Monday, May 21, 2012

You don't have to swing at every pitch...

The mark of a good ballplayer is that he knows that you don't have to swing at every pitch.  A little patience, a little perseverance, and some careful judgement and even an average hitter can do better than average at the plate.  It is the lesson that also comes with time for any Pastor new to a parish.  You don't have to swing at every pitch.  A little patience, a little perseverance, and some good, wise, and careful judgement can help a Pastor turn a good beginning into a great tenure in the parish.

The only problem with this advice is that it is not our tendency to let a pitch go by.  As Pastors we often feel the need to clean up every mess, deal with every issue, and answer every challenge in the first few weeks after installation.  I know I had that inclination and I will bet I am not alone.  There is nothing that irritates folk more, however, than a Pastor who has an opinion and a decision for everything that comes his way.  People respect the wise and pastoral judgement that lets the pitch go by without a swing.  I often have trouble in this regard.  Age and experience (with a little weariness) have forced me to learn this lesson but my instinct sometimes still gets me in trouble.

Perhaps it does not help that I have a bit of my dad in me.  He has the remarkable ability (not universally appreciated) to avoid conflict.  Don't get me wrong -- it is not that he does not have an opinion on just about everything.  He does.  But he also has an instinctive aversion to conflict and this has left him well equipped to step back from the brink before his words get him in trouble.  Whether he always chooses well what to avoid and what to react to, well, I will let another be the judge.  I am sure he has some regrets -- things he should have been more forceful with and others that he should have let go.  We all do.

I guess the problem is that sometimes the soft underbelly of Pastors is our need to be loved by everyone and also to be right all the time.  Neither is a helpful vice.  Both will get you into big trouble.  I recall Jack Lemmon's character in Mass Appeal and how his need to be loved kept him from speaking out when things unpleasant needed to be said and to act when actions might be misunderstood or opposed.  Playing opposite him in that movie parish was a young candidate for ordination who wanted to take on everyone all the time -- even the kindly blue haired old ladies who were the backbone of the parish.  In the happy ending, Jack Lemmon learned to stand up for the right even if it was unpopular and the young priest learned that the people in the pew are not your enemies.  I wonder if that is not a movie script close to the situation for every Pastor.

It is nearly ordination season when red stoles will be placed upon the shoulders of 139 graduates placed by our Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.  Most of them will go into parishes in which they serve alone and this makes them especially vulnerable to the weaknesses of needing love and needing to be always right.  I pray for them as they begin their ministry.  I pray that the Lord will give them the wisdom of Solomon to discern when love and when being right must reign.  I pray that before any real conflicts develop, he will have a chance to let the folks in the pew know that he loves them and seeks only what is good and right and true for them and for the congregation he serves.  I pray that when the unpopular truth must be said, it is said in love and received in love.  I pray that he will let a few pitches slip by and not react to every one that passes over the plate.  I pray that he will learn quickly that being a Pastor is often a lonely path of service but that none of us are ever alone.  I pray that he will seek out peers who think like him and others who don't so that he will learn how to converse, how to debate so that the truth and not winning is foremost, and how to lose graciously (especially when you are wrong).

There are too many times at bat when I let a good pitch slip by and coulda, shoulda hit one out of the park.  There are too many times at bat when I swung wildly when I shoulda and coulda waited and watched it go by.  Regrets like these are health when they become the lessons the Lord uses to shape us and mold us for His service.  I do not regret the regrets but I regret those whom I have hurt by being too quick to swing.  In the same way, I regret the confusion I caused when people expected a hit and I let the good pitches go by.  It is a difficult thing to find the path when our instincts are prone to take us down the dead ends.  But the Lord has not called us to success -- only to faithfulness.  And the mark of faithfulness is honest confession of wrongs as much as humble pride in the right.  It is a lesson learned over the long haul but one which we wish we learned right away...


Jeremy Loesch said...

Always nice to hear sound counsel like this, even after 11 years and 11 months.


Barbara Ann Meier said...

And I would say this is a life lesson for all - not just new Pastors. Still working on it myself. :-)