Thursday, December 4, 2014

Can We Ever Do Too Much For God?

Can we really ever do too much? During the last three-and-a-half years that I have been pursuing pulpit ministry while still employed in my primary vocation I have struggled with time-management issues as a part-time local pastor. This situation is further aggravated by my long commutes - almost 1000 miles a week during spring and fall semesters. I managed to maintain both vocations until my primary job required me to begin working an extra day a week. This could not have happened at a worse time as I was in the middle of the fall semester, was preparing for charge conference, and was committed to work on a Men's Walk to Emmaus.

Ironically, I was enrolled in the Pastoral Care and Spiritual Formation class that semester which had a component for self-care of the pastor. The more I delved into the assigned reading the more I became convinced that I was completely upside-down in my time available for self-care and something in my life had to give. I left work and my churches behind on the weekend of the Walk with the specific intent of discerning God's will for my situation in those three days. This proved to be a flawed plan…

As with every other aspect of my life, that weekend really wasn't about me - it was about putting my best foot forward in service to others as a disciple of Christ. But during breaks I was a solitary figure on the prayer trail outside the conference room seeking the Lord's guidance for my issue. I was also trying to maintain the schedule of assigned reading for my class. The conventional wisdom I found in what I read proved to negate any effort to discern God's will for my life and only served to heighten the anxiety about my situation. I left the retreat center that weekend committed to leave pulpit ministry in order afford some time to myself since I couldn't afford to quit my secular job.

I met with my district superintendent two weeks later and asked to be discontinued as a pastor. She expressed remorse over my request and shared her call story. Then she asked to hear mine and afterward suggested that I reconsider my request and engage in prayer and fasting to truly discern God's will for my life. I took her advice and now, six weeks later, find myself still burning the candle at both ends while trying to cover all the bases with lots of miles in between. But I have a sense peace amid the chaos of what my life might look like to others (and oftentimes to myself!) and have found joy in the knowledge that God has something better in store for me if I can just wait for His timing.

Can we really ever do too much? No; we can never out-give God with our time or our gifts. However, if that which consumes us is borne of a worldly, human agenda we are most certainly destined for burnout. All the conventional wisdom expounded in my required reading this semester applies to this scenario. But if we ascribe to the Divine agenda, apart from this world, we have no need to be concerned or wrought about any aspect of our life - God's got this (Matthew 6:24-34). Indeed, is there anything He doesn't have absolute power over?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Can We Ever Do Enough

A colleague posted a thought-provoking article on our clergy Facebook page today which begs the question "Is the church doing enough to promote equal-rights?" The article posted chronicles the self-induced death of Rev. Charles Moore last month in a final effort to draw attention to the church's failure to effectively address basic social-justice issues such as equality.

Rather than speculate on the particulars found in the article I'll simply forward the link so that the reader might have the opportunity to draw their own conclusions:

Suffice to say that Rev. Moore spent the majority of his life championing the rights of others who found themselves marginalized by their own culture. Obviously, this is highly commendable as it is also the work our Savior has called each of His followers to. So, how good of a job are we doing in this regard as an institutional church? Rev. Moore felt that we are not doing enough and his final act in this life was to draw attention to it.

Like Rev. Moore, I too have experienced nagging pangs of conscience over the separation of God's people based on race. The words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "Eleven o'clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America" have haunted me as I have led worship for my all-white congregations over the years. But there are new winds of change blowing in our community…

In a previous post last year (July 23, 2013) entitled "A Spiritual Pilgrimage" I described what happened as I led my two congregations to share funds and human resources to operate a summer day camp for at-risk children. The site of the camp is the campus of a declining African-American Baptist church with diminishing resources in our community. In contrast, my two congregations are relatively affluent and modestly growing but have no meaningful outreach ministry. I saw this opportunity as the perfect marriage for a common good but knew that we would first have to bridge long-standing racial barriers that continue to exist in 21st-century East Texas. I shouldn't have been concerned as our Lord Himself would provide the means…

At our Good Friday service the pastor of the Baptist church unexpectantly appeared after the service began. I had invited the members of his church to attend but since he is bi-vocational and does not live in the community we did not expect him at the service. Right or wrong, I saw his appearance as a sign and asked him to serve communion with our lay steward. To my knowledge, this was the first time that a person of color had administered sacraments in that church.

Two weeks later, we hosted our community's National Day of Prayer event at the same church. The guest speaker delivering the message was the pastor of a Missionary Baptist church in the nearby countryside. Again, to my knowledge this was the first time a person of color had ever preached from the pulpit of that church. In both cases, no fallout resulted from these precedents but instead barriers evaporated and bridges were formed. There is much, much more I could elaborate on the growing unity we are experiencing in our community as result of the events I have shared, but that's not really what this post is about.

I am not about to speculate that attempts to replicate what occurred in our community would meet with the same success in another. Nor did I mention the hard-hitting sermon series I used to "soften up the beachhead" before initiating the actions listed above. But in response to the question, "Are we doing enough?" my answer will always be "No, we can never do enough." So, we must always strive to do all the good we can, when we can, to all those we can. You can't get much more Wesleyan than that.

I'm sorry that Rev. Moore could not find solace through Wesley's famous axiom for his own life. It is obvious that he spent his life seeking to provide a level playing-field for all God's children. We should not beat ourselves up because we can never do enough but instead seek the presence of the only One who can. In Him alone we will find solace for our souls and equality for all. Amen.