Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Searching for Power

One thing that was always hard for me to reconcile during my time as a paid minister was the difference between the church and any other organization. Answers given to me were in the line of, "eternal rewards," or, "doing God's work." On the one hand, I understood this, but on the other I often found it hard to make a distinction. I raised funds for several years, but so has the United Way. I gave motivational messages, and so do the Toastmasters. I helped lead small groups, so has AA. A lot of the fundamental activities of the church look like any other organization. So what sets it apart? When we reach a fundraising goal, was it God that invested on our behalf, or did we just apply good technique? As a preacher, how do I know that the Spirit moved my audience rather than my delivery? Were my small groups effective because God showed up or was it just because Bill W came up with a good program? Bottom line, I yearn to know and see power, real supernatural power that leads one to conclude that there is no other explanation other than that God intervened. A buddy of mine put it this way, that he wants something greater than winning the lottery. Winning the lottery would be cool, but its still a game of chance. I want more than chance. Maybe I'm wrong, but I want the satisfaction of seeing the God of the Universe at work on my behalf This longing has led me to question just about everything and try and find the Source of Power. Even with prayer, I would say I am more confused about how it works, but find myself talking with God more than ever. Maybe because I have more time to do so. In no way have I given up. I actually like the place I find myself. God seems to have gotten bigger, more mysterious, less explanable. I'm more fascinated by simple things. Faith is more important now, because I can't see very well. We walk by faith, not by sight.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

It's a small world, after all.

As a paid minister, I think I developed a skewed view of the world. This was affirmed about a year ago when I realized that my biggest dream for my music was for it to be recognized in the church. Why didn't I hope that my music might reach beyond that realm? I guess my world was too small, and it has taken this downward path to enlarge it. When my wife and I were raising our children as infants, it didn't take long to realize that their world was very small. It encompassed three things: 1. A full tummy. 2. A dry diaper. 3. Sleep. If any one of those things were out of whack, the kid would fuss and wail. So anytime one of them would be cranky, we would check those three aspects of his or her world. Most times attention given to one or all of those components brought success. The advantage of a small world like this is that it made problem solving fairly easy. The downside meant that our kids would get easily upset if their world was not in order. The size of our world is directly correspondent to how well we respond to adversity. We just paid our mechanic over $1000 for maintenance on our van. Routine, basic stuff like tires, brakes and 02 sensors add up quickly. I am so tempted to get upset by this expense as it comes at a tight financial season for us. But what pulls me out of it is to acknowledge the bigger world we live in. Bills to be paid are nothing compared to broader concerns of loving others well and pursuing peacefulness and beauty. Bills still have to be taken care of, but they don't need to be the center of my world. Neither does my place in the church have to be my central focus, because what happens when I can't find a place in it, or at least in the church as we know it?

Monday, July 17, 2006

On Popularity and Posing

The transition from being a paid minister to a non-paid one has brought a lot of questions about what I used to be. Anytime money is involved in an equation, motives get blurry. Add recognition or popularity to the mix, it gets even more cloudy. My niche was music, worship music to be exact. Around 1991, I started writing songs that I would use in my worship leadership. The response inititally was pretty good. The feedback I got seemed to indicate that the style in which I wrote connected with people. This led to about a 10yr run of writing, leading and recording original songs. It was a lot of fun, a definite highlight. Something happened slowly, and I am still not entirely sure what it was, but my music was not receivied in the same way. The one thing I could point to was that the music I was writing was going in a different direction than what was popular, and the popular songs were what people preferred to sing. Honestly, this was a bit threatening, and it led me to ask the question, "Why?" As I said above, popularity can be like a fly in the ointment. I was losing my place and wasn't sure what to do. I started questioning my effectiveness, even my faith and favor with God. I guess I had bought into the idea that popularity and God's blessing go hand in hand. It never dawned on me that my music could be sung in every church and it not be an indication of anything of God. It could have meant I just got lucky. It's been over 2 years since I last led any kind of worship gathering. I'm not sure if I could ever do it again. I think I would feel too conflicted within. Now that I am out of that scene, I'm too overwhelmed with motive. In my obscurity, there is something safer. I don't have to worry about being a poser.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

I used to be a minister

I used to be a minister. Well, let me change that. I used to get paid to do the job of a minister. It was my job to study the bible, to teach it, to counsel people, to preach, to lead worship. All the basic activities you would associate with church work, I did. And I got my salary from that function. That's what I mean by, "used to be a minister." Being a minister has its advantages. I miss some of those. I miss the ebb and flow of the seasonal aspect of the work. I miss the times of reflection and study. The comeraderie among co-workers is not there. These are true losses. One thing I don't miss now is the reaction I got from people when they asked my what I did for a living. If you want to shut down a conversation, tell someone you're a minister. 9 times out of 10 it got silent really quick after the announcement. Now I can just say I drive a truck. At least the conversation doesn't close. What is more fun is to tell people I used to be a minister. That seems safer for some reason. I get responses like: "How come you're not anymore?" "Why did you quit?" "Did you lose your faith?" Saying "I used to be a minister" leads to more interesting conversation. I should have tried that years ago. It could have been my little secret when I would get on a plane. Evangelical pastors (except me) seem to thrive on airplanes because all their best stories are about people they witnessed to on the plane. If I had a dollar for every speaker who started their talk with, "On the plane here, I was talking with the person next to me, and.....blah, blah, blah." I really thought that that if I flew more, maybe I would help me tell better stories. Had I known years ago that people seem to be a little more open and honest with an "ex-minister...." Oh, well. Live and learn.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Quote of the Week

As a teenager, I learned this when I saw an item on television about a London Pub in which the walls were lined with friezes showing merry monks. The pub was scheduled to be demolished to make way for road widening. In the TV programme, a slightly crazy-looking english poet was arguing that the pub was a temple to the pleasures of drinking and should be saved. It was. The poet's name was Betjeman. I thought at the time we needed more Betjemen. We don't call them that; we know them as conservationists. A pity. I prefer Betjemen. Until now, there has been no name for people who go a stage beyond conservation, and somehow bring back pleasures that have been lost. from Radial Brewing, by Randy Mosher, forward by Michael Jackson