Sunday, September 5, 2010

Surprise! Suprise! Suprise!

Prediction is a game that we as people love to play.  We do not like risks and we do not like chance.  We want to know up front how things are going to turn out.  I wonder if it is not part of human nature -- at last human nature since the fall.  We want to some sort of guarantee even for things that come with no guarantees -- like the stock market.  Tell me what I want to hear -- that is the message we tend to send.  If people are honest, they try to dissuade us from such unrealistic expectations.  If they are less than honest, then they allow us to believe the impossible and hope that they are not around when our house of cards comes falling down.

I remember my first parish.  On one side we had charismatic style folks who believed that if they trusted in the Lord and called a candidate, God would make sure that they got a candidate who was spiritual the way they defined spirituality.  On the other side, were the bronze age Missourians who believed that if God were in charge, He would make sure that they got a good Missourian like they were.  Unbeknownst to them, God had a surprise.  I showed up in Eucharistic vestments, chanting the service, and agitating for a weekly Eucharist.  No one was expecting a Lutheran who looked and acted like this.  In the shock of the moment, God provided a window of opportunity and both sides, failing to get what they wanted, came together to meet me in the center and marvelous things resulted from the nearly 13 years I was there.

Where I vicared, the congregation was vacant following the long, painful death of their Pastor.  He died on the very day I was assigned as their Vicar.  They called a new Pastor quite soon after this man's death.  He had been interviewed and wined and dined but he was nothing at all like their previous Pastor.  When he finally arrived, they noticed the difference and decided they did not like it.  As a Vicar, I was caught in the crossfire. It was a tough year for me and a few more years before he moved on and the congregation struggled to catch back up to where they were.

Congregations like to be able to predict what kind of Pastor someone will be.  If they cannot predict, they prefer to be able to define and mold the man into the Pastor they want him to be.  I remember a call to a congregation to serve as Associate Pastor for about 6 months to a year and then the Senior Pastor would retire and I would be able to learn from him enough to replace him with a carbon copy so that he would not really be gone at all.  I declined the call and suggested that their expectation was unrealistic and prone to problems.  They found someone who agreed to the terms and when the Senior Pastor left, he was not as much like the Senior Pastor as they hoped and problems began.

That is why I am not a fan of the interviews, phone interviews, questionnaires, and other methods designed to take the surprise out of calling a Pastor and replace it with an accurate prediction of the man.  It is as if we do not want to get to know the man and appreciate him for who he might be.  We want a transparent Pastor whom we can know without getting to know.

I could say the exact same thing about Pastors who try to predict congregations without getting to know them... so do not be offended.  My rant is directed both ways.

Well, surprise, surprise, surprise!  As Gomer used to say...  God is into trust and not so much into prediction.  That does not keep us from trying but it often makes us frustrated and angry.  I think the more that we try to predict who the man or the parish will be before getting to know them... the more we will have clergy/congregation problems and conflict.

I plead for something else... for patience, for 8th commandment best construction... for grace (even under pressure)... and for the willingness to experience the surprise of God and the grace that is sufficient if we will allow it... Could we agree to drop some of the business oriented tactics and meet under the banner of the Spirit, with the goal of patience, blessing, love, and grace, and put a little trust in the Lord???  And, one more thing, let us not rush to judge either parish or Pastor... The interesting thing about it is that if you give it some time, they tend to grow on you...

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