Do Something

I recently posted this on facebook. I’ll let you read it as posted and then re-cast it in terms of involvement in the ministry of the local church.

The person who makes that first tentative brush stroke on the canvas, writes that first word, throws that first lump of clay on the wheel, plays those first notes on an instrument, sings those first words…whatever their artistic curiosity, no matter how naive, primitive or mediocre the results, that person has already achieved infinitely more than the one that lets fear of failure keep them from trying.

A corollary to this may appeal to the perfectionists among us. The one who tries nothing, perfectly succeeds at nothing.

I believe that to be true. It is also true that not every artistic attempt will win accolades beyond a few family members and a hand full of friends who don’t quite know how to tell you what they really think with out discouraging you. Yes, there are some who seem to have the golden touch of some natural profound talent. For the rest of us, a significant investment of time in instruction and practice will improve our craft, perhaps to a remarkable level of mastery, but face it, most of us will be average. That’s not so bad. if you are perfectly average you are already better than nearly half the people who pursue the same art…if that is even what matters.

Now let’s shift this to ministry. I have worked in the church in both volunteer and vocational capacities. I have seen a lot of remarkably average people accomplish the majority of the work in the church. For that matter, I have been humbled by the dedicated and effective service of people who some would consider far from qualified. Occasionally you meet an incredibly talented individual who accomplish much, but unless they are also deeply humble servants, they can discourage the less talented from participating. Please don’t confuse apparent excellence with effective ministry in the messy community we call the Church.

Even the most fumbling, bumbling, untrained person will accomplish more than the person who is either afraid to try or worse, indifferent to need to serve in the church. Sorry folks, but the work is not done by perfect pastors – they don’t exist. Nor is the work done by perfect elders – they don’t exist. Nor is it done by perfect community group leaders, Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, ushers, greeters, techies, secretaries, coffee makers…you name it – because they don’t exist. Sorry, but the only way the work gets done is if everyone takes what ever talent, gifts and energy they have and uses it for the mutual benefit of the church and world we are called to minister in. If you don’t try, you will not succeed at all. At least the naive novice who dares to try will accomplish something.

If you think these are just clever words consider what Jesus said in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25. I dare say it best to give your self permission, toss fear out the window, or what ever is necessary to use what abilities you have in the service of others. Do something.

A Prolonged Absence Explained

Yes it has been awhile since I posted anything here. Events transpired that left me in the curious position of having lots to say and the wisdom to keep quiet until I the rawness of emotion gave way to careful meaningful consideration. What happened you ask? The short story is that the church I was pastoring closed its doors.

Helping the people I cared for and lead for nearly seven years to grieve the loss of their community and move on to new ones took a deep emotional toll on me, far deeper than I imagined at the outset. Along with my wife, we have been grieving. Today I can say that time of throbbing grief is over, though the scars remain, barely covering half healed wounds. I suspect many who were part of that wonderful community are still feeling the throbbing ache more acutely than I, each in their own way. The loss of community hurts. Finding a new one isn’t easy.

To be sure, I have no intention of using this blog to assign blame or malign the faithful. Not at all. If nothing else, I share in the blame. We were all in it together. We tried. We worked hard. It wasn’t to be. That’s that. Would have, could have, should haves are cruel task masters. Are there lessons to be learned? Of course. Those are worth talking about when the time is right in thoughtful love.

On April 19th, 2015, we celebrated the years we had together, the rich fellowship and meaningful ministry. Ending with a celebration was the right thing to do. It was a time of tears and smiles, that’s how it is with grief. There is that part of me that wishes we could have found a way to carry on serving one another and the community around us. There is  another part of me that is excited about the future, not only for myself, but for each one who was part of the church. New beginnings are rarely easy. A seed must fall to the ground for a new plant to grow. The seed has fallen.

Good Grief!

Good Grief!  I have no idea what that is really supposed to mean as a polite expletive, yet grief is one of the most profound common human emotions – it is good.

