Monday, May 09, 2011

Unfinished Business?

As I have less than a month to go before my last Sunday with Bethlehem, I've been reflecting back on the last four years, what I've learned, what I've done well, the many things I've done wrong, etc. I've especially thought a lot about the previous two years and everything that has happened since the fire.

One of the questions I've gotten from more than a few people is why I'm leaving now. Specifically, they wonder why I "don't want to see it (the building project) through" or if I'm leaving things "unfinished".

Honestly, I asked those questions for several months as the sense that I needed to move on began to grow. Would walking away now make two years worth of hard work all be for nothing? Would moving on now be saying that I couldn't handle a difficult situation? What would this mean for my legacy at Bethlehem?

Pondering these questions made me realize that my main motivation for staying would be for the sake of my own ego, for the opportunity to be the guy standing front and center on the day we dedicate the new building. One member of my congregation told me that I "deserve to preach the first sermon in the new sanctuary". Whether that's true is for other people to decide, and reasons of ego are a bad reason to do anything, especially to stay too long in a pastoral role.

I blogged about my rationale for leaving a while back, and those reasons are the final result of a lot of reflection and prayer. One of the things that has kept coming to me over and over as I've pondered my future is how Paul corrects the people in the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 3) when they're arguing about who they "belong to" and use that to argue that one person is better than another. Paul reminds them that he, Apollos, and any other person are just laborers, that God is the one who makes everything happens, and that only God is worthy of the glory afforded by saying someone "belongs to" them.

I came to realize (with the help of some wise friends) that my desire to be front and center the day we dedicate the new building, to have my name on the plaque saying who built the building, was a desire for the glory and credit that belong to God and not to me or anyone else. I also came to realize that the day the congregation dedicates the new building will not be the day they arrive at some perfect status. There will always be more work to do, just as there was much work done before I ever got there. Thinking that my leadership is somehow crucial is pretty darn arrogant. There is always "unfinished business" at the end of every pastorate- it's just a little more obvious in this case.

In any case, we did come to a natural point of completion. The ground-breaking on Palm Sunday symbolized the end of the fire chapter of the church's life, with all the hard work of grieving (although the grieving has not ended for some), recovering, visioning, and planning for the future. We even set up the space for the ceremony to resemble the first worship following the fire. Now that the ground is broken, the congregation can focus on nesting in the new building and what that will mean for their future, and that chapter of their lives will be overseen by a new pastor.

I look forward to witnessing the fruits of our labor together from afar, knowing that no matter what person gets the credit in the eyes of some people, it's God who has made it all happen.

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