Tuesday, March 24, 2015


My job has been more exhausting than usual lately.

We've become a healthier place in the last three years. I've been picking at systems and procedures. I've been listening intently to people who disagree with me. I've been startled by how many people are on board with my leadership style and vision - that's both scary and exciting. I've been urging people to put things down, simplify, and learn from failure. I've been asking big questions:

  • Why do we do what we do?
  • Why don't we do what we don't do?
  • What are you most afraid of?
  • If you knew you couldn't fail, what would you do?
Now it's time to notice and name relationships and roles in need of great care and challenge. I'm poking at people, control issues, comfort zones, and default plans. I'm stirring the pot, being confrontational, working through conflict, and daring to say things no one has the guts to say.

I go into each dialogue feeling nervous and overwhelmed.
I leave feeling tired and courageous.
We have always been pretty healthy and it's only getting better. Slowly.

There's a lot to process lately and that's hard to do as a solo pastor. There's great solitude in being the truth teller, the boss, the leader. I share some of my thoughts and feelings when and where it's constructive, but explaining it can take time and energy I don't seem to have. So much of my planning and debriefing happens internally and in prayer.

Good pastors are both proactive and reactive. The relational conversations I've been having require a lot of forethought and compassion. I need to carve out time and protect them from interruption and distraction. And so I've been missing the reactive piece of my call - the openness to detours and subtle hints from the Spirit about where the real ministry lies. 

Today I had just one proactive thing on my list. I asked my pastor, Paul, to lunch. I called him on Sunday and said I was in need of a "vocational high five". Lunch would be my place and my space for active processing with another human being today. The rest would be reactive. And so it was.

One (Awkward) Compliment
I arrived at my desk in time for emails and mail. I looked through contacts I hoped to make and called a few people back. Before too long, a member was standing in my doorway. David lives with mental illness and feels the world intensely. Sometimes tears stream down his face while he asks after my family or compliments my "figure" because his sensitivity is so great and his desire to connect is so strong. Together we navigate appropriate commentary - it's always a delicate conversation. Then I got up and went with him to Bible study a little early. We talked about the glimmers of triumph in Matthew 21 and prayed for peace.

One (Important) Feast
I crunched numbers before a meeting with Cooking Matters staff and told them we look good for a spring session at Zion. The four of us reminisced about the wild and tender dynamics of the winter cooking course that prepared the Lyndale Community Dinner each Wednesday and dreamed about what's next for neighbors feasting in April.

One (Resurrected) Tire
I blew a tire on my way to meet Paul. Something sharp dragged through my tire as I bumped the curb parking. It was a tired and lazy mistake that sounded like a fierce hissssssssss the moment I stepped out of the van. UGH.

There was a wait at the restaurant, so Paul came to see my tire. It was already flat. We explored the manual, found the spare, and he kept morale high while kneeling on my old Redhawk letter blanket from the trunk, his tan suede shoes dangerously close to the gutter slush. We would soon share conversation about ministry in transition - leading through the birth of something new - and how easy it is to feel solitude when you're doing the hard stuff.

Let me be clear. We weren't talking isolation or loneliness. We have good colleagues and leaders and teams. We were speaking of the solitude that comes with the call to be out front a few yards, taking daggers and gaining trust, setting the pace and the tone. Solitude implies some peace that comes with God's present in the wilderness.

An unlikely stranger was able to coax off my stubborn, stuck tire. My world filled with gratitude and humor while Paul secured the spare and we returned to find plenty of free tables at the restaurant. We laughed about the weird church and the beautiful gospel. I was renewed.

One (Tearful) Drunk
My afternoon continued with two trips to the auto shop and a visit from Drunk Tiffany. She's new to the doorbell at Zion, usually ringing on days she's homeless and hammered. Tiffany usually deflects with laughter and gives a lot of hugs, but today I sat long enough to see her cry. Her blue eyeliner faded each time she wiped her red eyes. "What? Do I look old? Do I look ugly?" she would ask whenever I looked at her too long without speaking.  She offered me vodka from a Vitamin Water bottle.

"No, I'm just seeing you. I'm just watching you be really brave and honest."

My answer startled her, so I explained. "I'm guessing you don't cry in front of people very often. I just want to make sure your tears are being seen today because what you feel and think matters. It matters to God and it matters to me. Let it matter to you, too." 

One (Honest) Giver
After an evening meeting, Grant asked to speak to me. We closed up the building and lingered in the lounge near my office - in the same chairs I'd shared with David and Tiffany. He confessed that he was ready, after many years, to become a planned, regular giver. But it was coming from a place of guilt and regret instead of joy. He felt late to the party. And all while he didn't know if Zion should be his forever or only place.

He is not alone. There are so many Grants - at Zion and everywhere. I was glad for his truth - the part he knew and could articulate, but also the mystery about what else might feed his spirit. We'll listen. We'll pray. We'll figure it out together. In the meantime, I'm glad and better off for all his fragmented, honest intersections with Zion. 

One (Good) Day
I drove home through light flurries on my new tire, grateful for a day filled with a little less solitude and a little more reaction. I am blessed by my pastor who has ears to listen and hands to help. I am blessed by the tears of the vulnerable and brave people I serve. I am blessed by the movement between
   process and recess,
   breaking and mending,
   solitude and community,
   exhaustion and pure joy.

I change people's names sometimes.

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