So, you’re feeling bored and maybe a little burned out in a congregation where the people are nice enough (except for the 1 or 2 that inevitably are trouble). It’s not that it’s a bad or particularly conflicted congregation. It’s just not going anywhere and seems content enough to just keep on with things as they are.
You do what’s expected of you. You visit the hospital when you get the call. You lead all the expected services. You attend the obligatory meetings. You give the invocations at the community’s Rotary meetings and bull-roasts.
You pour the coffee, as you are expected to do, at the bi-monthly chicken and biscuit dinner. And as you are pouring coffee you’re thinking, “Why did they make me take systematic theology for this? Why did I have to take a test on Jürgen Moltmann’s Theology of Hope and read Karl Barth’s interminable Church Dogmatics to pour coffee at a chicken dinners?”
You begin to wonder if maybe things would be better in a different congregation where people were motivated to “get out of their comfort zones” – or whatever mover-and-shaker churches do. You wonder how long until you can finally get that primo call or assignment.
Maybe, just maybe, there is a primo call/assignment out there somewhere. Some churches pay more. Others have nicer parsonages. Some have both. Some may have habits that come closer to your own inclinations. That might make it easier. But no matter where you go, people are still people. And wherever you go, there you are. Those two facts will never change.
Statistically, the “primo” calls and assignments are rare. When they do occur, calls come with a lot of competition. Assignments are handed out, in spite of all the crap they tell you about Bishops’ discerning – because Bishops tend, like most people, to discern God’s will to be what they already think – on the basis of who their favorites are.
So maybe someday you’ll get that primo call. But while you wait for that slim chance of its someday coming, you are where you are. The congregation you have now is what you have to work with.
So here’s my one question:
If you had that primo call or assignment you’re dreaming of, where you could do the thing you felt called to do and where you felt personally invested in that ministry, where you woke up every morning ready to go because doing your thing was exciting and brought you joy – what would that look like?
In other words, if you could do what you really wanted to, what were called to do, what would that be?
Think about it. Picture it. Picture what you would be doing this afternoon or tomorrow morning if you were in that situation. Have you got that picture in your mind’s eye? It’s a specific thing that you’d be doing. It’s not abstract, not “I’d be a spiritual leader” or “I’d be a great preacher drawing large crowds” or “I’d be a sought-out person for those in need of x, y or z.” It’s a specific thing that you’d be doing. A nuts and bolts kind of thing. “This afternoon I’d be in a 1-on–1 conversation with someone.” “Tomorrow morning, I’d be facilitating a something-or-other.” “I’d be getting together with a couple people to plan some particular activity.”
Once you have that picture, that idea what it is specifically that you’d be doing, then you know what you need to do in the place where you are right now.
Obviously, at the moment, that thing isn’t on the calendar yet. That someone you’re meeting doesn’t have you on their calendar either. That’s ok. Maybe it isn’t going to happen this afternoon. But the point is, it’s up to you to start putting the pieces together so that some afternoon in the not-too-distant future, it is going to happen.
In all the fuss about Advent, all the talk of expectant waiting, what often gets lost is that waiting is not a passive activity. If you wait for that perfect storm of events to happen to you, you’ll reach the end of your time and discover that you missed it. If Jesus had waited for perfect conditions, the Gospel would have been one of the most boring stories ever told.
Advent is much more about participating in the creation of the right moment than it is about holding out for someone else to change our conditions. So, you won’t be doing what you envisioned this very afternoon. But you can start actively preparing for it. Call someone. Start planning something. Start small. Take it in small steps. Jesus was fond of talking about how great things start small: a mustard seed, a pinch of yeast, a couple pennies, a child, a small rain cloud on a distant horizon.
Those congregations you see doing the things you’d rather be doing didn’t get started in that direction all in a day. They were once hum-drum places, too. Until somebody got tired of waiting and took the first small steps. But that is there in that place with those people.
In your place, with your people, you are the Pastor. You have a platform, ho-hum as it may be, a place to start. Let’s assume that you are already in that primo call or appointment. Now, what will that look like?
Photo by Andrew Seaman.