Pastoral Relief and Retreat

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Wethersfield, CT, United States
I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Paradigm Shift

Every once in a while God breaks into my life in an unexpected way. Now, to say that anything God does is "expected" would be to reverse roles and place myself above him. But accepting that from my perspective it is unexpected, I'm sure you get the idea. This past weekend was just such a time.

I had set a "deadline" in my head of May 1st to raise much of the funding I need to consider myself "fully employed" at Vision New England so I can focus on building a pastoral mentoring network for the churches of New England. Ambitious goal, huh? When I began this new ministry in February I told myself I would set about the work of raising money for the task and then do the task. What I didn't realize was how utterly broken I was after putting a twenty-five year ministry to bed and spending most of the past two years asking myself the question "who am I NOW?" I think my frame of reference was wrong. Something in me still wanted to look back to old contacts, old modes of working, old ideas to accomplish the new thing God was doing in me.

The year I began Musicon (1980) Eugene Peterson published his insightful little book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society (still available through IVP) I talked about that book often over the twenty-five years I was doing Musicon because the title explains and appeals to the idea of continuance as a core value in Christian discipleship. You continue with people. You continue with ministry. You continue with God, first of all.
And I did that. The fruit of ministry is found there... in continuance. And as the old adage goes, all good things come to an end. I never intended Musicon to outlive me. I wasn't trying to build a youth movement or do something grand. I was just trying to be faithful to respond to loving God, loving people, and loving the thing God is doing. All that time my paradigm for life was Peter, the somewhat impulsive, flawed-but-faithful man whose long obedience earned him the nickname "Rock". My paradigm was Isaiah whose ministry of speaking to a people who wouldn't hear was long and tiring and ultimately gave us a huge harvest of prophecy. This is how I've seen myself all these years.

Enter Vision New England. Enter Pastoral Mentoring. Enter a paradigm shift.

Jama and I went to visit with our dear friends Jeff and Kathy Kraines on Saturday night. We shared dinner together and then built a fire in the back yard fire pit. We are four people who don't get into small talk. I think it was Kathy who began, almost the moment we sat down for the fire, "so Jon, what's going on with the job offer you got?"

On Friday morning I had been offered a job doing something-sort-of-like-what-I-do as a project manager for an organization that does the same sort of work Big Brothers/Big Sisters does. I had interviewed for it because of the personal mandate I'd given myself to have a salary by May 1. The problem was that they came back with a very low salary figure for full-time work. I told them I was working for VNE. I told them what a priority pastoral mentoring is in my life, and they said the schedule was "flexible", but that it was goal-oriented work and as long as I produced what they needed no one would be looking over my shoulder.

Let me articulate a principle here: NEVER use ministry to pay for ministry. Be a tent-maker if you need to, but let that other job be something casual; on the side. Let that other work be something you don't have to believe God called you to. I don't care whether you sell stuff on Ebay, do carpentry, or walk people's dogs. Those things don't take commitment. Ministry does. Social service work does, especially in view of the low salaries these works typically pay.

As we continued our discussion Jeff said, "If you were twenty-five I could see you doing this. But you're fifty-two (ironically, the numbers 2-5 reversed). When you're young you can afford to putz around looking for something to focus your ministry on. When you're our age you have to make every moment count because you don't have that much time left." Then Kathy observed that I didn't seem all that excited about taking on this other job. I wasn't. When I talked about it I had all the enthusiasm of a man about to go to the dentist.

So there it was: I had spent the past 4 months doing something I love and believe in, getting every greater indications that this is the thing God has for me at this stage in my life, and feeling like I was (and this is a hard word to use) entitled to have the funding just drop into my lap. There it was: I didn't want to have to begin again. I wanted to be able to continue in the same direction like I always had. I wanted my old doners to continue to support me. I wanted not to have to develop new leads, meet new people, expand my world once again.

Are any of YOU in your fifties? I think that at twenty-five you stare down the demon of options: who to marry, where to settle, which of these careers might interest me. In your fifties you stare down the demon of loss: what have I done with my life? how have I failed to meet my own expectations and those of others? what can I do with the limited options and limited energy I have left? And where is the paradigm for where I find myself now?

Enter Moses.

Moses' life can be divided into three segments: 40 years with Pharoah, 40 years in the desert, 40 years in the wilderness. Now if we do a bit of math, assuming I won't live to be 120, we get the following scheme based on an average Western-male lifespan of 78 years: if Moses lived that kind of lifespan today the major shifts in his life would have happened at 26 and 52. He'd have lived with Pharoah until he was 26. He'd have been in the desert until he was 52. He'd have wandered in the wilderness with Israel until his death at 78. Yep. I lived in my parents home (or various college situations) until I was 26 (though I began Musicon at 24). I did Musicon and raised my own family until I was 52. Now I've got (Lord willing) another 26 years to do one more significant thing.

One other thing about Moses and me. Notice that with each major "break" Moses was unable to take his "contact list" with him from his old life. When he left Pharoah's house it was a break if ever there was one. Other than the family he raised while in Midian (he had 2 sons there), he has to really leave that home too when he goes to liberate Israel.

I don't want you to get the wrong idea. I'm no Moses. But I think I can say this without sounding vain: I spent 26 years marrying and raising a family and learning everything I'd need to know in order to do the next thing. And what is that next thing? A call to pastors to come out of the bondage, the isolation, the feeling they have to be perfect. A call to pastors to come out of Egypt.

Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift: a paradigm shift.

Jon