Last night I received the results of my yearly review, something I started when I arrived here for accountability reasons and so that people could help shape the pastoral ministry in this place.
Each year the whole congregation, all ages makes and models, are invited to review my work and the results of my work here in the field. The data is gathered by a team of individuals who process it and remove the names of the writers from their words. Then they meet with me to review any themes or general streams of thought evident in the submissions.
I've always believed that God is well able to work through and speak through the average individual church attender just as much and more even then the guy or gal at the front of the room. So these opportunities are also chances to hear Gods voice. If its time to shift direction in the ministry or if it's time for me to move on, I should be able to hear those kinds of things as God speaks through his people.
But last night it was also to hear how God has been at work in me as the congregation observes who I am and what I am becoming. It's very humbling to hear words of blessing, and to remember prayers I prayed many times in my youthful pastor days, and to see them being answered years later.
"A good preacher" they say, "Who has built good trust and speaks so that everyone can understand. His humour is well appreciated and he makes the spiritual things real. He's welcoming and accessible and uses the bible a lot which is what we need."
Another theme that arose was his Prayer life or inner life of the spirit.
"Prayer. He's led us in praying boldly for healing. His inner life is reflected in his work in spiritual direction and counselling. He is a great spiritual advisor and he's honest with us and with himself and his own struggles. He is trustworthy and honest and he really cares about us. He works well with people of all ages and he's a good communicator."
Then a final theme arises. His relationships.
"He seems to be accessible to all age groups and hasn't just cared for one or two groups of people. No one group dominated his time but he has been equal and fair with all. His consistency and honesty in his relationships is valued. He seems to be the same whether in church leading worship or while drinking coffee or writing on his blog."
The growth areas are observed to be that I still try to do too much, and that they seem to be ready for more of me. They desire more depth in personal relationships and are always open to more and more visits. These concerns or desires are always present, most every year. But they are good desires and indicate health. There is much work to be done here, much room to grow and serve and love people more.
Some of these observations I hear and see as direct answers to very pointed prayers to God about my service here. And some of them make me smile because I remember when I was 24 and would walk for hours and pray asking God to make me this person who I seem to be becoming.
I confess this year has been a hard one in terms of work. It has been lonely and isolated and it kind of feels like you are just the local man of God. Though many are friendly you are good friends with none and when the phone rings or the email comes in, it's about someone with an illness or a need or a concern or a question, rather than a friend calling a friend.
I'm not saying that to whine about how nobody loves me because that isn't true. It's just a statement of fact. Though some will eventually become better friends than others, the field people here don't need another friend, they need a pastor. That comes with the territory, a part of the gig. But it's a lonely part. And being the spouse of the pastor, well don't even get me started on how weird that can be.
A while ago I was trying to help out a number of overwhelmed families who were not looking forward to this Christmas and it's official, church related events. It was more about expectation and demands on them as families and in my effort to help make their lives and their christmas more enjoyable, and also to create church activities designed to reach into the community where we live, I offered them an alternative if they wished. Well, some others were caught by the surprise of this offer, and have communicated their surprise.
It's kind of a classic example of how when trying to serve the best needs of the community, you can end up with others offended by those very same efforts. What seems a grace to some, ends up being a chore to others. The real test of a healthy community is what you do with that tension, because there are always going to be those tensions. Be it the temperature of the sanctuary on Sunday morning, or the songs we sing, or where we give our money, or the colour of the new carpet, and on and on it can go. On our good days as pastors we get to see the people grow in life and faith and learn to live well among personal tensions. On our worse days we get bogged down there in amongst the tensions, with the people.
But still we are with the people. We are with the ones we please and with the ones we piss off. That, really, is our work and our place of work. It's in that space where normal procedure and sensibilities can be suspended because it's the place of brokenness or loss or pain. It's in those gritty moments that the greatest help can be offered because the smallest grace can create the biggest hope in a life, and trust can be there, even though its a hard place to be. As pastors you go into those dark places with people to be present with them, to pray for them, and if they are willing, to guide them back to the surface where life awaits them.
At least that's what being a pastor is to me.
While on some days I wonder what God was thinking when he invited me to this way of life, and on some days I'm lonely and whine and complain, and on some days I feel tired and I don't want to go with people where they are, most every day I am, in some deep part of me, grateful that He invited me to serve him in this way.