Transforming Pastoral Ministry: When Resistance Isn’t Rejection

In Christian Leadership, Church Leadership, Church Planting, Contemplation, Formation, Pastoral Ministry, Purpose and Meaning, Spiritual Formation, Transforming Pastoral Leadership by BizgaineyLeave a Comment

One of my favorite holiday movies, that I often watch right smack in the middle of the Christmas season, is The Family Man.

I’m a big fan of the cast, which includes Nicholas Cage, Tea Leoni, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Piven, and Saul Rubinek.

But more than the cast, it’s the storyline that gets me.

Every.

Single.

Time.

A Glimpse of What’s Possible

Here is the gist: single, billionaire playboy (Cage) falls asleep one lonely Christmas Eve night in his upscale NYC apartment.  The next morning (Christmas Day) he wakes up in the Jersey suburbs.  Happily married to Tea (who wouldn’t be) with two incredible kids.

There is only one problem; this isn’t his life.  It’s the life he said no to a decade earlier in pursuit of the American dream.

Now he is getting a “glimpse” of the life that slipped away!

Early on in the “this isn’t my life” portion of the movie, Cage’s best friend, played by Piven, tries to prevent Cage from committing adultery.

He does so by conveying a simple but powerful truth Cage had told him years before:

“Don’t screw up the best thing in your life just because you’re a little unsure about who you are.”

I love that line and the truth it contains.

Unsure of Who You Are Leads to Unhealthy Behavior

I’ve learned, through my twenty-plus years in ministry, that the most severe mistakes I’ve made can be traced back to an inherent uncertainty about who I was in that moment.

Indeed, calling, if it is anything, is about knowing who we are and why we are here.  When we get those two in order, the rest can – though not always – fall right into place.

When we don’t have a gut-level and experiential knowledge of who we are and why we are here, we can cause tons of pain and engage in a host of mistakes.

This who I am and why I am here perspective is all about identity and personhood, which I wrote about last week.

This week, I am going to explore a few specifics related to identity and personhood.

Child of God

I offer them for your ‘contemplative’ practice in the hopes that we can reclaim some of the lost territories when it comes to pastoral calling in the modern context!

We are children who are deeply loved by the Heavenly Father.  Central to our mission is our willingness to reflect on, contemplate, and be assured of this reality.

When we become unsure about this, we then get defensive and argumentative about everything else! But, when the central reality of our identity is bound up in the relationship we have with the Father, through the Son, we can rest much more easily in seasons of conflict, strife, and pain related to direction and leadership within our congregations.

I remember one situation years ago when I wasn’t so sure about my calling as God’s child.  At least not in the sense that it is the primary and most vital calling of my life!

I was confident of a particular direction in which I felt the church needed to move toward regarding how we ministered to our children and families.  After a strong pitch to my elder team regarding this direction, I was shocked by a negative response.

Resistance to a Plan Isn’t Rejection of Personhood

We spent an hour or more in an energetic discussion.  In the end, the elders didn’t see things my way.

As the elder chair at the time went to move on to the next agenda item, I stopped him and made one final comment.  In an argumentative tone, I made certain that every elder knew that we weren’t done with this conversation and that the direction I proposed would be the precise direction we would go in as a church.

Within a month, we went with my sense of direction.

I felt like I had overcome a significant hurdle to my leadership that month.

The truth is, I turned a mole-hill into a mountain because I confused their resistance to my plan as their rejection of me as a person.

This is the type of thing that happens when we aren’t sure about our calling as children of God and when we are convinced that this is the primary calling upon our life.

Planting with a New Perspective and Practice

Over the years, I’ve become more aware of this calling and – as such – I am far more likely to work with rather than against those with whom I am in disagreement.

Why? Because I seldom experience a challenge to my sense of direction or vision as an implicit rejection of my identity and personhood.

I’ve come a long way.

When Melissa and I moved to Vero to plant Pillar, we did so with only a sense of the magnetic north.  We did not, however, establish a specific vision and then marshal the troops (congregation) to help us achieve that vision.

We took an equally opposite approach.  I gathered three other folks around me, and we spent a year in prayer, dialogue, and group discernment.  We sought to listen to the Lord and get a sense of His desire and vision for Pillar.

The season was long and, at times, grueling.  I look back on it now as a season of God’s gracious and abundant gift-giving.

The Gift of Himself and His Presence in Our Midst

He gave us the gift of Himself in profound and life-changing ways.

Not everyone was happy about the length of time it took for us to discover God’s vision.  We had a few criticize the approach and even ridicule it.

Some left.

And, when we introduced it, we were less than overwhelmed by the response.

Through it all, my identity and personhood – my primary calling as God’s beloved – held me fast.

Yes, I got frustrated but I never insulted my brothers and sisters nor did I ever harbor ill-will.

Today, nearly nine years later, I rest in the discovery process we began with!

To rest in the discovery process is to allow people to criticize, ridicule, and misrepresent what we are doing without taking offense.  More so, it’s to make room for people to join us and still be reluctant to participate in the intricacies of soul-care and spiritual formation.

It’s hard work because it’s core-identity shaking work.

A Well-Loved Soul is a Soul that Loves Well

I cannot be about this work if I don’t experience my life – at its purest essence – as one that is deeply, wonderfully, and generously loved by a good and gracious heavenly Father!

That’s why I’d suggest that every pastor get away from it all on a regular basis, at least quarterly, to spend in-depth time contemplating his or her sense of calling and the convictions surrounding calling.

Doing so will free our soul to be companions on a journey toward Christ and His ways in our world rather than combatants in an attempt to build the church and increase its influence in our community.

Disrupting to Renew!

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