Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Finding a place on the road to calling between sentimentality and utilitarianism

As an interim pastor, my job is to manage expectations. I find congregations either dripping with sentimentality about their past, a congregation entangled in their own details, or at least an interesting combination of the two. My present interim congregation, First Lutheran Community Church in Port Orchard, Washington, is voting to call their next pastor this Sunday, February 13. Dating and engagement images (hello, Valentine's Day) are inevitable. So much excitement! So much curiosity! So much imagination!

I wonder what treasures of God's word can be uncovered to lead the congregation through the end of their valley of the shadow of death to the glorious epiphany that will be their call--a chorus of angels with a prelude aria leading to a crescendo where the entirety of heavenly hosts joins the angel chorus and loudly proclaims, "This pastor! This pastor! This pastor!"

Take a vomit break, if you choose.

There's a God-element to a calling, as there is a human element. These elements are intertwined in a chromosome-like double helix. If all callings were perfect, congregations would not falter. A calling is an agreement to a ministry and leadership relationship. A means to which we hold ourselves accountable to the work that God gives us. A commitment to help each other grow as children of God. Pastors and congregations are not saviors to one another. Sometimes a calling leads to conditions that are harder, not easier.

Take Numbers 11 for example (my sermon text for Sunday). Moses complains to God, because he feels the isolation of ministry and leadership. God provides a calling to elders, and ministry conditions not only not improve, they deteriorate. That doesn't mean that ministry partnerships and shared leadership are failures, but it does cause us to check our expectations and drive us toward seeking God in the midst of our challenges, and be formed by the wisdom of God rather than cling to our unreasonable demands, selfish preferences, and skewed expectations. Numbers 11 is a text about the importance of calling and the provision of God, but it is also a check on our expectations and a reminder about our dependence on God, and not the call itself. In Numbers 11, the sentimental notion of call is out the window, and even the utilitarian one. The call is linked to God, and it doesn't mean ministry will get easier. But it does give us something with which to work, and God is present.

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