What Worries Me Most About Returning as Your Pastor
You know the thing that worries me most about coming back from sabbatical? This word: RESPONSIBILITY. Now don’t misunderstand me, I’m not afraid of taking responsibility for myself and for the job that I do, I’m afraid of taking too much responsibility and letting others have too little responsibility. For instance, I’m worried about being at a meeting and then realizing that I’m the only person around the table that is looking five years down the pike because I haven’t prepared the group. I’m worried about tossing and turning in bed because I feel alone in a direction that I feel God calling us because I haven’t effectively shared where and why I feel called. How do I share the responsibility of leadership better?
Now I can’t be alone in feeling this.
Is there not a parent or grandparent here who sees everyone else buying everything else for their kids, and wonders, should we be so cheap whether that be a prom dress or more legos?
Or, is there an employee here who does not feel guilty when the boss harangues your group in the conference room about dedication to the goal? You want the promotion/money, right?
Or, is there a person here who can change channels with a smile on your face when you see those lethargic kids with bloated bellies and flies swarming their faces as they starve?
So what is God’s intent on the appropriate amount of responsibility?
In the ancient world of Bible times, and the modern, secular world, human responsibility has been messed up in competitiveness. Kind of like this vine choking out this little tree. Survival of the fittest is really just a return to ancient nature religions. To get a god’s favor, you had to compete with other gods and people by offering more money, or a good sacrifice, or your first born., in a chaotic world where you compete for a god’s attention its hard to see your responsibility as anything more than cut-throat.
Similarly in our secular world we have a hard time figuring out how much responsibility to take. So if life is about the survival of the fittest then take a lot of responsibility, take charge, get control, pull some strings, so I get what I want. Otherwise I have no one to blame, but me.
I got a speeding ticket less than a mile from my house the other day. It was one of the few lower humidity days so I was sailing home with my windows down, whistling a happy tune, doing 40 in a 25, and sure enough, Mr. Ocifer caught me red-handed. As he sauntered over to me I thought, How can I get out of this? Tell him who I am? Tell him who I know? You know, win the ticket war? I decided to do none of those, but just admit it and pay the fine. Dang!
The scriptural worldview is radically different from either the ancient Greco-Roman or the modern secular worldviews. If the ancient religions and modern secularism both muddy responsibility by seeing the world as mainly competitive, then the Bible clarifies responsibility by calling us to answer before God in covenant. Covenant is a sacred contract whereby we know what God wants from us: 10 commandments, the great commandment… Covenant is a sacred contract whereby each of us stands equally responsible before God. Competition, covenant.
Listen to how the Spirit through Paul clarifies our responsibility before our covenant God: 5-8You’re not getting by with anything. Every refusal and avoidance of God adds fuel to the fire. The day is coming when it’s going to blaze hot and high, God’s fiery and righteous judgment. Make no mistake: In the end you get what’s coming to you—Real Life for those who work on God’s side, but to those who insist on getting their own way and take the path of least resistance, Fire!… God pays no attention to what others say (or what you think) about you. He makes up his own mind. So everyone is equally responsible before God.
In terms of taking too much responsibility or too little responsibility I am thinking in these terms. Let’s say that God allots 10 responsibility points (we’ll call them RPs) in every situation. If there are two people involved in an argument, they probably each get 5 RPs. As the old adage goes, it takes two to tango/tangle. But let’s say that my tendency is to take on too much responsibility for situations; such that I make my kids’ beds, or I call in sick when my spouse is drunk, or I’m the only one thinking 5 years down the pike in a leadership meeting because I haven’t prepared others to do so. Then I may get 7 RPs and the other have only 3 RPs left. Will that turn into a healthy situation? It won’t use others’ creativity, and I will be anxious. Or, if my tendency is to avoid responsibility by, say, sleeping my life away, I may get 3 RPs, and the people who work for me get 7 RPs. Will I be healthy with so much bedrest? Hardly.
But let’s break it down even further. Let’s say that I’m team teaching VBS, and each is taking their full 5 RPs. How does God fit in? Well, God is not going to teach VBS for me, that is take all 5 RPS and so I don’t have to prepare. But in my preparation, if I pray for God’s strength and help, if I pray for my kids, I am letting God take 3 of my 5 RPs, so that I can do my best confidently. This is the way a covenantal responsibility with God and others works, I think.
During my sabbatical my new church start committee had a proposal to grant $25K to the fastest growing church plant on the east coast to get them additional staffing to keep growing and to start daughter churches. I thought it would pass with flying colors, but my replacement fumbled, and it lost 9-4 because of misinformation. Doggone! At the risk of taking 7 RPs I decided that I’d attend only the part of the July Classis meeting that would deal with this issue because for the $25K grant to pass to win more people to Christ would save me work in the long run. But how to persuade the 9 NO votes? By this time I was getting tired of hospital chaplaincy work so I decided to take a few longer breaks (3 RPs?) to call the classis members to listen and persuade. July 20 on meeting night we sat in Three Bridges Reformed Church under a tin roof with only a ceiling fan in 90 degrees and 90% humidity. Anxious I prayed, Lord, I’ve done what I can do, help me to listen well (their 5 RPs), and trust you. I made my presentation listing the concerns that I had heard in my phone calls, and what my committee was doing to address them. Then I turned to what a great opportunity we had to help Liberti church add staff to reach more people and to start daughter churches! At the 20 minute mark it was my turn to listen. The opposition went on for most of the next 40 minutes. At the 60 minute mark one of the swing votes sounded negative. I counted that we would lose 6-3. Lord, I’ve done all I can (5 RPs), I’m listening (5 RPs), but You’re going to have to save this one (3 of my 5). At the 75 minute mark an elder from PA makes a compromise motion. At 76 minute mark I realize that it will grant the $25K, but it won’t help the other side. Lord, am I responsible to point that out? Be quiet. Its my turn. Finally, at 90 minutes the vote is taken, and we win 5-4! I walk out, look up at the stars next to the steeple and whisper my thanks, and God says, You done good. And the star winked.