Friday, October 17, 2008

Never Really Saved to Begin With

The Arminian Perspectives blog has a great post teasing out the implications of interpreting passages that seem to warn against apostasy as though they really indicated that the person who "fell away" in reality was never a true believer. Here's a sample, to whet your appetite:
“Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died” [thereby proving that Christ really never died for him, and that he was never really your brother]. Rom. 14:15
Good stuff. Check it out.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Privilege of Pastoring

In August, when my family went up north for Alan Gillies's memorial service, we had the opportunity to get together with some of the people I had the privilege of pastoring about ten years ago. We sang songs and shared. It was a really lovely time. And it made me think a lot about my experience of pastoring.

I was twenty-nine when I began pastoring in Brimley. It was my first and only pastorate, except for a semi-official assistant pastoral position I had had just prior to coming to Brimley, in a small church that didn't really need an assistant pastor. I was about two years out of seminary, chafing to get into full-time ministry, and thinking at times that it would never happen. And then I got a letter out of nowhere, and had to look at a map to find out where Brimley, Michigan was. We looked at the map index, and found the grid number, and followed the column up, and up, and up, and there it was, on the shore of Lake Superior. Cecile burst into tears--not because of where it was, but because she had just had a breakthrough with the girls in the Missionettes class that she taught, and she didn't want to leave them. "Honey, I don't even have to respond to this!" I told her.

"Yes you do," she said, "this is God."

And so I sent the church a resume, figuring it wouldn't hurt to get rejected one more time. And then they called, and wanted us to come up. We met the previous pastor and his wife, and then the board, and they were all very kind, and before I knew it, I was pastoring the church.

And I didn't know what I was doing. My seminary training had mostly been in Biblical exegesis, systematic theology, and church history, not on the practical issues of pastoring a church. I felt my youth; I felt my shyness, which God had overcome in me to a great extent, but not nearly as much as He has since then. I often had the horrible feeling that I was "supposed" to be doing something different from what I was doing at the time, but I didn't know what it was, or I didn't know how to choose. I've learned a lot since then about leadership, about giving direction to a group of people, about the importance of reaching out to people and building relationships. At the time, I was simply responding to needs as best I could, studying for messages, planning youth group activities--just doing whatever seemed to be needed at the time.

And despite all my insecurities, God really did bless us. I credit a lot of that to Cecile, for whom reaching out and forming relationships is as natural as breathing; I'm still convinced that most of the people who love us (and there are a lot) love us because of her. We made some wonderful friendships. We were blessed far, far beyond what I understood at the time. I was going through what most pastors will privately admit to going through, but don't feel they can share with their congregations: deep discouragement. The church wasn't moving in the direction I thought it should as fast as I thought it should. I felt my leadership being challenged. I took criticisms to heart. I felt that I might have found a better fit elsewhere. I wondered if I should be teaching instead of pastoring. I wondered if I was having any positive effect at all, on anyone.

And so I left, after 3 ½ years. I was asking God, if He wanted me to stay, to reaffirm my leadership, and if He wanted me to go, to give me something to move toward. And two opportunities presented themselves. I felt it was God's leading.

Since then, I've had the chance to return a few times, most recently last August. And every time I go back, I am blown away by the kindness and love that the people from that church have for Cecile and me. They make my wife and me feel like royalty. They lavish kind words and fond memories on us. They tell us that they recall and appreciate things I said over a decade ago. They love us, truly love us, far beyond what I had ever imagined.

When we go, we see people we had known as children and teens, now grown up and married. And one of the greatest regrets I have is having lost the opportunity to have been there to watch them grow up, to have been a part of their lives during that time. What a privilege it would have been, to have been involved in their lives for the long haul; to have been more than a memory, however pleasant. If I had to do it all over again, would I have left? Am I hairsplitting too much to say that the person I was then needed to leave, but if I knew then what I know now, I may not have?

I am now in a very similar place to the one I was in just before going up to Brimley: not in a position of formal ministry, looking for an opportunity, dealing with some roadblocks and disappointments and constraints. I truly believe that if I am ever given the opportunity to pastor again, I will do it better, with more purpose, more confidence, more wisdom. And more than anything, I hope that I will understand and appreciate the privilege that it is to invest yourself in the lives of other believers, to encourage their growth, and to have a positive influence on them. I pray that I get the chance.

Monday, October 06, 2008

A Note on Comment Policy

Today I had someone comment on a blog post with what was essentially an invitation and a link to his own blog. This was mildly annoying, not because I have any problem with people linking to their own blogs from the comments section here, but because neither the comment nor the website it led to had anything to do with the post allegedly being commented on. It was made more annoying by the fact that the subject of the website was, in fact, an argument for a theological position with which I disagree, and by the fact that there was no hint of this disagreement in the comment which included the link. I am left to conclude that the author of this site is either a) randomly spamming theological websites of any stripe whatever with links to his own site, or b) specifically choosing to draw readers from sites with which he disagrees by an innocuous invitation.

(It didn't help that this was one of those irritating pieces of writing that start out by telling the reader that he must read the whole thing from beginning to end and not skip over anything, etc., etc. I'm sorry, but unless you're my professor and I'm taking your class for credit, you don't get to tell me how I have to read your material. I'm not a novice on this topic and I'm not going to slog through all your introductory material just because you're convinced that you've created a perfectly logical sequence that will inevitably cause any open-minded reader to agree with you. A word of advice: persuasion doesn't work like that.)

So anyway, I deleted the comment. I do this so seldom that I feel it necessary to explain why, and to let readers know that I've always reserved the right to do so. As a matter of fact, I've always considered the comments section on this site as moderated, the reasons for which I described in what serves as the Magna Carta for this blog. As time went on, I allowed comments to be published without moderation, as I discovered that I didn't have enough readers or comments (let alone unwelcome ones) to justify the hassle and the delay involved in pre-publication moderation. But I still reserve the right to do what I consider to be post-publication moderation.

Now, the funny thing is that if this person had commented on one of the posts that actually touches on the issue on which we disagree, had interacted with that post in his comment, registered the disagreement, and linked to his own site in the process of doing so, I would have left the link in, as I've done on other occasions. So if you're back and you're upset at being "censored," well, I've just told you how not to be censored. Be civil, stay on-topic, and it's all good. Knock yourself out.