Listen To Article
This past week marked twenty years since I graduated from seminary. Some days it feels like yesterday that I walked across the platform to receive my diploma. Other days it feels like a lifetime ago.
Truth be told, had you talked to me nine months ago, I’m not sure I would have made it to this twenty-year mark. For a variety of reasons, this past year has been the most challenging season of ministry I’ve ever experienced. I know I’m not alone. A recent survey of Protestant pastors by the Barna Group found that 29 percent of pastors have seriously considered leaving congregational ministry this past year.
That was me. I was in this 29 percent. To borrow a phrase from Tod Bolsinger, I was experiencing “a failure of heart.” Then, about two months ago, something happened. By God’s grace. I started to find my heart again. It was a confluence of things all coming together at the right time. Hard work with an excellent therapist. Strong support from a loving spouse. Deep, authentic friendships where I could wrestle without shame. Compassionate lay leaders who walked with me through my struggle.
One of the most significant things that happened was attending a retreat with a group of other pastors through an initiative called Churches Learning Change (formerly known as the Ridder Church Renewal). We were each assigned to write our own “I Have a Dream” speech. Everything in me resisted. But I did it. Reluctantly, I woke up early on the second day of the retreat and started writing my dream. And like I imagine Jesus’ body sealed in the tomb, something in my tomb-sealed heart quickened. Dry bones rattled. A fresh wind rushed. And something in me was resurrected.
This feels really vulnerable, but I want to share with you my dream today. I share it with you wondering, “What dream is God stirring in you?” And what if we dared to dream together? “In the last days…I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:17-18).
Here, then, is my dream for the church I love:
I have a dream today.
I have a dream of shepherding a church that, with boldness and humility, takes seriously Paul’s vision in Ephesians 2:11-22: to break down walls and build bridges in the name of Jesus Christ. A church that is passionately committed to the ministry of reconciliation, to the Spirit’s work of healing and mending and making all things whole in Christ.
I have a dream of shepherding a church that resists labels and putting people in boxes, that is concerned more about culture care than culture wars, that is deeply rooted in a Reformed identity that is robust and generous but whose branches extend far and wide and are ablaze with the fruit of the Spirit.
I have a dream of a different kind of church. A church that is more concerned about moving toward Jesus, and being held together in Jesus, than putting up fences to keep others out and fighting about who on the inside has it all figured out.
I have a dream of a church that doesn’t avoid conflict, but moves toward one another in it, is formed more into the image of Jesus through it, and shows the world a different way to engage our differences. I have a dream of a church that takes off the masks, that doesn’t bury pain but loves one another in and through pain, a church where “broken alleluia’s” are embraced.
I have a dream of a church that is not only committed to healing and mending from within, but who is an agent of healing and mending in neighborhoods, workplaces, schools and college campuses, and throughout the towns and cities where we live. A church that is on mission with God to courageously disrupt the status quo and work tirelessly toward making a reality the Beloved Community of the Kingdom, the beautiful diversity of the family of God. A church that welcomes the stranger, that defends the vulnerable, that calls out the belovedness in every human being and says to all, “Yes, there’s a place for you here. In Christ, you belong. And in Christ, we belong to each other.”
I have a dream of finding my heart again to lead this kind of church. A dream of not looking to others to tell me I fit or belong but of deciding I belong because God marks me as his own, has called me for such a time as this, and has sent me to this place and to these people, to live wholeheartedly for him and in him.
I have a dream today of not only finding my heart again, but of helping other pastors find their hearts again too.