This evening I made the mistake of reading one of my pregnancy books. It made me miss Betsy terribly. I spoke with her after church via Skype, but I still am faced with feelings so intense that I can't sleep. So I'm blogging instead.
Yesterday and today I spent some hours reading Zac Sunderland's blog. You may recall he is the young man attempting to set a record for the youngest sailor ever to circumnavigate the globe singlehanded. He is days away from achieving this feat after more than a year at sea. Reading about his challenges and hardships reminds me of what it feels like to be the Pastor of Messiah. I don't want to get too dramatic about it--it's not like I'm in much physical danger (unlike Zac)--yet nonetheless I can identify with his feelings of alternating loneliness, exhileration, anxiety, and even exhaustion. Good thing my summer break is only a week away!
This morning I felt this particularly strongly as I preached about Stewardship. Frankly, if we don't improve the giving in the parish in the next six months, we are going to have to make some painful cuts. So as part of a larger carefully-developed stewardship campaign I kicked things off with a sermon about the theology of stewardship. Normally, my sermons last about twelve minutes. This was ran for almost twenty! Yikes! Apparently I had a lot to say on the subject, probably because it's the first time I've ever preached about stewardship directly.
The most difficult part of the sermon was when I started talking about the need to raise up a third Warden from the congregation. Wardens are parishioners who represent the interests of the entire parish and have canonical authority when it comes to things like hiring and firing and money. It's a very important job. COTM should have three Wardens (though I'd be ecstatic with four). Right now we have only two.
Back in early part of the year I decided not to force the issue but to let the Holy Spirit raise up the leadership we needed in due time. Naturally, I made announcements about it and spoke to some people I thought were possibly called and asked people to pray about it, etc., etc. No joy. As a result, the workload on the two existing Wardens and myself keeps us feeling, sometimes, like the waters are risen up to our necks. There are a lot of things, especially strategic, long-term things, that aren't happening because we don't have the leadership resources to tackle them.
Now, one of the absolute most important skills to learn as a Pastor is how to manage your own anxiety. If you can't keep your anxiety in check, you are doomed! I've been mostly successful at not freaking about not having another Warden step-up, but something came loose when I was preaching today and I got a little intense about needing another Warden. I think I may have even pleaded, which is not something you are ever supposed to do from the pulpit.
I felt better after preaching it, though. I think it was cathartic. But it remains to be seen what impact it will have. As in sailing, progress in ministry is almost always oblique. We tack this way and that way praying for wind. We don't really expect this sermon will impact anyone's giving, the point is to begin to establish the framework of change. Will we make up the budget shortfall by January? Will we get a third Warden? Will some of these ministries I've started grow bigger? Shrug: God knows.
At one point, when Zac was bruised and exhausted by days of consecutive storms and equipment failures and equator-heat, his mother remarked to him (on their regular satellite phone check-in) something along he lines of, "This will be the hardest job you'll ever do." His remark says it all: "No, not really. It's still pretty cool out here." (source)
It's telling to see how Jesus reacted to hard-going in his ministry. In today's Gospel reading we heard about Jesus being rejected in his hometown. No doubt he expected a better homecoming. "6:5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief." Did he feel anxious? Upset? Worried? All the Gospel writer gives us is "amazed."
Perhaps as he boarded the dirty, storm tossed fishing boat to leave that place he would have been as exhausted and unbowed as our friend Zac. "This is the hardest thing you'll ever do, Jesus..." He might have replied, "No, not really. It's still pretty cool out here."
Jesus withdraws and regroups. He establishes a new mission strategy--he sends the disciples out "two by two" with few provisions. Take only what you need--a staff and sandals and one tunic. Don't over-prepare. Don't over-think it. Just get out there and take it as it comes, but ready with an answer if they reject you...
Good advice. And as I get ready for vacation I feel another tack coming on...