coaching, Discernment, Ministry

When it’s time to make a move

As coach, colleague, and friend, I’ve been in many conversations about when and whether to seek the next job, the next call, or the next appointment. While most of my experience around this has been with other pastors, anyone can find themselves wondering if it’s time to make a move.

How do you know when it’s time to make a move?

For me one of those moments felt like restlessness, with a metaphor that paralleled my personal life. I had served in a very hands-on role as pastor of a 100-member church. It’s possible my excitement about finally being out of seminary and serving in a local congregation exacerbated my natural tendency to do things for others whether they needed me to or not. In the years I served there, my children grew older and became more independent. When I listened to my internal monologue carefully and heard myself saying, “I’m tired of tying other peoples’ shoes for them,” I knew it was time. After a conversation with my denominational leader, I moved to an intentional interim ministry position with a congregation that expected me to facilitate leadership rather than performing all the tasks of ministry myself.

What can you learn from your inner monologue?

Sometimes the feeling is not restlessness, but rather inertia. We may have a sense there’s nothing more we can do in a particular place, or see in ourselves that we’re no longer inspired as we once were. I think a lot of pastors are feeling that way as we shift from phase 37 of the pandemic to whatever phase is coming next, contending with the latest iteration of congregational and community anxiety and complaints. I would suggest this is a time when all clergy should be examining whether they still feel called to the place where they serve now. It’s a question we cannot answer by looking back to the church we served two years ago; instead we have to look at what the needs are now and what they may be in the year that is to come. We may have the skills to serve in this place, under these circumstances, but do we have the desire to use them? If not, it might be time to consider what’s next.

How would you gauge your energy for the work you are doing?

I want to acknowledge that making a move is complicated for some of us by our circumstances or our identities. Our possibilities may be limited by family commitments and geography. For women, People of Color, and LGBTQIA+ people, there may be limitations due to the theological, social, or political stances of congregations or denominations. That may mean our discernment is less about how to move and more about how to stay put while still acknowledging the truth of our yearning to lead and minister in a different space.

Both kinds of discernment can mean saying no to one thing in order to make the space to say yes to what’s next. You’ve probably heard the story of a woman who wanted nothing more than to find a partner in life. She could not figure out why the connection she desired was just not happening. A friend pointed out that her closet was so full that there was no room for anyone else to take up residence in her space. She emptied half the closet, and soon after, she met the person who would become her significant other. I share this not as a “law of attraction” type of illustration! Instead I find the richness of this story in the work of looking through what we keep stored inside us. What can we take off the shelf or pull off the hangers and let go? How can we make more space for what matters to us? Or simply make more space so our spirits can breathe? What would it be like to stop maintaining everything we have assigned to ourselves?

What could you say no to and make space for something new?

Wherever you are on the continuum, reader, whether starting something new, or ready to make a move, or content where you are, I’m praying for you.

#amwriting, Discernment, Writing

O, Great Belayer

Miss M and Mr. Dimples, belayed by Mr. and Mrs. S.
Miss M and Mr. Dimples, belayed by Mr. and Mrs. S.

Today’s UCC Stillspeaking Daily Devotion was something I wrote, about going with Mr. Dimples to the Climbnasium, and the way our friend, Mrs. S, held the rope for him.*

I’m not a climber, but I understand the concept. You plot a route up the wall, and you count on the person holding the rope, the belayer, to offer suggestions and to keep you from falling even if you lose hold.

Last year, I made an enormous move, leaving Portland after 25 years and parish ministry after more than a decade. A wonderful change personally brought with it some significant upheaval vocationally. More than once I’ve declared myself a writer on this very page, but I continue to struggle with finding the places to put my hands and feet, to climb the wall of faithful service to the One who gave me the gift of writing, among others. I don’t feel called to parish ministry now, but I miss living the rhythm of a preaching life; I often wonder if I’m doing anything that actually matters when I spend my time writing. There is no ramp-up to worship or a sermon, measurable in their impact on a community of faith. I continue to decide and undecide what sort of larger project I might undertake. I keep reaching for a hold and not finding the right one. Not yet.

The truth is I most love writing about and in conversation with scripture. There are numerous small endeavors, being an occasional sub for Daily Devotionals among them, along with writing the Prayers for Pastors I publish on this blog. I’ll be writing some curriculum (for a paycheck, amazing!), and today I’m starting a project writing liturgy to go with the Narrative Lectionary’s Year 1 (with the hope preachers might wish to purchase it).

But there’s something, I think – I hope – something else.

Until the route becomes clear, O Great Belayer, please hold tight to the rope. And feel free to make a suggestion about where to put my hands next.

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*You may read it here, and if you came here because you read it there, welcome!

Discernment, Prayers for Pastors

When we make the move (a prayer for pastors)

Lord, I wonder:

Where is the Spirit blowing me?

I want to know how you want to use me.
I want to know how I can serve you.

You know.

Sometimes the path seems clear,
the people congenial,
the call strong,
the moment right.

On a piece of paper there’s a church name,
an address,
a box number,
a URL.
On the screen there’s
a street view on Google Maps –
but is this the place?

(Is it a church at all?)

I want to go where you want me.
I want to serve where you need me.

It’s not about the desk,
or the window in the office,
or the height of the pulpit — really!
I swear to that.

I want to use the gifts you gave me,
to use them fruitfully,
for the benefit of your people, your world.
It sounds like the right place.
Please, help me to know for sure.

My office, somewhere.
My office, somewhere.

Be with me when I unpack my boxes,
put my books on new shelves,
arranging them just so:
Mark here, and Matthew, then Luke
and John, and Jung and Tillich and Barth.
Also Calvin.
Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza.
Borg and Crossan.
That book by Walter Wink I never read all the way through.

Be with me when I hang the picture
of the church I left,
that favorite Confirmation photo,
the wall hanging from the silent auction,
touched by hands of people who formed me.
Be gracious with them, Lord, and keep me
graciously at a distance, loving from afar,
leaving room for new love,
new attachments,
new photos.

Be with me when I stand among them,
no Messiah,
just a pastor,
faithful to you,
committed to them.
Help me bring the words of life
to life.

(Let the sound system work.)

Give me patience with their eccentricities,
and give them patience with mine,
love for all that is unique,
the kind of love you have for all of us. Amen.