Anne Lamott to ministers: “We don’t need hassled bitter ministers. We don’t want you to talk the talk about this being the day the Lord has made and rejoice and savor its beauty and poignancy when secretly you’re tearing around like a white rabbit; we need you to walk the walk. And we need you to walk a little more slowly.”

Anne Lamott to ministers

Ministering to Ministers: Part 1

My friend who first asked me about what a church can do to help a minister that led me to write, “What a Preacher Wants,” is our guest writer today.

We thought it would be great to write from two different perspectives, I from the perspective of a preacher and he from perspective of an elder and leader preparing for a minister to join the church.

“I thought we were done?!”

It’s the morning after, and I thought that I would have a huge weight lifted from my shoulders and the collective shoulders of my fellow shepherds. However, I woke up early again this morning with that same uneasy feeling. I am getting ahead of myself, so allow me to back up and give some background to this ongoing story.

I serve as one of the shepherds of a medium sized body of believers, and we have been searching for a Preaching Minister for the past several months . . . ten months to be exact. It has been a challenging, exhausting, time consuming task, with countless hours of planning, prayer, interviews, studying resumes and personal theology statements, followed with a lot more prayer! We have involved the entire congregation in the process, which is a very good thing, but it calls for a lot of patience and grace on everyone’s part. Fortunately we have had a wonderfully diverse group on the search team and we have a wonderful ministerial staff that have helped tremendously in the tasks that come with not having a preaching minister and a year-long minister search. Overall, it has been a very good experience. We haven’t always agreed with each other, the comments from the body weren’t always palatable or easy to read, and we found out that what the body was searching for was impossible. I had several friends ask, “So, what are you guys looking for?” With my best straight face I answered, “It’s real simple, we are looking for a young preacher, with lots of experience, one that is deeply spiritual and loves to study for hours. He has to be able to get in people’s homes and lives, be extremely relational and outgoing, and one that enjoys being by himself in meditation and deeply guided by spiritual practices. Do you know anybody?”

We were looking for someone that does not exist!

We had a wonderful response from 27 men who I believe love the Lord and want to serve a congregation and grow somewhere. We had a much-anticipated meeting with the search team, ministers and shepherds last night, which resulted in a wonderful, and we believe Spirit led, unanimous decision. We have had the difficult conversations, we have done the congregational self-study, we have sought and received advice, and we have found a fantastic couple to join us in the ministry here. So, that’s it right? As one of the team members said last night before we prayed a final prayer of sanctification over this decision, “We are done right?”

That’s where I find myself this morning, the morning after. I have full confidence that we have followed the leading of the Holy Spirit, to the right couple for this place and this time with this flock. That was not the cause of my panic attack. My cold sweats were the result of the sudden realization that we are not done. We can’t simply make the call, offer the position, come to agreement and get him and his wife moved into the community. Don’t we owe him more than that?

I am left with more questions than I had five months ago. What does this person that I really only know by paper, a few meals together, Skype conversations, phone calls, resume and listening to one sermon, bring to our present congregation. How can we best integrate him and his wife into the existing body of Christ, one that has a history and DNA? One that has a life and a story that he doesn’t know or understand completely? How do we help him fit in while giving him the grace and room to use his own gifts and present his own values and thoughts?

Don’t I (we) have a responsibility to be good ministers to our new minister?

Reading: Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor

Cover of "Leaving Church: A Memoir of Fai...

Cover of Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith

“. . . the call to serve God is first and last the call to be fully human . . .

“Like every believer I know, my search for real life has led me through at least three distinct seasons of faith, not once or twice but over and over again. Jesus called them finding life, losing life, and finding life again, with the paradoxical promise that finders will be losers while those who lose their lives for his sake will wind up finding them again.”

–Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church

What’s Next @ Garnett Church of Christ?

My co-worker and good friend, Wade Hodges, will be leaving Garnett Church of Christ effective March 1 to follow his dream of planting a church in Austin, Texas.

