Saturday, January 31, 2009

Handling Disappointments

Throughout my years in the ministry I have struggled with disappointments. Anyone serving the church knows what I mean. We enter the field flush with high expectations and boundless dreams, and then reality hits hard. Churches decline under our watch. Complaints shake our confidence. Members fail in their personal lives. The list goes on.

How does one handle these disappointments? Some eventually burnout and leave their calls. A few others simply drift from place to place looking for a greener pasture. Some live in denial and may try to blame others to deflect it from their own conscience. As I mused on this dilemma I came up with a short list that may be helpful to anyone who has been down this lonely road. I would have liked to have had a neat list of 10, but even that fell short of expectations.....

1. Accept the things you cannot change. Not everything is in your control. You cannot make people live better lives. You cannot force them into more moral choices. You can only teach and direct and advise. You are not God. Only He can change hearts and lives through His Word.
2. Celebrate small victories. While we wait for the big victories that never come we miss out on positive developments along the way. Enjoy the visit you made that lifted a person's day because you cared. Changes come one person at a time.
3. Recognize the possibilities of what you cannot see. So often God is working invisibly outside of our visual field. Just because we can't see it doesn't mean it isn't happening. Remember, we walk by faith and not by sight.
4. Set goals to improve. So you failed and fell on your face. It's not the end. You can do better. But you won't improve on those mistakes if you don't set concrete goals to correct them.
5. All failures are not your failures. Too often we take responsibility for the failings of other people as if they were our own. This point dovetails nicely with #1 above. Let others own up to their own mistakes. You have enough of your own to worry about!
6. History can be your friend. People forget and so can you. Going back to a church anniversary this year reinforced this point for me. People often graciously remember more of the good than the bad - at least sometimes. Given enough time the petty little mistakes will fade from memory and be replaced by the significant things you were able to accomplish by God's grace. At least that's my hope....
7. Everyone sins and falls short of the glory of God. You're not the only one who sins. It's everyone's condition. Stop letting people make you believe that they are perfect and you are the only one that failed. Oh, and by the way - YOU ARE FORGIVEN IN CHRIST!
8. Accept your limitations and celebrate your gifts. Yes, you aren't good at everything. No one is (despite the fact that some want us to believe this.) On the other hand, God has blessed you uniquely with gifts to share with the world. Use those gifts and resist dwelling on what you can't do.

Well, that list is certainly not exhaustive. Maybe you can add to it. I'd be glad to hear your insights!

The Lord be with you....

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sorry to Be Away So Long....

To those who inquired about my absence from cyberspace and shared their appreciation for my musings on this little blog, I am appreciative. Life, as we all know, has a way of getting complicated and busy, and this part of my life was simply put on hold while I caught up. At present I am juggling more than a few balls of responsibility, and with the holidays it became a bit hectic (along with some minor health issues as well.) Besides my usual 'civic' avocations (Scouts and Fire work), I am also preoccupied these days with a local vacancy to the north and my ongoing duties as circuit counselor. Still, I think I'm catching up....

It's hard to believe that in the midst of all this I was even entertaining the thought of pursuing a D. Min. degree out of St. Louis! I have long wanted to have some academic challenge to keep my mind fresh and give me some options for the future, and after much deliberation began to lean toward doctoral work in homiletics. At present I'm hedging a bit, a little uncertain as to my total commitment to what will prove to be a process stretched out over at least 5 years. Debates go back and forth on the value of the D.Min., some seeing it as "Ph.D -lite." Perhaps. Still, our seminaries demand the highest credit load of all the seminaries I've investigated, even the Ivy League variety - 54 to 56 credits in addition to the diseration/project. Well, the deliberations will continue, and perhaps I'll come to some decision by month's end.

Last week I made my annual pilgrimage to the Symposia at Concordia Theolgical Seminary in Ft. Wayne and enjoyed it immensely. Due to a delay of a day, I was only able to take in the lectures on Wednesday through Friday. However, those proved to be the most interesting of all. The theme for the Confessional Symposia was "A Last Look at Missouri's Critical Time: The 1950's to to 1970's." The lectures covered several key personalities in the LCMS's post-WWII history, including such well-known men as Jaroslav Pelican, Arthur Carl Piepkorn, J.A.O. Preus, Robert Preus, Berthold Von Schenk, Martin Scharlemann, Walter A. Maier, and Richard R. Caemmerer. Athough my involvement in the history of the synod dovetailed with only one of the these figures (Robert Preus), it was facinating to learn more about those who had such an impact on how hitory has unfolded during my time. The information about Walter Maier was particularly revealing, when Dr. Shuta outlined for us WAM's curious connections with Billy Graham and how his style and message had so much more in common with modern day evangelicalism and the televangelists than with mainsteam confessional Lutheranism. I hope that the seminary posts his paper along with the others. Make sure to check the site for their presented papers from time to time to see what is eventually posted.

Life in the Missouri Synod seems a bit quiet these days, although there are things brewing out there. One item of interest that I would like to devote some space to here later is the issue of the proposed reorganization of synod's structure. The key document under consideration is called "Walking Together: Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance." The documents and FAQs can be found on the Synod's website here. I would strongly suggest that everyone in the Synod read and become familiar with this as it is going to be presented and discussed at each of the upcoming district conventions this year.

With that I'm going to end for now. But I'll be back! I promise.