I cannot remember a time when I have had more fun as a pastor. That would be a meaningless statement if I had just begun ministry. I am three decades plus one year into pastoral ministry this year. There have been many memorable moments and relationships during those 31 years. But I cannot recall a time in ministry more soul-satisfying--and flat out fun--than right now.
At the heart of this big claim are some core decisions made by me, the pastor, and the congregation that allows me to serve as their pastor. The decision was about health. I made a decision to become a healthier pastor and human being. At about the same time I was making this decision, the church made its own decision to become a healthier church. I did not force the church to make this decision; I could not have forced the church to make this decision. Likewise, the church did not force me to make this decision; it could not have forced me to have done so. Together, by God's grace, we started a journey to healthier spirituality, healthier faith, emotional health, relational health.
This has been the most difficult journey I have ever made. More difficult than earning a doctorate in spiritual formation/theology from Princeton Theological Seminary. More difficult than trekking 500-miles across Spain. I am learning to face the drivenness in me. I am learning how to forgive. I am learning how to trust God, leaders, church. I am learning how to put away competitiveness and jealousy. I am learning how to let go of pride and insecurity. I am learning how not to listen to the voices that whisper, "You do not measure up." I am learning how to have an authentic relationship with God so that I can do life and ministry with God, not for God.
At times I have hung my head and wondered why it took me this long to start learning these fundamental lessons about spiritual and emotional maturity. And then I hear the words of my beautiful wife, "Better now than ten years from now," and I throw back my head and laugh.
The church has had its own journey. Leaders and members have learned how to be vulnerable and trusting. merciful and forgiving, focusing on others and not themselves. Each Sunday I realize I am in the middle of a community that genuinely likes being community with each other. I more and more often thank God for the privilege of being on journey with these wonderful, imperfect people. I think they are more and more thanking God for being on journey with their painfully imperfect pastor.
I think both I and the church realize we have really just begun this journey of health. There is much more for us to explore and discover. In October we begin a new level of exploration by taking on Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Pete Scazzero.
But before that, on Sunday, September 11, we are going to pause and have a party to celebrate the tremendous growth we have experienced. This journey has been hard work. It has taken perseverance and a decision not to bolt. We may, like the Israelites on the way to the Promised Land, have fantasized about going back to the ways that had enslaved us for so many years. At least we were used to that way of being human and church and spiritual. But we stayed on the path. We have not turned back. So, as we gather energy to continue the journey we are throwing a party to thank God and each other and celebrate the new life and health that is sprouting up in us and around us.
What would a celebratory party like this look like? Unbelievable music. Gospel message. Prayer--lots of it. Baked desserts. A meal. Lots of full-hearted moments. And lots and lots of laughter and lighthearted moments. It's going to be fun.