On Sunday, I celebrated my tenth anniversary as pastor of Wilson's Mills Christian Church. The actual anniversary date is May 22, but given that May 22 also kicks off a holiday weekend, we celebrated last Sunday!
I was not prepared to make a speech at our luncheon, but nevertheless, I was called upon to make a few remarks.
This is what I wish I had said.
When I accepted the call to Wilson's Mills Christian Church, I most wanted to be a good preacher. I had visions of grandeur! Delivering sermons to a packed sanctuary! Starting an immediate capital campaign to finance the building of a LARGER sanctuary! Purchasing additional chairs to accommodate all the students attending Bible studies! Writing books and being featured on Oprah! Writing a blog that would have worldwide impact! Publishing articles in Christian Century! I wanted to be a leader - a fresh, young voice in Christianity.
Well,..when I recently purchased reading glasses, I realized my dream of being a fresh YOUNG voice was gone! But, I am also realizing that my dreams of grandeur were nothing more than buy-in to the definition of success with which the world tries to seduce me. Go big! Bigger congregation! Bigger classes! Bigger influence! Bigger budget!
But, that's not what I want at all. I don't want my ministry to be defined by numbers. I don't want to be motivated by numbers. I don't want my passion for ministry to be driven by a desire to have more members than the church down the street. In other words, I don't want what I'm used to wanting - the A+ and the bonus points for excellence.
The truth is that I do love to preach. I love putting words together and bringing a biblical story to life in 2015. The truth is I like to teach spiritual formation. I love experiencing different approaches to prayer on retreats and in groups. I do like being a preacher and teacher. But, striving for perfection in those areas is dangerous territory for me because it tempts me to assess how well my ministry reflects me instead of how well it reflects (albeit imperfectly) God.
The truth is that the part of ministry that most fulfills me is the part that can't be measured and quantified. Fulfillment comes in those moments that most scare me - those moments that the congregation has entrusted to me in their vulnerability...at the time birth when new life is welcomed into the world. At the time of marriage when lifelong vows are made in front of God. At the time of death when words may fail but the Holy Spirit does not. Those are the moments when I pray the deepest, "Thank you, God." Of course, the "thank you" only comes after a desperate "Help me!"
All of that to say that my ideas of ministry have changed so much in the last ten years. Today, I am grateful to be in this church that we affectionately refer to as "small but mighty." I am grateful to serve in a congregation that knows me well enough to appreciate my affinity for pandas. I am grateful to be not a fresh young voice in the world of Christianity but a welcoming voice in our neighborhood. I am grateful for the opportunity to pursue faithfulness instead of chasing after high marks. I am grateful for another day to live this unique life God has given to me.
Here's to the next decade....whatever it may bring.