Retreat: Let the Past Inform the Future

I am on a pastoral retreat this week, until Wednesday.

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This is a time to Rest, Reflect and Relate with and to my fellow ministers.

The schedule leaves lots of time for personal reflection and prayer, but last night we had dinner together as ministers of our network. I got to catch up with some ministers from the town next door and then we went into a worship and prayer session that lasted until about 10 P.M.

This morning I had breakfast with some mister friends from Framingham and the Cape and then we went into a time of spiritual discussion.

One of the main things I have heard as I have talked with ministers is about how COVID has changed the church and how so many of us as church leaders are still trying to figure out how to bring restoration to what we lost in the pandemic.

During my time of spiritual discussion with my minister friend from Framingham we chose to talk about what God did during pandemic to bless the church. How the pandemic wrought change in us that was actually positive.

As I got thinking about it the events of the recent past have really stood to inform my church’s future direction. Here are some of the changes I see in no particular order.

  1. We have become much more focused on the value of personal relationships
  2. We have become more committed to the purpose of the church in the world
  3. We have built new and exciting ideas about outreach and how to do it in a relational context
  4. We have grown in passion and love for one another and for those who are within our communities
  5. We have grown in the area of creative thinking.

There are more changes that have come to us in the last two years, but these are some of the most profound.

WHAT ARE SOME POSITIVE THINGS THAT TOOK PLACE IN YOUR LIFE AND COMMUNITY OVER THE LAST TWO YEARS?

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STRENGTHEN THE NETS

One of the prophetic words our congregation received during our recent period of pastoral sabbatical was, “STRENGTHEN THE NETS/ MEND THE NETS BEFORE THE TIME OF HARVEST OR THE FISH WILL SLIP THROUGH THE HOLES.”

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Jesus said, “follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Gospel of Matthew 4:19

I am currently taking all the words that the church received from God during the month of August and diagramming them into a sentence that will lead us into the future God would choose for us.

This word about “mending the nets/ strengthening the nets”, really has me thinking, “What do we need to do to strengthen and mend our congregational net?”

The thought has really put our recent preaching into a new light. Our current series Is called, “THE STEPS IS OURS. THE POWER IS GOD’S.”. The campy title is actually tied to a banner we once bought for the front of the church. It was supposed to read….

THE STEP IS OURS. THE POWER IS GOD’S.

An unfortunate typo got us the former banner instead of the latter. But it also got me thinking that for our congregation maybe there is more than one step.

As I prayed back in August God showed me three and then four:

THE STEP OF FAITH

THE STEP OF HOPE

THE STEP OF IDENTITY

THE STEP OF LOVE

Four steps into our future selves. Four steps to strengthen and mend the nets. Four steps to become the fishers of men we are meant to be.

WHICH STEP SPEAKS THE MOST TO YOU?

FOUR HOURS

On Sunday after church I had a wonderful opportunity to drive to Hartford Hospital to visit two of our parishioners who had been placed there for treatment

It is strange how health care is changing here in the Northeast. I have never had to go to Hartford before for a pastoral visit, but for some reason there were no beds in MA or NH to be had for what these ladies needed treatment for. One of them actually had to travel 3 and a half hours by ambulance to get there.

But I am a firm believer in the fact that God knows what He is doing and He has the people of our church in the palm of His hand.

The roundtrip drive to Hartford is 4 hours. It was a beautiful trip accentuated by autumn colored roadsides. I wish I had thought to stop and take some picture but these photos are near enough representations to show you the beauty I was driving through.

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I seldom have four hours to myself. So the time to drive and talk with God was absolutely welcomed. I talked with Him about adjustments He is bringing to my life schedule. I asked Him about the upcoming pastor’s gathering at the Cape and how I am going to best use those hours. I listened to Him to hear what He would say about my next sermons on the step of love, and I prayed for the needs of several folks in our congregation who are sick like these two ladies.

The visits accomplished their God-given purpose and the time on the road did too. I am so thankful God gave me this extra time.

HOW DO YOU USE TRAVEL TIME?