Wade is one of my best friends and has personally challenged me in every area of my life, from my faith to my health to my thinking. He has challenged our church’s and larger Christian community’s narrow assumptions of faith and what it means to live the Christ-life and has prepared us to be a church that embodies the kingdom life he’s preached for six years. Wade, your jokes will be missed by a few of us. But missed by all will be the way you drive deep the sword of the word to penetrate heart and soul and bone marrow. Wade, we will miss you. Thank you.

Heather has been a great co-worker as we’ve worked together in outreach, and her skills as a counselor and administrator have been invaluable as we’ve reached out to the Hispanic community in Tulsa. She has launched and help to grow the Garnett Bilingual Preschool to sixty students, with instructors in Spanish and English, leaving a legacy of a solid ongoing program that impacts dozens of families in our community. She has been both a good friend to many in and outside our church, and she knows how to get things done. Heather, we will miss you. We will miss Wade’s and Heather’s sons, Caleb and Elijah, but we know this great family is following their hearts and dreams, and we’re happy for them.

In some ways, the Hodges and Taylors are trading places. Jill and I came to Garnett with seven years of experience with a church planting mission team in Uganda. We know what it’s like to have a burning in our hearts to start something bold and new in the name of Jesus Christ.

Garnett will continue to support Wade and Heather for a time while they launch the new church in Austin, and we encourage others to support them financially, spiritually, emotionally, with prayer as they seek out people who are searching for Jesus and what it means to follow him today without many of the trappings of traditional religion. See Wade’s blog to follow him and email him if you want to know more or support what they’re doing in some way.

What’s next for Garnett?

March 1, I will move to lead minister at Garnett Church of Christ. I want to thank the shepherds for their confidence in me. I’m honored and humbled and have accepted their offer to lead the staff and preach. Would you please say a prayer for Wade and Heather today in their church planting mission? And would you please say a prayer for Jill and me and our children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob, today?

The Hodges are following their dream, and I’m ready for the challenges ahead in leading and preaching at Garnett. I’ll continue my focus on outreach to the community but will hand off some other duties to other capable people in the church as I move into weekly preaching. Wade’s such a great preacher, he’ll be a tough act to follow, but with God’s help I can be myself, tell the truth, and make a different kind of impact that’s helpful in the kingdom. I’ll end below with some great words of commissioning from one of our shepherds, Loy Johnson. Thank you to Loy, Rusty Anderson, Robert Garland, John Dickmann, and Jeff McIlroy for how they laid out the transition to Garnett congregation Sunday. As one person said, their leadership was “comforting” and at the same time challenging to the congregation, and they did that credibly, humorously yet sincerely. Thank you guys for a job very well done.

Jill is a full-time math teacher at Wright Christian Academy and teaches adjunct at Tulsa Community College. She also volunteers in the children’s ministry at Garnett. My deal with her and the churches we’ve served is that I have no stereotypical “preacher’s wife” expectations of her, and I ask our church to also allow Jill to carve out her own niche, as she has already done in the last three years here volunteering as a great Bible class teacher in children’s programs. Feel free to contact Jill directly if you’d like to encourage her or know how she feels right now. She is also on Facebook.

Finally, I want to end with an excerpt of Loy Johnson’s “Charge” to me.

Wade’s calling was one of pronouncement. Greg, yours is one of implementation.  It’s been said that a church takes on the personality of it’s pastor.  While the mission here at Garnett will remain the same, we understand that under your influence, the way it’s fleshed out is likely to reflect your passions and your personality – and we encourage that.  As Shepherds of this congregation, we give you the following charge:

  • Help us bring about unity, healing, and stronger family relationships within our body.
  • Help us practice what we preach.  Show us ways we can take an active role in healing the community around us.
  • Help us develop the same heart for others that you and Jill have already displayed.
  • Work within your giftedness.  Pursue your passions, but know your limits.  Focus on your areas of strength and allow others to serve within their’s.
  • May your ministry here at Garnett be marked by an expansion in God’s kingdom.  Through your efforts, may many people, both inside and outside of these walls, grow in relationship with Jesus Christ.