It’s been five years now … beautiful years since we stepped away from church as we had known it for our entire lives. I joked with people saying, “You’ll never guess what they have every week between Friday and Monday. There are two days, Saturday and Sunday. Many people don’t work on those days.” And in those five years, free from pastoral responsibilities, we enjoyed Sabbath rest, perhaps for the first time ever.
I don’t think I was ever a difficult person to live with but when the weekends came, the pressure of a Sunday morning sermon intensified. I didn’t want to waste people’s time. I imagined that a poorly prepared, 30-minute sermon, in a church of 400 people, wasted about 200 hours. I manuscripted every sermon that I preached for 11 years. In many ways it was enjoyable because I love to write but I was largely unavailable for my family on weekends, the only time they had “off”, so to speak.
I justified my pastoral preoccupation easily, exercising great faith in the power of a Sunday sermon. Now I realize that all a pastor brings to a pulpit is a sermon. God however has a message. It is not the sermon that makes a difference. Not what I have to say but what God has to say. My extreme commitment to a sermon is best described in an adage that my Dad used quite regularly whenever we were “overdoing” things. He used to say in more descriptive terms, “There is a difference between scratching an itch and tearing it all to pieces.”
We moved home to Grand Manan for the summer as quickly as the school year ended. A tired pastor friend asked me to fill in for him as he went on a 3-month Sabbatical. I didn’t even have to pray about it and quickly agreed. His Sabbatical became a resignation. I began to fall in love with the church (people) that he was leaving. They asked us to stay. There was no reason to say “No” and Elaine and I sensed God changing our hearts toward the pastoral role.
I still know two wonderful days between Friday and Monday. Sermons have become less important to me. The message however is more important than ever. But that is what God does, not what I do. What it amounts to is that I am taking myself a whole lot less seriously and God a whole lot more seriously. I have no delusion about the ministry life. It is difficult and demanding … impossible in our own strength. But God is enough, if I follow rather than lead.
That’s my job.
Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1)
I am a follower. The scripture doesn’t suggest that we follow leaders but that we follow followers. Someone has said that everything rises and falls on leadership. In Kingdom living, everything rises and falls on our willingness to follow.
And that is exactly where I unexpectedly find myself. In following, I find myself somewhere that I never thought I would be again. And it’s okay as long as I know that He is out in front. Five years ago I told my wife,
“When I look down the road, all I see is Jesus. I don’t care what is ahead of Jesus. I just care that He is ahead of me.”
Something beautiful has returned to my heart and spirit … something I thought I had lost forever. The joy of following.
I am so grateful.