THE MAN IN THE MIRROR

I have had lots to do over this last week, but I have been arranging a few minutes here and there to journal. It’s a little something I am trying to do everyday. I have always loved writing and I have missed it.

Since I started the Atomic Habits training with our church leadership I have been asking myself who I am and what my identity is in the world. I have asked myself what small thing I can do everyday that will be a vote towards that identity.

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Writing for just ten minutes a day is one of the one things. I know that ten minutes of writing does not make me a professional writer, anymore than reading ten pages of a book everyday (another of my new micro habits) makes me a full time student, but both of these things are a vote in the direction of who I know I was made to be.

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Honestly I haven’t even made it to the 10 minutes of daily writing. I missed yesterday. But I am beginning to understand it is not about the failures as much as it is about the successes. Every step takes me closer to the man I want to be, towards a clearer understanding of the man God made me to be.

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The man in the mirror, if you will, is: a man of God, a man of letters, a man of relationships, and a man of learning. There are lots of little things I am trying to do to shift towards that identity.

Intentional prayer and study. This is something I have been working on for years and am actually pretty stable in. That said balancing my private relationship time with God, and my ministry time since I became lead pastor has actually been a bit of an adjustment. Whatever people may think, ministry is not a thing which pushes you intrinsically toward God. There will be more written on that subject later.

By intentionally scheduling relationships into my schedule. I have had to ask myself as I looked at my schedule, “How does this make me a more relational person?” “How does this make me a more relational pastor?” Those things that don’t feed into my identity, even those things which are necessary must be adjusted so they don’t take up my whole life. Let me give you an example. I am now scheduling 15 minutes a day to billing and planning. Rather than allowing finances to take up a whole afternoon once a month I am doing a little everyday.

Becoming a man of letters and a man of learning? Well that as I said is about practicing here and reading a bit everyday. It’s not all I want it to be but if I have learned anything over the years is you have to plant a seed before you can harvest an apple. I was once a writer…a pretty serious writer. I lost that man temporarily when I took on this new role as lead pastor. I can’t just go back to where I was with my writing. So I am planting seeds again 10 minutes at a time.

The man in the mirror is becoming clearer to me with each step of the journey.

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WHAT ONE THING COULD YOU DO TODAY TO MAKE YOUR MIRROR IMAGE REFLECT YOUR IDENTITY?

BY INCHES

Last weekend was incredible. Brenda, Amanda and I attended week two of our four week training in a leadership track called The Atomic Habits. The training its about changing small things to bring about atomic results.

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My biggest take away so far is that behavior is not changed primarily nor permanently by goal setting but by aligning our life systems with our chosen identity. In other words “live like who you want to be.”

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The class has been reaffirming so many things I heard over sabbatical about the man I need to be into the future, and about the church we need to be into the future.

One of the verses that has been echoing through my brain these last two months is 2 Corinthians 5:17, which says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ,¬†the new creation¬†has come:The old has gone, the new is here!”

I have been doing a lot of thinking about what I really look like as a new creation I am:

  1. To live according to Faith, hope and love.
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2. I am to live according to joy

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3. I am to live according to peace.

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4. I am to be mindful of building and advancing the Kingdom of Heaven through my life.

5. I am to be mindful of living according to the way and power of the Spirit.

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The knowledge, that the seeds of all these things have already been planted in me by Christ at my new creation, has really been challenging me. The knowledge that, like all things that grow my entrance into these things will be by inches, had been comforting me.

It all leads me to the question, WHAT ONE LITTLE THING CAN I CHANGE NOW THAT WILL HELP ME TAKE A STEP CLOSER TO WHO I REALLY AM?

THE LINCHPINS AMONG US

In my sermon last Sunday, I mentioned “Linchpin people”. God has been speaking to me about these folks in our communities quite a lot in the last week.

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These are the people in our community who create the network, the web of relationships, the unity. They are the connectors among us.

In an increasingly broken world,

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These folks can be the unifying factor.

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We need to pray for these folks. There are not many of them and they run the risk of being distracted by things that frankly are beneath their created purpose. I just have this sense that if these people can get ahold of their “super-power” they just might be able to turn a bit of the tidal wave of destruction that is rushing towards our shores. You know the one I mean.

