What If Stability Is Not the Goal?

il_fullxfull.265505392I want to share something something that, due to our current circumstances, I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. (I know that I’ve said this before but it bears repeating because so much opinion is presented as dogma, especially on the internets. I process things with other people, sometimes verbally, sometimes through writing. I ponder something for a while and then put it out for feedback. This provides other viewpoints and different angles and allows me to (hopefully) come to a better conclusion.

The difficulty with this, of course is that I sometimes put out not-yet-fully-formed ideas which people perceive as more fully formed than intended. Processing together requires the humility to listen before speaking and then speak for the good of others rather than the pride of being right.).

Speaking of our current circumstances, as we try to sell our house and find employment, we are in the uncomfortable position of asking lots of prickly questions. What do I want to do when I grow up? Is it wrong to want to love your job? Are Christians obliged to pursue employment that results in the betterment of society? Is it worth it to live in a house that requires I spend the bulk of my time away from my family? What should we want out of life? What’s best for our kids? What does the Good News of Jesus have to say about the so-called ‘American Dream’? Is it selfish to want to love where you live? I’m no “Millennial”, but what if I don’t want a “work/life balance”‘ How can I teach my children that there is MORE to life than the daily grind and “working for the weekend”How can I best teach my children to take chances?

There’s a lot here that I’d like to write about. But today I want to focus on something else. There’s a way of thinking, often associated with the Boomer Generation (often in reaction to their experiences with war and their family’s fairly recent experience with the Great Depression) that keeps speaking in to my family’s current circumstances. It asks: Why don’t you just go get a decent job, work your way up and provide stability for your family?

You see the issue, of course.

IF this line of thinking is followed, then it doesn’t matter if you love where you live or what you do. That’s not the point. The point is stability. No sudden movements. The path of least resistance. And the point of parenting is certainly not to encourage risk-taking of any sort.

As we seem stuck at this crossroad, much pondering has been done.

I hear and appreciate the voices calling for stability. I mean, I’ve got eight kids, for crying out loud! One of the foremost considerations during this time of turmoil is what’s best for our kids.

But I wonder. Is stability really the goal of life? Have Christians been promised stability or is it the touchdown of the American Dream?

It might not be wrong to long for some stability in life. But I wonder if those times shouldn’t be for rest rather than the goal of life. In other words, what are the implications when stability is our goal in life? I’m not sure stability always leads to stagnation but the very pursuit of trying to remove turmoil from life (thus becoming “stable”), certainly for me at least, has concerning implications.

When the goal of work becomes to provide stability, what we’re really saying is that the family has a regular, stable income and schedule. Not only do I not think this is the goal of vocation (though it is a necessary blessing of work), I think that it can be dangerous to the soul.

Our version of “stability” usually also means “comfortable.” The point of work (as many believe) is to provide a comfortable life for you and your family. But I’m just not comfortable saying that the point of work (or, extrapolated out, life for that matter) is to be comfortable (see what I did there?).

Comfort breeds complacency because we most grow when we’re most challenged.

Striving to remove the challenges of life (in our case, significant and simultaneous career and home changes) simply atrophies our soul’s growth. We may form healthy patterns of repetition when stability is our goal but we won’t be stretched.

Seeking stability means that you’ve got to attach on to something tightly. The American Dream version is to attach yourself to a solid job and a quiet suburb. These things will provide the life you need. But the Christian must, by definition, attach themselves to something different.

Our stability does not come from our circumstances.

In fact, it often comes in spite of our circumstances. 

I keep finding myself meditating on Psalm 46. The one with the famous saying: “Be still, and know that I am God.” While purveyors of Crafty Christian Crap post it on pictures of waves and sell it to us as a heartwarming sentiment, I am frightened by this command.

Think about the context of God’s command (it is not a suggestion) to “Be still” and know that He alone “is God”. The earth is giving way. Mountains are trembling into roaring oceans. Nations rage and kingdoms totter. These are not stable times and these are not comfortable circumstances. And yet, God does not say He will calm the seas (which He does at another time) or pacify the turmoil. He speaks to us in the uncertainties and says: “Be still”.

He reminds us that He is “our refuge and strength” and “a very present help in trouble”. He doesn’t promise to make the trouble go away. He promises to be with us in the midst of it. He promises to be our stability even when our circumstances boil with uncertainty. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t take the right job to provide stability for my family (for the record, the right option to provide that stability has not yet presented itself) but I do think it’s worth considering what’s really best for our family. I don’t want to raise children to are afraid to take risks in life and pursue what they love.

As Kristi and I wait for what’s next, I keep thinking about rock balancing. Even if you don’t practice rock balancing, I’m sure you’ve seen pictures. Amazing people balance rocks on one another in sometimes astounding ways. Many of these could be knocked over by a strong breeze. But what if the point was never for them to be stable but beautifully balanced for that moment in time?

We certainly appreciate your prayers as we we try to sell our house and find the right job. And, if anything, pray for my wife. Her husband thinks way too much about things.