We grieve a lot of things in life, from death of a loved one to inexplicable little things. We grieve the passage of time to the loss of dreams. A child might grieve the loss of a teddy bear. An Olympian might grieve missing a medal by a fraction of a second. It can be the loss of a job or the parting of ways. Grief wraps our tentacles through our lives in unexpected ways.

Right now I am grieving along with one of the finest groups of people you will ever meet. Among them is a mechanic, a kitchen designer, an electrician, a handful of teachers, an IT manager, a retired missionary, students, childcare workers, retired folks, parents, long time Canadians, immigrants…so many different backgrounds, occupations and roles in society. They all have one thing in common. They are part of the church I pastor and that church is closing its doors after more than thirty years of caring ministry.

To warp the Apostles Paul’s words (this is the warped mirror after all), love does not pay the bills, but when there are no more bills to pay, still love remains. Where love and loss meet, there is grief.

As a church we are grieving. To be sure it is not the acute grief of the loss of a love one, but the process we are walking through is much the same – not in depth, but certainly in breadth of emotion. We have meant a lot to each other. Though we may continue in fellowship, things are about to change. We are losing our church. It is emotional. It hurts. It should hurt.

Grief stirs up all sorts of emotions. We may find ourselves feeling sad and maybe angry. We may want to appoint blame. We may feel that we have failed. We might even feel that God has let us down or that we have let God down. On the other hand we might feel excitement about new possibilities and even relief that the struggle is over. We might feel joy. We might even feel guilt over how we feel. Such it is with the emotional roller coaster of grief.

Some wear their grief on their shirt sleeves while others grieve much more privately. Some will feel the need to talk about it and let others know how they feel. Others will grieve more privately, but it is just as real. Some may feel a sense of relief. Others are hurting deeply. We need to embody grace seeking understanding and mercy seeking comfort. We need to offer one another kindness and gentleness – compassion and encouragement. If there ever was a time when we need to truly love one another and be here for one another, now is the time.

It can be easy in a time like this to wonder what will become of us. Change can stir up anxiety and anxiety breeds fear. No doubt, this is a difficult journey. Along the road we need to hang onto Paul’s words in Philippians 1:6, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” What beautiful words of encouragement. He will continue to do a work in us – a good work in us. We are not abandoned.

Be sure that the work will not stop because this church closes. Not at all. Our hope is in Jesus – not a particular church. In fact this may open up new doors to growing in Christ Jesus that none of us could have imagined.  Who knows what things God has in store for us? Though in the moment we grieve, it will not define us. Who we are in Christ will not change. He is not done with us yet. Not by a long shot.

Besides, none of us really knows what God has in mind – what plans he has for His church from day to day.  At some point we have to trust in the plans of a sovereign God who doesn’t always tell us what His plans are. We might be thinking that God has not answered our prayers…maybe, but maybe there is a reason far beyond anyone here. Maybe God sees a better plan. God is doing a work and He will complete it. We have to trust Him.

Yet in there lies another problem. We can feel like we let God down. Be sure that God is no man’s debtor. He will accomplish His plans. No doubt that over the last 33 years some things could have been done differently. It doesn’t hurt to reflect on those things to learn what we can from them, but I caution against playing the “what if” game. We have no way of knowing if different choices would have changed things for the better. We might think so, but we can’t know so.

Let’s leave the “what ifs” to novelists and screen play writers. “What if?” is a question we ask before making a decision. Once a decision is made we have to move on believing that God is at work. In the same way we have to trust that God has been at work in the past decisions throughout the entire life of our church.

We must also be careful not to point fingers at one another. Judgments like “If they had only…” create division and disrupt shalom. It’s a dangerous variation on the “what if” game that attacks the integrity of others – it can be deeply hurtful. Besides, how do we know that we are right? In a time like this we must be honourable and respectful of others. We must guard our thoughts and words. Love your neighbour as yourself.

So I say, friends, grieve…grieve well. There is such a thing as good grief. It is grief that overflows with grace, mercy, compassion, kindness, gentleness and faithfulness. Grieve well my friends.

This post is a shortened version of the sermon I preached on Sunday March 8, 2015.