Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Doing Ministry While Waiting for the Lord Even When We Don't Want To

As usual the Wednesday Prayer Group starts with a fair amount of sharing about what is going on in our world. And by “world” I generally mean, our personal worlds as senior seminarians about to embark on the next journey beyond required reading, syllabi, projects and the like- the somewhat ominous and exciting “just beyond the horizon” world of the first call. Having been immersed in a process best described as “hurry up and wait” we have agonized, prayed and hoped our collective selves through the end of internships, the faculty approvals and candidacy committee approval processes which have culminated in more paperwork. And more “hurry up and wait” and more agonizing, hoping and praying about where in the country we would be sent by the Spirit within the ELCA. Hoping we were not last to be picked for the dance. Into this swirl, this year we added the fact that statistically not all of us can hope for a call within a year of graduation, that there may need to be a “Plan B” while balancing debt and families and moves. More agonizing and hoping and praying.
And each person’s process is different, so there is a comparison of where each of us may be on the time and space continuum. Some are juggling how to do call interviews and graduate and move on a very short timetable. Some are navigating long distance interviews, or long distance travel to find out if there will be interviews. Some have congregational paperwork to review. Some have a name but no paperwork yet. Some just hope their phone will ring and we all find ourselves challenged by the words “wait for the Lord.”
And oddly the more we know the more impatient we may find ourselves. “It’s been a week since I told them when I can meet, why haven’t I heard?” “It’s been two weeks since I said I was interested, why haven’t I heard?” “It’s been a month since they said they would be in touch, why haven’t I heard?” “If they know they want to see me, what is taking so long? If they know they want a pastor, what is taking so long? If they said they had something in mind, what’s taking so long?” “What does it all mean? Don’t they know I am on a timeline?” “Don’t worry, it will be OK” might be good words for you, but not for me, we might find ourselves thinking.
All of which reminded me how I was on the other end of this process not quite ten years ago. Actually a two pronged process. “What do you mean we have to complete all this paperwork and then it has to be reviewed and then it has to be voted on and then it has to be submitted and approved? What do you mean we need to think about who we really are a congregation, we can’t just get a pastor? What do you mean you don’t have a candidate yet? What do you mean the candidate does not want to meet us again? You mean we have to schedule a special meeting? You mean we have to do this by this date?” We as a congregation council and the call committee had to try to coordinate dates for not only all of us, but the bishop’s office and the candidate and at times it was like herding cats. Everyone wanted the same thing and everyone wanted it in the way that was most convenient for him or her.
We wanted a candidate with experience but also energy who was a good preacher and teacher, but honored what we already did well. Who could be a leader but affirmed us. And who could help us sort it out unless of course we already knew. And pastoral candidates wanted a congregation with vitality but not one with an iron will. With a well oiled structure but one that would be moldable to the creative desires of the pastor. And the perfect vision was whatever was perfect for each of us, individually.
Meanwhile our long time now retired pastor wanted to be able to rejoin three generations of his family worshipping with us which was forestalled by our process. And we all wanted to get it done as soon as possible so things could go back to the way they were.
And I remember him saying he wanted this process to be done as quickly as possible while a bishop was saying “slow down.” And I found myself saying we wanted it all to take only as long as it took for us to be faithful to where God was leading, because if we were not, ours would not be a place he would want to return to. I found myself asking for him to understand God’s timing.
And that was nine years ago this month as I now find myself saying – remember God’s timing and wait for the Lord. Remember we are all people with lives and schedules, who all want to be drawn together in great and wonderful ways. But that those ways take time for people to juggle lives and schedules, time to say what needs to be said in honesty so that we come as close to being candid as we can and to remember God is taking all of us on a journey, not taking us for a ride.
Wait for the Lord.
SO what can we do while we wait to begin our ministry?
1. Avoid call process envy- it’s not a competition. So rejoice with those who rejoice, pray with those who need intercession, and dispense comfort to those who are anxious. Ministry happens here.
2. Pray for the bishop and staff of the synod who is receiving you- for their guidance and discernment and for them to be fed and nourished in their ministry- all of it, not just your part of it. Plug into their websites and e-prayers for ways to begin to walk with them in your heart and mind. Ministry happens here too!
3. Pray for the congregation who is getting or has your name when you know it and are waiting- that they can set aside all that would distract them and prepare for holy conversations. Pray that you can do likewise. Need I say this is ministry?
4. Remember everyone on your journey with you- your friends and family would probably really love to spend time with you. Now is a good time. By now you get the point, right?
5. Take care of yourself- eat healthy, strengthen your body and renew your mind-you will need these things for the journey. Minister to yourself- take care of what God has given you-you!
6. Recall the craziest time on internship or elsewhere when you would have longed for a breather-God will be faithful which means those times will come again- so breathe now. Receive this as a gift.
7. Give thanks- it’s a good time to be intentional about thanking everyone who has pushed, pulled, carried and accompanied you- speak those words, the ones you need to share-ministry happens here!
8. Give your time- there are lots of organizations who need healers and helpers- if this gives you energy and perspective- ministry happens everywhere!
9. Walk with the word- not just for class. Meditate, journal and swim in God’s words for this time. Part of ministry is leading others in disciplines like this-but that means experiencing them for yourself.
10. Celebrate! Even the Israelites needed to look back and see how far they had come before the next part of the journey-remember all those places God has brought you through and all of the people God used to do it. Don’t take all you have already been through for granted! Celebrate that God continues to prosper the work begun in you- a person formed for ministry who is already doing ministry and receiving God’s blessings.
Waiting for the Lord is not easy, but lest we fall victim to being people who really mean “my will be done” may God give each of us the strength to trust God’s timing and providing.

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