 

A Lightning Bolt It Was Not (My “Call To Ministry”)

high-voltage-1089875-mA lightning bolt it was not. There was no Luther shock from the sky charging me instantaneously in to ministry. I have known guys like that; successful or not, living in some other world, business, IT, entertainment, what have you. And one day, God suddenly and quite often unexpectedly “calls them to ministry”. They drop everything like it’s hot and like Abraham, follow obediently to only God knows where.

But neither was it an ever-present undercurrent; something that had always been there. I’ve known those guys too. The ones who always knew that they wanted to be a pastor. They started preaching when they were nine and became a deacon at ten, hit the preaching circuit at eleven and there was really never any other road for them to travel. Friends and family alike affirm that they could never imagine anything else. In fact, I have a friend who, at age four, lined up his teddy bears to preach sermons to them. This was not me. In fact, if you told many of the people from my youth that I had become a pastor they would likely tell you to shut the front door in disbelief. 

And neither did I go kicking and screaming into ministry. It was never as though God twisted my arm behind my back until I gave in. It was a natural progression as my path simply seemed to lay itself  down smoothly step by step. It was an evolution more than it was a revolution.

18 or so years ago, I found myself teaching the adult Sunday Morning Bible Study for the church we were a part of (I taught an 18-week redemptive historical study of John 1 among other things). In many ways, I felt inadequate for the task (then again, it could have been the material I chose), so I enrolled in a distance-learning seminary program. Except for the fact that the assignments didn’t have due dates, it was a great idea. So, except for the fact that I didn’t do my assignments, it was a great idea. It just wasn’t the right idea for me.

During this time, I was working at a Christian treatment center for women and adolescent girls battling eating disorders. Our company had some lay-offs after 9/11 and I remember asking myself what would happen if I did lose my job. Would I simply open the Want Ads and find something else to pay the bills? It was a great job and I loved my co-workers, but I wasn’t passionate about it. It was just a good way to pay the bills. Though I didn’t audibly hear God’s voice, I knew, as clearly as you can, that God was telling me He wanted me to “make, mature and multiply disciples.”

So I told my wife Kristi that I thought we should move somewhere and take seminary seriously. At the time you could not do a full seminary degree in Phoenix. Without missing a beat, she asked: “OK, where are we moving?” “Well, crap in a basket,” I thought. I had no idea where we were going.  After requesting information from 20 or so seminaries, we ended up in Louisville, KY where I attended Southern Seminary.

I went to seminary with absolutely no-way, no-how, never-ever intention of being a pastor. In fact, when professors would make comments like, “When you’re pastoring and . . . “, I would internally snicker. I was sure I had the angle on this. I would get my MDiv, transfer to another seminary and get my PhD. Then I would be a book-writing, ETS paper-presenting professor. I would have all the cool parts of teaching theology and none of the crap of dealing with people’s lives. But God often picks the unlikely ones to be His ambassadors. That way, there’s no explanation for success other than God’s faithfulness.

Around half-way through my MDiv, two things happened fairly simultaneously. First, I took a J-Term class on “The Doctrine Of The Church” with Mark Dever. Though there was nothing I hadn’t heard before, I had honestly never been challenged to put it all together in a way that forced me to consider the role of the Church in God’s plan of redemption. As a church member, I had rarely been challenged to see my role in God’s story as anything more than attending a weekly performance. I began to develop a conviction for seeing God’s people develop real community.

Around the same time, my Grandpa passed away. Being the token seminary student, the family asked if we would fly back and do the memorial. Never having done a memorial before, not knowing what I was doing and nervous as all get-out, I stumbled my way through the memorial and graveside services. Afterwards, my Dad said something to me that has stuck to this day. He said “You could affect more lives from the pulpit than in the classroom.”

The only way I can describe what happened next is to say that God simply broke my heart for the Church. I wanted to make, mature and multiply disciples. I wanted to serve God’s people and teach them to serve one another. I wanted to help people understand and apply the Bible better. I wanted to see people love Jesus and live more like Him.

On the way back to Kentucky, I told Kristi that I thought God was “calling me to be a pastor.” After few bars of the “I didn’t sign up to be a pastor’s wife blues”, she affirmed that God did indeed seem to be leading us that way. God had not only seemed to call me but also equip me with a particular skill set that lends itself to public teaching and interaction. After prayer, we found ourselves serving in a church in rural KY. But that’s a story for another day.

I tell you this rambling tale because I worry that, because we have professionalized the ministry, we tend to idealize the role of pastor. Many people have come to believe that “ministry” is somehow out of reach. But my story demonstrates that anyone can find themselves on an unexpected journey.The “call to ministry” certainly looks different for different people. But the point is that pastors are normal people who, somewhere along the way, felt prompted to give their lives in the service of others. No matter how they got there, lightning bolt, kicking and screaming, life-long desire or unexpected turns, they have had a long journey and they need to hear from you more often than when you’re upset about something.