) understand why things are so different today.
Towards the end of his life and reign Solomon wrote the reflective book of Ecclesiastes. Describing his pursuit of power and pleasure – it leaves the reader filled with a sense of desperation and emptiness. How often have I read the words of Ecclesiastes 3:1,2a at a funeral and mis-applied the introspective and reflective nature of the words: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die…”. All one has to do is drift a little further in chapter 3 and encounter verse 16: “Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness…”. These are not hopeful words by Solomon. They are: reflective, engaging, and dangerous.
Those in leadership can find themselves drifting to such thoughts. And I share this particular warning with those in Spiritual leadership (especially the pastors). As I find myself moving to the “back side of the hill” in my service to the church I have found myself drifting to previous ministries and the people I was called to serve. Maybe the biggest chasm I have had to traverse (without realizing it at the time) was that “I am not my predecessor.” I have had followed great men of God – a powerful evangelist, a creative artisan, an incredible author, and a kind and loving shepherd. The congregations were molded and shaped around their gifts of leadership and force of personality. Oh, yes, the Word of God and the Sacramental Worship was central in each congregation. The Cross of Jesus Christ always and ever present in the life and breath of the congregation. BUT the “personality” of the congregation was entirely reflected through the lenses of the pastor who lead the flock faithfully before me.
And then…I followed. What I have learned along the way is that through engaging, thoughtful, and dangerous reflection I have a very clear sense of who I am and why God has lead me to the ministries I have served and continue to serve. Following the powerful evangelist the church needed lay leadership development and ministry involvement by the people. Following the creative artisan the church needed re-focusing to the centrality of the Word of God in every corner of the congregation’s life and being. Following the incredible author required the church to re-connect with the community it had left behind as it turned in on itself. And maybe the greatest challenge of all: following the kind and loving shepherd, having to lead a congregation to accountability for past decisions and creating an administrative path (along with lay leaders) so that the congregation can thrive in the future.
When your reflect you learn very quickly “who you are not.” I am none of my predecessors. God has wonderfully and uniquely blessed each of them with gifts of ministry that have served the Gospel ministry in wonderful ways. I have learned so much from their work and, truth be told, envious of their service and popularity amongst the people they have served. Pastors can hear the whispers (and even the shouts): “YOU are NOT like Pastor (fill in the blank). And whether people realize it or not…pastors hear it (and it hurts). Sometimes directly; but most of the time through the filters of trusted leaders and friends.
But there is the good news: By knowing who I am not I also know who I am and why God has sent me there. I am not Ron, Ken, Eldon, or Rick…I am Jeffrey – a child of God, claimed and named through the waters of Baptism, raised up and Called to the Ordained Ministry, blessed with my own unique gifts, skills, and talents to serve the church. I am Jeffrey – an able and confident administrator and leader who can think creatively, dream forward, build structures to serve people and advance the Gospel, and has an unyielding heart for the poor and distressed.
And that good news is for you as well! YOU are who YOU are! The creative God who can, by a Word, speak creation into existence in 6 days calls you by name and blesses you to serve the Gospel ministry. The redemptive God who is the Word made flesh speaks into your heart, forgives your sins and short-comings, and ably blesses you to serve the ministry right where you have been placed. YOU may not be your predecessor (whether that be pastor, president, elder, altar guild chair, etc…) BUT YOU ARE WHO YOU ARE…use the gifts God has given you to do the ministry He has called you to serve. Do it well and do it without fear. There will always be whispers and voices reminding you that you are not your predecessor – the simple answer: GOOD! In the words of Popeye: “I am who I am” and that’s good enough!
8 years have gone by and many, many things have changed in my life. I miss my dear brother and colleague, Dr. Jeffry Jahn. He and I were able to do some very special things in ministry together. We we were friends. We were more than that…we were brothers in Jesus Christ. As I reflect today I am heartened and joyful that one day I will see this very special man of God again. Today is All Saints’ Day. Jeffry was a very, very big part of my journey in discovering who I am and what gifts the Lord Jesus Christ bids me to use in ministry. I pray that you too will not be fearful of such reflection. It is engaging, thoughtful, and dangerous. It can also bring a tear to your eye when you remember those, who along the journey, helped YOU be YOU…