July 2010

The Gift of Moving

July 26 2010 by Bill Wilson


That’s one of the nicer things we call moving. Our household’s recent move has been a journey into disorganization, disorientation, and general discord. A genuine necessary evil. More than once during recent weeks, we vowed to NEVER move again … all the while knowing that it is inevitable. We have hauled more boxes of unnecessary items to donation sites than I would have imagined. How DID we accumulate so much junk?!? We have lost items we can’t live without and found items we thought we had lost in previous moves. We have new-found appreciation for those who work for moving companies and load and unload in the oppressively hot and humid conditions of the South.

Our upheaval, of course, has been an opportunity as well as an endurance challenge. We’ve had the opportunity to decide what really matters when it comes to housing. We’ve had to choose what to keep and what to throw or give away. We’ve been convicted about the need to live more simply and to be more focused on people than things. We’ve been reminded of the value and power of community and friendship. We’ve had to get clear about God’s leadership and learn to trust in Him anew.

During our moving saga, I’ve given thought to what moving means to a local church. The local church is notorious for resisting moving. I don’t mean physical movement from one site to another, but movement in attitudes or movement toward a kingdom vision or movements of God’s spirit. Some days it seems that new things only happen outside the property lines of established churches. Only later do local churches respond to the opportunity to move from what was to what could be.

Our experiences with moving have reminded me how resistance to movement of any kind can take hold and hold sway. Change can become the enemy when we focus on the inconvenience rather than the opportunities. Our first response to possible movement is “what will this mean to ME?” We don’t start off asking “what does God want?” or “what might this mean to the Kingdom?” Our starting point is “what does possible movement mean for me?”

As a pastor who has moved from three pulpits to other opportunities, I was always disheartened to realize that this was the essential question most people met me with when they heard I was leaving. Seldom did I hear anyone initially celebrate God’s providential leadership or express trust that I might actually have heard a call and that responding was in everyone’s best interest. Most eventually got to such a point, but that first response is instructive. We process potential change and movement through the lens of self-interest. When talk of moving arises, we think first of the discord and upheaval that we may endure, and often respond with resistance.

Thank God for moving, however. Do you realize that the essential metaphor for God’s calling of his people in both Old and New Testaments is movement? It was God’s children enslaved in Egypt who heard the call to rise up and move out from the known for the unknown promised land. Thus began a generation-long complicated and history-changing move that puts our moving woes into proper perspective.

Jesus begins his ministry by inviting potential disciples to “come and follow me.” Movement is the order of His new day, and the pages of the New Testament record encounter after encounter in which he invites men and women to move from where and who they are and discover a world of abundant life they cannot imagine. Paul’s journeys are about movement and change and learning and discomfort. If you are not comfortable with movement and change, the Bible is not for you.

We all have our moving woes to recount and commiserate over. What we also have is the disguised gift that moving is and the promise it holds. God is still in the business of calling His people to move from where they are to where He intends them to be. It is a journey worth all the inconveniences and impositions, for it is a journey to the life we can only find in Him. Thanks be to God for moving trucks, inconveniences and disruption … and the promise they hold.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Wilson is president of the Center for Congregational Health.)    
7/26/2010 6:36:00 AM by Bill Wilson | with 0 comments

Clergy and Grief

July 14 2010 by Bill Wilson

A friend and I were talking a few weeks ago and she made the following statement: One of the hardest parts of long-term ministry is burying your friends. I buried a dear friend on Monday. It was all I could do not to burst out crying in the pulpit. Thank God for Easter!

Your pastor probably could say the same thing. Grief is a steady companion for ministers, and a healthy church will recognize that dealing with grief is essential if your ministers are to help you navigate the difficult waters of grief and loss. Have you thought about all the ways clergy encounter grief in their work?

I’ve been thinking about grief a good bit lately. My wife and I have left friends, a home, and church family we loved dearly to come to a new place of ministry. As we walked out of our house for the last time, grief ambushed us, and we found ourselves quite emotional. This was a transition that we chose and felt was undeniably of God, but it still hurt and evoked deep emotions for us.

I recently preached at a church I formerly pastored. Although I have been gone nearly 20 years, I found myself deeply moved by the experience. One of the most emotional moments for me was when I stood in the pulpit and looked out over the congregation and found myself seeing the empty seats of those who were missing. Death had visited numerous times in the congregation, and many of the people who had shaped and loved me are no longer among us. Marriages had ended, and families had become inactive. I was nearly struck silent by a deep sense of loss and had to work hard to regain my composure for the rest of the worship service.

I have talked regularly with clergy and laity alike who are in various stages of grief with regard to their ministry or church. Some are angry, some are sad; many are confused and bewildered by events they experience. Some find themselves being transported back to unresolved grief experiences in the past by things happening to them in the present.

When a minister and congregation live with one another in the midst of the ups and downs of everyday life, it becomes essential that they give one another room to grieve and permission to be human. My colleague was articulating a truth that many clergy feel guilty for experiencing. Dealing with death and serious illness on a daily basis requires a level of disconnectedness from a minister to be able to function. When everyone else in the ICU waiting room is panicking and emoting, it is extremely helpful for the minister to be the voice of controlled, calm assurance. Even if you are devastated by the prognosis, the family needs you to be able to help them think clearly and make good decisions. Shedding tears isn’t taboo, it may just need to wait for an appropriate time.

The point is, ministers need to make sure there IS a time when they grieve. After you have been part of a church’s life for a few months, funerals become times where you bury friends, not strangers. God grants us the ability to speak words of comfort and encouragement even when they are words that are directed back to ourselves.

Ministers need to grieve the losses they see in the lives of others, as well as the losses that are part of our own personal and family story. When we do, we model the hope that Christ enables us all to feel in times of loss. When we do not, we set ourselves up for darker experiences that produce despair and hopelessness.

Remember your minister the next time you encounter grief. You may need to check in with him or her and encourage them to grieve the losses you and your church have endured. You may need to grant permission for them to be human. Some days we clergy try and deny that we have feelings about losses, but grief is one of those emotions that will not be denied. When we are able to experience our losses as believers, we embody the hope-filled grieving that the Bible calls us to know.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Wilson is president of the Center for Congregational Health.)    
7/14/2010 3:50:00 AM by Bill Wilson | with 0 comments