Thursday, February 05, 2015

One From the Heart, Hearth and Head: All Things to All People


I get called on as a pastor and leader of a congregation to do a lot of things. Some of them are in the "job description" of my life as an ordained person of the Episcopal Church. In my vows as a deacon and priest, I can equate most of what I do as lying within that mandate. I preach, teach, pastor, lead, guide, counsel, console, care and communicate the Gospel as best I can in a "wherever/whenever" way of being. Most days, I can manage that at all hours and sometimes it is at all hours that I am called to serve. Most days, I enter the closing hours of the day knowing that I have labored to decent effect, been faithful, worked hard and given all I can for my Lord and Savior. All I could do is what I could do...and I did.

Some days, I confess, I struggle with that call to service and fall short in my own (or others') estimation. I might be tired. I might be weary and testy. I might be distracted. I confess even at times to bouts of apathy, light depression and even just general "why now?" being excuses for me to be less than I am called to be as a servant of the living God in Christ Jesus.

This post is not about the above...but about a particular pitfall that most leaders, particularly those in "pastoral" occupations or vocation, face when the needs, hopes (or worse, desires) of the people around them that they serve lead to the "Be all things to all people" model....usually because there tends to be an unspoken addendum to that expectation...and that is "or else."

You see, when as a leader to make a vow, a promise to place the well being of the Body they serve in your highest esteem, then they also open themselves to the expectations of that Body. Most of those expectations are attainable, explicit and manageable. Many of them, however, are not necessarily attainable, or remain implicit (or even secret), and even wind up being unmanageable because of those reservations. If you need an example beyond the Church, look to Washington. We expect our elected leaders to "fix" things that are broken in the economy, in geo-politics, in the environment and in society....and yet most of those fixes don't being with their top-down actions, but rather from our bottom-up resolve to see change happen.

Bring that down to earth in your community....it is pot-hole season, yes? Many of us will be popping tires, bending rims and shaking loose our fillings in our teeth soon. As those jarring impacts disrupt our days, who is to blame? The inevitable toll that repetitive freeze-thaw cycles have on inanimate paving? Of course not...it's the three or fours guys on the repair crew who either missed that hole or haven't gotten to it, yet. They can only fill one hole at a time, but it is not the one filled that we give them our blessing for filling; rather, it is the one that we hit for which we offer our curse.

So, thought St. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians talks about "becoming all things to all people" as a servant of the Gospel, we have to be careful not to follow that to a vituperative end. His statement is that he first exercises understanding of the people to whom he is preaching. He chooses, before leading, to learn. He chooses, before speaking, to comprehend. He chooses words that will likely be heard, and makes points that will likely be embraced with understanding and sympathy instead of confusion and consternation.

It challenges us to bless the filled potholes and the smooth roads, even as we forgive for those potholes not yet repaired and those roads not yet tended. It means allowing that a leader can do only so much before we understand that being led means being a part of the solution before the crisis. It means listening like St. Paul, learning like St. Paul and proclaiming with sympathetic awareness like St. Paul as we strive to become all things for all people. In that we avoid co-dependent entanglements and become more fully interdependent as common members of one another as the Body of Christ in this world.

I have learned over the years that this is the lesson I must needs teach, first and always, as a leader and pastor. It is also the one I must needs learn, first and always, as a follower myself....of my own superiors in the Church and of Christ as my head, my heart and my purpose in being. It also means being kind and gentle with each other....because with the bar so high, we will inevitably stumble and trip up as leaders; as well as finding ourselves upset at our leaders' stumbling and trip ups....from here, we can build a practice of honest, open and direct leadership....and followship in the name of the Christ who has given us a full measure of hope in His resurrection.

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