When I was in Seminary, one of my professors used an expression I still find amusing to think about. He was the convener of our Student Pastor Track weekly conversations and the express purpose of our conversations was to share experiences and ideas, and offer support as we felt our way through Seminary and serving our first church.
Whenever it became clear that one of us would need to have a difficult and potentially painful conversation with a member of the church, our professor would call it "a prayer meeting." Others in our group would refer to this as a "come to Jesus meeting." Our convener also gave us a great barometer for whether to actually have such a conversation or let it go. He advised us that if were looking forward to having this conversation, we probably should not be having it. But if we were dreading the conversation, it probably needed to happen. I have to say, I have had very few of these types of conversations with church folks, and probably need to have had more... but confrontation is not something I seek out.
I have found, though, that God seems to have these conversations with me on occasion. And the terms "prayer meeting" and "come to Jesus meeting" feel entirely appropriate. I remember the first time I felt scolded by God. It was during my first serving Town Point and Trinity. I have always had a nagging question as to whether I should more fully live out my passion for mission and social justice by committing to full time ministry in these areas, rather than be a generalist as a pastor. I was driving to Town Point one morning, asking God if I should be leaving the pulpit and seeking other expressions of ministry. What I heard spoken to my heart was "you'll be a pastor until I tell you stop, and not before." I have not had quite a sense before or since.
More often, I have a moment of insight or clarity from God. This came this morning. I found myself feeling overwhelmed by the stewardship campaign. I was disheartened and overwhelmed that I/we are so behind in preparations for mailings, sermons, presentations, etc. Then I became discouraged by feeling overwhelmed...AGAIN. I am tired of feeling perpetually overwhelmed. "I just got finished feeling overwhelmed by Blended Ministry Parish preparations and voting" was my lament. When overwhelmed, my thoughts always turn to "there must be an easier way for me to earn a living." These were the same thoughts I was having on Sunday morning as I struggled to preach; it is always more difficult after being away for a week.
Thankfully, Lori Goldsmith, who has been serving in the office for the month of October with grace and distinction, came in prayed with me. I felt a lightening of my spirit. As I drove to covenant group, I came to what I hope is a turning point. I realized that being a pastor is it- this is the life I am called to, this is the life I have been equipped for, and this is the life I expect I will be living for the next 30 years. And I just cannot bear the thought of being perpetually overwhelmed for the next 30 years. So either I trust that God is in the midst of all of this, and that giving my best is all that God asks, or I don't. And if I really trust it, than feeling overwhelmed doesn't do any good or make any sense.
So I am giving it up- no more overwhelm. Just steady effort, giving God my best, and trusting the results in God's time. Hopefully, plenty more "come to Jesus" moments will keep me on track. It's a hard thing, this staying on track stuff....thank God for grace...otherwise it would simply be impossible!