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Friday, January 17, 2014

Potential transitions

Most of you who read this blog know by now that I've been recommended for call to be senior pastor of Calvary Lutheran Church in Golden Valley, MN.  Calvary is a strong church with a long history of biblical teaching, dynamic mission and regional influence.  There are lots of parallels between Calvary and Central.  Both have deep Lutheran roots; both went through the difficult process of leaving the ELCA a few years ago.  (Calvary has remained an independent congregation, while Central affiliated with Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ.)  Calvary will vote on January 26th whether to extend that call to me.  You can learn more about Calvary and their process here.

This opportunity is tremendously exciting and deeply humbling for me.  I heard after the fact that my name had been submitted to Calvary's call committee.  I just laughed.  Why on earth, I wondered, would Calvary take me seriously?  In the months since that day I have often returned to a couple verses that seem entirely too appropriate.  First, from Amos, where the prophet talks about his call and says, "I was among the shepherds of Tekoa ..."  Later in the book of Amos, he replies to his challengers by saying, "I was no prophet, nor a prophet's son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs ..." (Amos 7:14).  The other verse that has brought me back time and again is from 2 Samuel 7 where the Lord tells David, "I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel" (2 Samuel 7:8).  In the margin next to this verse I wrote the date in December when I heard that the call committee at Calvary would recommend me to the congregation to be their next senior pastor.

It's not that I am minimizing my gifts or what God has done through me.  That's false humility, and it's a lie that Satan tells us in order to keep us from wholehearted commitment to Jesus.  Like David, though, I know my limitations and my weaknesses.  Part of that comes from growing up in a family and in a community where we often exercised the ministry of humility on each other's behalf -- that is to say, we kept one another from growing overconfident.  Sometimes that is a brutal process, especially between siblings.  As I have read and reread the stories of David over the last few years, I've noticed how David surrounded himself with skilled people who could cover areas where he was weak.  David excelled at pulling in strong leaders, people who could implement plans, administrators and managers.  He was a warrior, a poet, and a visionary, and he needed practical people around him who could put his plans firmly on the ground.

These Old Testament verses are a good reminder to me of what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4 -- "But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that this surpassing power belongs to God and not to us."    I've known too many Christian leaders who are consumed with a sense of their own importance and their own ambition.  It's critical to remember that the church and its mission belong to Jesus, not to us.  We serve according to his agenda and at his pleasure.

In practical terms, if Calvary votes on January 26th to call me, as seems likely, what will this mean?  It will mean the end of more than ten years of serving at Central, of course.  That is a heartbreak for me.  I was certainly not looking for ways to leave Central -- quite the contrary.  God has blessed us the last ten years in powerful ways, and I continue to be so excited about the work the Spirit is doing at Central, especially in pastorates but also in many other areas.  So we are not eager to leave Central but sense God's call to this new adventure, and we are confident if this is God's good plan for us, it is also part of God's good plan for Central.  So if the call comes, we will be moving into the western metro to be close to Calvary.  For the moment we are living with one foot in two worlds -- excited about the things God is doing at Calvary, amazed to meet some of the people in that congregation, and eager for opportunities there.  At the same time, we look around the friendships and partnerships we have been given at Central and feel keenly the grief of leaving all of this.  So we are a little bit, like Sam at the end of the Lord of the Rings, torn in two.

In all of this we trust ourselves to God.  He has made so clear in this process that he is in charge, that this is his process to control.  It feels a little like what it must have felt for Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 12 when God called them to go from their people, from their familiar surroundings, to go to a new land that he would show them.  So in the meantime, one foot in two places, we trust, we pray, we anticipate, we wait.

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