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THE ROAD AHEAD

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One of the purposes of sabbatical was to create for myself and my congregation a season of prayer in which we could discover the road ahead. I went into sabbatical asking God to give me and the rest of our congregation “words” that would direct our future.

As I have come back I have made it a point to meet with everyone of the DLT (Doing Life Together) groups around which are church is grounded. I have literally a whole room full of notes. The walls in our conference room are plastered with large post it sheets.

The staff and I have n’t had time to discern all of the common words that have been spoken but a few are very clear:

Fourteen people in our congregation heard the word “PREPARE”. Usually this word was coupled with the idea that there was trouble coming or something hard we needed to be ready to face. Over the course of the last week I have come to understand that this word needs to manifest in three ways. We must prepare physically, emotionally and spiritually.

“LOVE” was another word prominent in every group I met with. Interestingly the emphasis was never on God loving us. The word “LOVE” as it was spoken to the congregation is a word of action and the action is ours to perform. Further we are being called not just to love people within the church but to love all people in our community, especially those who think and believe very differently than we do.

Our world, even our church world, is struggling with the road ahead. love and preparation are twin struggles which must be engaged and figured out if we are to move forward. My church seems ready to engage ion the struggle.

WELL THAT DIDN’T WORK

When I came off of sabbatical I thought I had changed my life rhythm enough that I would be able to handle writing once a week. My plan was to do that on Sundays directly after church.

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What I didn’t think about was that I had scheduled myself to hit the ground running as soon as I got back from sabbatical and so the old habits of rushing from one thing to another came rushing right back in on day one of my return to work.

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The last two weekends I have double booked myself after church with events that kept me running right through Sunday evenings. By the end of said events I was practically comatose all the way through. Monday, my sort of day off.

So I have to make another plan, because my original plan of writing a whole week of material on Sundays will not work.

Enter the Atomic Habits.

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This is a training I am having our church leadership work through over the next few weeks. The premise is that large change starts by making miniscule moves in the direction you want to go. So here I am working on plan B for this new writing journey. I am going to try starting with 5 or 10 minutes a day.

Let’s see if this works.

Is this what you do or do you have another method?

SINCE WE HAVE BEEN HOME AND SABBATICAL

Dear Friends and Family,

The transition home has been more difficult than I dreamed. It totally shifted my rhythm and left me in a place where writing was not even a possibility.

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The place of creativity got shut down for a while and for that short season I really thought I might never write again.

Then sabbatical arrived in August.

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Sabbatical is not vacation. It’s an extended season of shifting life rhythms, visioning and asking questions of the future you. I didn’t go anywhere during my sabbatical. I shut myself away in the Vicarage and prayed. It was wonderfully renewing.

So I am back writing about life and ministry. I will probably do one life post a week here at “Notes”. My schedule hasn’t changed all that much but some of my time wasting habits have, so I can make a few minutes each week now for things like this which will have long term benefits. who knows how it will grow?

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DEAR FAMILY-TRANSITIONAL ANXIETIES

Dear Family, We have successfully moved out of the Annex and back into The Vicarage.

Good bye Annex! You were a wonderful place to rest our heads for the nine weeks we could not be at home! Thank you Webster and Li for opening your home to us!

Thank you Brothers Remodeling for getting is back into our home!

It’s funny. I thought we would just walk back in and settle right into our old routines. I don’t know what made me think that, but it is definitely not a truth.

Mom has gone through transition anxiety in a big way. The house is not the same and she knows it. Lots of confusion. Little sleeping and lots of psychosomatic pains. While she did not need anxiety meds when we left The Vicarage and moved to the Annex, she has definitely needed them on the return from the Annex to The Vicarage. Sometimes she is not even sure where we are.

Then of course we are also not done the project. There are still little things inside that need to be done: a shower nozzle to be installed, a glass surround still on order, window locks that never got put back on after painting and a few outlets that still need to be replaced and turned on.

And then there is the last big job of the moment.

It was a bit noisy on Saturday and will be for the next four days I am afraid. But at least we are back in and working through our transition anxieties. We are home.

OZ