This Lenten text is an important one for first time pastors and pastors in transition to keep in mind. Keeping at a minimum the comparisons to Jesus and Jerusalem (you are special, but not that special, and your church is special, but not that special), this texts helps us to remember that just because God has called us and the Bishop has sent us, we might not be welcomed in the place we have been sent.
When I started at my first appointment, I followed a pastor who had served there for 22 years and felt forced into retirement against her will and the will of the church. One of the people who refused to accept my presence was “Frank”. He was a businessman, but his passion was singing and he was a trained opera singer who often sang in worship. I asked Frank if he would like to continue this, and with a positive response, we set the date. Wanting to be the peacemaker with him, I asked him to choose his songs and I would plan the worship theme around what he felt called to share musically with us.
The day came, about six weeks into my pastorate. The prelude: beautiful. The offertory: breathtaking. And then came time for the sung benediction. He stood in the center of the chancel. He raised the microphone to his lips. And began explaining to the congregation all the reasons he felt I was not only the wrong person to pastor the church but the reasons I was a failure as a human being.
And at the end of his tirade (no reason to get into a screaming match trying to stop him) he sang his benediction and I calmly gave my benediction (unplanned, but I was not going to end worship on his ‘note’). Cliff Notes version: He and his wife left the church, which was best for all involved.
God calls us into ministry and with God’s guidance, the Bishop sends us to appointments. None of this is a guarantee that we will be welcomed or treated well. Sometimes we will be sent to places that are so wounded or grieving so deeply that they are not able to see God’s plan active in the life of their church. It takes time, and sadly you will bear the brunt of their hurt for a while. We don’t go into ministry excited about the possibility of rejection, but when it happens, we must remember that we have work to do. Do not allow rejection or bad behavior on the part of a grieving congregation to cause you to question your calling to ministry or God’s presence in your life.
If you are preparing a sermon on Luke 13: 31-35, ask your congregation if there has even been a time when they have felt called to do something, but we not received well. Perhaps they were feeding the homeless and were harassed by the police, or were working at a teen center and the kids didn’t want them there. Did they give up (or would they if faced with the situation)? Jesus knew the importance of finishing his work regardless of the opposition, and this is a model we will need to be remember in our work as well.
If you are struggling with a new congregation, consider a few sessions with Whole Soul Consulting to help you develop a plan to heal wounds of the part, gain the trust of your leadership, and discern how you fit into God’s (and Bishop’s) plan for your new community of faith. www.wholesoulconsulting.org