I am still learning. But I am getting more set in my ways . . . Which is code for both knowing what I do and don’t like and knowing better the edge of my limitations. I am grateful for the ability to keep reading, keep observing, keep praying, and keep hearing from God through His Word. So I thought I would take a moment to share 3 new insights that God has been granting.
1. I am Learning to Ask More Questions
When I was younger, I had a sense that weakness was not knowing the answers. And further, as a man who embarked into career ministry in my younger years, I thought that somehow my confidence and competence was something I owed people. So when a person received a difficult diagnosis I went in armed with compassion, answers, and a level of concern that I thought was consistent with MY opinion of their situation. I never thought to ask them how THEY felt. Rather than telling them how bad they should feel by my response, I am learning that it might just be better to ask questions and listen to the answers, lest I express pity rather than genuine care.
2. I am Learning to Value Story
I have always gravitated toward the narrative portions of Scripture. They are messy, morally sketchy, and never the place to turn for simplistic theological answers. In contrast to the epistles with their tight argumentation, the stories are full of examples of how real life works. Both are valuable and have a significant place, but in my youth I thought the tight logic of propositional truth was there to sanitize the brokenness of the stories. Consider the story of David and Bathsheba, David took another man’s wife and then had him murdered in a sordid cover-up. By the end of the story David marries Bathsheba. And I used to think that quoting 1 Thessalonians 4:3 “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality;” somehow fixed it! There, solved that sordid story.
But quoting the standard doesn’t fix the problem. Because the problem is REAL LIFE, with REAL people, in the midst of a TRUE story. David was real. Bathsheba was used like a plaything. And Uriah her husband really died. And as Rich Mullins said in one of my favorite songs by him, “and this is the world as best as I can remember it!” The world is what is. The standard is valuable for showing what is wrong with it . . . But it just keeps on being a story of loss, pain, love, and gain.
For years I never read a single novel. I thought it a waste when there was so much theory and so many facts to learn. And my non-fiction reading has served me well over the years. But here I am in the second half of life, and my heart is often more moved by fiction and story. A movement toward story is a movement toward PEOPLE. and it may very well be that a good foundation of theory has given me a stronger basis for the love and compassion I am growing into. But I have grown into a respect for the power of story.
3. I am Learning to Let Go
Planting a new church is an endeavor that tends to create micromanagers. This has been my observation and experience. And having planted a church, I can read this micromanagement between the lines in some of the higher profile church planters who shipwrecked on the shoals of abusive leadership.
It doesn’t take much of a leap for a man who has been used by God to grow a church from nearly nothing to a vital life-giving gathering to then assume that success was because of His steering. And if he thinks the growth is due to his steering, then he will feel and intense “need” to be listened to if the church will continue to succeed!
But God has brought a lot of things to bear on me at a great time in my career as a pastor/church-planter to steer me in a different direction. I am learning to let go of the things that I ought not control. It is an art rather than a science to continue to steer a church toward a common vision and, most importantly, toward continued faithfulness to God while discerning the things that are NOT important.
But the overall direction of ministry for me has been an increasing interest in the direction of the church after I am gone. And I certainly do not want to leave behind a church that doesn’t know what to do when I am gone. My hope is that I am barely missed in the day to day after I am laid to rest.
Learning to let go hasn’t been linear. I can be tempted to demand my way with the best of them. But I have been increasingly stepping out to intentionally allow others to lead. And one great current example is our summer sport’s camp happening this week. I have had very limited input into this massive program and it has been amazing to wander around seeing this fabulous ministry to kids every night. I think there is something healthy about this having barely any of my fingerprints on it.
God can teach an old dog new tricks! And I share this in the hopes that some of you who read it might be moved to do your own assessment of the things that God has been teaching you. What has God been teaching you?