On Returning to the Parish

I’m quickly approaching ninety days since returning to ministry which finds me day to day in the local church. And for that all I can say is I’m grateful. I thought I’d would be good for posterity to share some reflections on this return.

I’m Preaching Without Notes

This has been one of the biggest changes since the last time I was preaching to the same people week in and week out. Folk that know me half-decently know that I’m a wordsmith and that I love crafting just the right turn of phrase. There’s nothing wrong with this. It just turned out that in my first 15 years of preaching, I either fretted about that phrase to the point of doing nothing but reading my manuscript or I would work so hard at memorizing my manuscript that the first hiccup would derail to that there was no chance of return. There’s 2 particular Sunday’s I’d prefer to forget and hope, one day I will.

A three different things clicked for me during me three year journey away from the local church:

  1. I had to learn to be an excellent communicator away from the pulpit… or at least at a time that’s not the sermon. I don’t know what the hang up was about sermons but it was there and it was real. To really communicate with folks I needed to learn to look them in the eye, know when I’m connecting and knowing how and when to change–even mid-stride–so that folks could get what I was trying to convey. Simple, right?
  2. When I did preach during my time in extension ministry, I had a particular outcome in mind–I wanted my listeners to engage in ministry with the nonprofit I represented. If we’re not preaching with an end in mind, then we need to reconsider the whole endeavor. As a friend says, it’s nice to be interesting but it’s transformational to be helpful.
  3. Carey Nieuwhof says that we don’t need to memorize our sermon, we need to understand it. For me that means understanding starting and ending points, transitions, and desired outcomes. Now, I’m not wedded to saying the exact same words on the manuscript on my desk at home and I don’t fret if an illustration doesn’t fall into flow of the sermon.

Where to Spend Energy

One of the great lessons I learned from our CEO while at my appointment to a nonprofit was that I could not control when (or whether) folks would trust me. All I could control was whether or not my actions are trustworthy. A large part of this in my first 90 days is how I spend my time and energy. And I have been spending a large part of my time investing in leaders–both those who are on staff and those in elected office. I’m listening to a lot stories, asking lots of questions and telling my own story, as well. I cannot tell you how important this has been.

Confidence in the Midst of Ambiguity

This is the other lesson I’ve learn and I really cannot tell you how important this is. First, let me be clear about what this is not–I’m not talking about arrogance, neither am I talking about deceiving folks. Confidence that has nothing backing it up, nor one that lacks any sense of a kingdom-minded trajectory soon rings hollow. And to “fake it until you make it” when it comes to vision is vulgar and disingenuous.

Confidence comes from a few different places:

  1. Rootedness in the calling upon your life and vocation.
  2. Complete ability to grasp current context without letting it consume or paralyze you.
  3. A holy confidence in a vision of God’s reign and a steadfast commitment to articulating that vision in your current context.
  4. A sense of a trajectory towards that vision with the wisdom and humility to course-correct to keep the vision of God’s reign before the congregation.

I’m sure none of this is new but I’m grateful for the lessons learned in extension ministry and to share those lessons learned.

There’s a whole other blog to share about finally learning good business and administrative practices. That will come later.