GROWING IN GRACE
This is one in a series of columns documenting Rev. Gosden’s transition from associate pastor to senior pastor. Read more on his blog, www.mastersdust.com.
I’m now a little more than three weeks into my new appointment and my first solo pastor gig. It’s been a whirlwind of paperwork, sermon preparation, meeting people, and trying to remember what day it is. It’s funny when people ask how things are going, all I can say is that it’s the most fun and exhausting thing I’ve ever done on a daily basis.
It’s also funny how priorities or things I give attention to have shifted dramatically.
It seems the more I am immersed into solo pastor work the less I care about the politics, debate, and strife at the general church level.
I have to confess that, in a former life, I was a political science major and a political junkie. It seemed that following General Conference and the political back and forth of the general church fit right into my political passions. And these last four to six weeks or so have been especially interesting as there seems to be a new blog post or wrinkle in The United Methodist Church’s debate over human sexuality. Blog posts are exchanged. Clergy are being defrocked and then reinstated after appeal. Caucus groups are getting louder and louder (and taking in more and more money in support).
But for some reason I’ve found myself reading fewer and fewer of the blogs, writing even less about it, and feeling exhausted about even the idea of engaging in another back and forth when no one will ever have their mind changed. Now before you think I’m being a little self-righteous, let me confess that I have read a few posts and I have engaged in a few discussions – but my concern is more for the unity of the church and less for waging war on someone who doesn’t agree with me. Frankly I’m even finding the whole unity/schism discussion to be another dead-end because most of us have our minds made up as to what we think.
I consider one of the biggest signs of grace in my new pastoral appointment to be this: every day I find that I care more and more about what’s happening in my local church and in our neighborhood and how lives can be changed and less and less about the politics of General Conference or even squabbles in my annual conference.
You see, I’m becoming more and more aware of the fact that people’s lives are not changed at General Conference. Annual Conference sessions and district meetings can’t make disciples. The local church is where the average person comes to hear God’s word proclaimed and to discover how that word can breathe new life into their everyday life. You can’t legislate that. You can’t structure it across a district or an annual conference. It happens as an act of grace; a gift of the Holy Spirit. And it happens at the most local and simple level of gathering for worship, sharing in study, and giving of ourselves in service through the life of the local church.
Look, the truth is, I’ll follow the work of General Conference next year. And I’ll support our Annual Conference and probably serve where I can make a difference. But I thank God for the ongoing revelation that those places are not where lives are changed and the gospel is lived out in its purest and most faithful beauty. I needn’t go any further than my front yard (which connects to our church yard) to find that beauty. It’s happening in my neighborhood and community. And my best energy, I’m finding, is to find how our little church can join in and share in such beauty.
The Rev. Ben Gosden is the senior pastor at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Savannah. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.