Since I have started at my new congregation some of the conversations I’ve had with “former” youth from my old congregation have asked me “why I left…” While I’d like to give them a really nice and neat answer like “I just felt God was calling me” or “It was just time”, most of the time a comment is said referring to me being upset about something, or feeling pushed out, or discouraged about the participation level of the youth in high school, or not interested in the youth any more… I understand these to be normal questions, and I knew all of these questions were going to be asked. The problem is, I don’t have an answer that will answer all of those questions.
So, although there is really no perfect answer to these questions, I’ll coup out and say something like, “It’s more a change in me, than anything else”, which really is true. Through out my seminary experience I did learn a lot about myself and the type of ministry I wanted to be a part of and where I thought God was pulling me to go. It was just most of the time I wasn’t ready to really enter into the thought of listening or leaving such a comfortable place. Over time though, things changed. Between conversations with my wife, co-workers, professors, etc, I began to picture something different, where my gifts and passions would thrive in helping a church move forward.
There was also the realization in my own thinking, specifically about change and how open or needed change may be for a congregation. Over the years I would sometimes get frustrated about the inability for change to take hold. Working and working toward something I thought was moving in the right direction. It was hard for me to accept when the change was not looked at favorably. Whether it was personal, professional or other, it was not easy to continue thinking about the “what if”, when you were face to face with a “why”.
At some point your desire to look for new ways to engage begin to become a burden to yourself and others, and you tend to “give up” and keep those thoughts and ideas to yourself. At least this is what I started to do. It’s not to say that my ideas would always be a perfect fit and always right, but more so that ideas would be explored and entertained. At some point, I engaged in the thinking that maybe the change or ideas I was hoping for were just not what the congregation needed, again for whatever reason (there are good reasons and not so good reasons, depending on who you are), they just were not connecting. The congregation is the congregation it is for a reason, representative of the members and context it finds itself in.
One of the most helpful things I came across during this time of discernment was a video from the Rocky Mountain Synod featuring Bishop Jim Gonia entitled “Classic Church” and “Church Becoming”. (If you have not seen this video, please watch it as my summary that follows will not do it justice.) Through some listening events Bishop Gonia attended he made some interesting observations about the “Classic Church” and the “Becoming Church”.
For me it helped frame what I was experiencing and what I was looking for in a congregation. The section on “Classic Church” focus and “Becoming Church” focus clarified the differences and frustrations for me. “Classic Church” rely on cultural Lutherans, the competitive model, scarcity, prescribed expectations (a church should have… members, council, committees, etc.), and more often than not it waits for people to come into church. “Becoming Church” focuses on a gathering of people around shared Lutheran values, a collaborative model, gifts/abundance framework, organic expectations (every church will reflect its context) and going to where people are. To me these are very different churches. In my opinion (which is all this whole post is anyway) it is and will continue to be difficult for a congregation to move from “Classic Church” to “Becoming Church”.
How is it possible to ‘recast’ our current assets for the sake of ministry and mission, for ‘now’ not ‘what was’?
In the “Becoming Church” I feel as if there is more freedom to think differently about many of the ministries I am passionate about. From Confirmation Ministry, to Worship, I am feeling a greater freedom to think about what it means to be Lutheran, and hold on to those Lutheran values, but also explore and push back. (And I will welcome the push back on my thoughts and ideas.)
At the same time, as I was interviewing I had some of these thoughts in my head and was looking for a congregation which seemed to be more in line with a “Becoming Church” and I believe the congregation I am serving is pushing those boundaries of what it means to be Lutheran. Whether it is in worship, faith formation, or youth ministry, there is a different feel and excitement of movement and change, and that gets me excited to be in ministry, to push my own thinking and challenge my own ideas.
So, there it is, my attempt to “explain” why. Throughout it all, it really was more of a change in me, a change I believe God placed in my heart to challenge me to move from the comfortable to the uncomfortable. It was not an easy change, for me personally or for my family, (that’s a whole other post) but I do believe it was a change needed, maybe for both me and the congregation I served.
(Please note: This is a somewhat honest reflection of the past couple of months, it’s not meant to offend or divide, I wrote it to better answer the questions. Thanks.)