Transitions

I will soon take over as Lead Pastor at the church I have served for the past year and a half. During this transitional period, I have been doing some reflecting and think that it is important to take time to do this when we experience a transition. Here is a list, in no particular order, of things I believe are important to consider before and during a transition.

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  1. Trust

I struggle at times with insecurity. Who am I to think I can pastor a church? Who am I to think I should lead a congregation? Who am I to think I should preach or teach? There are plenty of people who are far better at it than I, so why don’t I just stand by and allow others to do it?

This insecurity often sits alongside fear and can paralyze us. We decide ahead of time if we will step out and trust or succumb to our own doubts and fears, and let’s be honest…we all have them!

When I talk about trust I mean that you have an internal desire to do something combined with external voices that confirm this. One of the most beautiful parts of a community is that they will often see the gifts and talents you have more clearly than you do, and a good community will call them forward and encourage you in those gifts. When both the internal and external align, trust means taking the step despite insecurities or fears.

2. Priorities

Leading up to every transition should be a time to reflect and take inventory of where you have been and where you are going. Where have your priorities been and where should they be? What part of this transition will make it most difficult to keep your priorities in line? If possible, try to find the top three or four priorities and list them out in order. Below are mine:

  1. Family
  2. Health
  3. Job
  4. School

While I care deeply about the church I serve, I must consistently remind myself that my family is my top priority. Being a husband and father bring me the most joy and they are the most important thing in my life by far.

If I am not living a healthy life, everything else will suffer. Health is not often on the top of people’s list, but it should be.

It’s important to have a list of priorities because when things get stressful (and they will from time to time), we need to decide ahead of time what will suffer first, otherwise the things that matter most seem to suffer – crazy how that happens!

3. Sustainability

One of the biggest questions my wife and I have been wrestling with is:

How can we do this in a healthy and sustainable way?

If your single this is a little easier. For those in a committed relationship or a family, this becomes not only about you, but also about them. Perhaps you could do more and still be healthy, but will your family still be healthy?

The question is not can I do this for six months or a year, but how can I do this for years to come without running myself in the ground? This is also important to ask on a regular basis, because there are seasons where we need to work harder, but if those seasons last too long we are in trouble. It takes an enormous amount of humility, wisdom, and courage to recognize that the pace you have been going is not sustainable in the long run.

4. Spirituality

Of course as a pastor this is important to me personally, but I think this is important to most people. With every transition brings a change, and that includes a change to our spiritual lives. Will we have time to engage in spiritual practices or practices that connect us to the sacred? Will our practices need to change? How will I be able to tell when my spiritual life is struggling?

This is especially dangerous for clergy because sometimes everything we do can be seen as doing “God’s work.” We even refer to clergy as those “called to ministry,” a phrase I loath because ministry means serving and I believe everyone is called to serve (technically clergy are those who help equip others to do the real work). Spirituality has to do with the health of the spirit, and keeping the inner life alive. This is something our society often doesn’t recognize, but is vital. If we want to do whatever it is we feel called or led to do, keeping our inner life alive will enable us to pour out and serve others in more healthy and meaningful ways.

 

 

Bridge building & non-dual seeing

Our world is doing violence to us. How? By pulling us apart, by pushing us to see in dual or binary ways, and suggesting that we must always choose a side.

  • Either Black Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter.
  • Either you are pro life (against the legalization of abortion) or you are against life.
  • Either you believe the way I do, or your “out.”
  • Someone/something is either good or evil.
  • You must be either for or against something.

The pressure to choose one and reject the other is taring us apart – from each other and from ourselves. Not only do we feel pressured to choose sides, it then temps us to see the other side as evil.  We are drifting further and further apart to the point that we no longer listen to the other but rather we lob verbal attacks from opposites sides of the room.

The further apart we are the louder we must yell,  and the louder we yell the harder it is to listen. Last week at One Church we talked about the idea of bridgbuilding (you can watch here), something I am more and more convinced is so important.

Building a bridge doesn’t mean you agree with the other. It doesn’t mean that you throw away personal convictions or opinions. Building a bridge means you actively seek to understand the other, work in areas where you have common ground (there is almost always ways to do this), and build relationships with that person.

Most of us know that it is easier to demonize a faceless group, but once you get to know an actual person from that group, once you swap stories, ask questions, and better understand why they hold those convictions, it is much more difficult. You find yourself closer to each other.  You no longer need to yell, but can have an actual conversation – even if you don’t fully agree.

Uniformity isn’t the goal, listening and understanding is.

Here are some practical steps each of us can take to build bridges and begin to see the world in non dual ways:

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  1. Ask questions

When you meet someone who sees the world differently than you, whether it is political, religious, economic, or it is specific issues such as health care, parenting, education, if your like me, you are tempted to jump to all the reasons why their view is wrong. Asking questions is the first and most difficult step because most of us have very strong opinions and and are passionate about why we hold those opinions. Someone shares a different opinion and often we see red; our blood pressure begins to climb, and our heart feels like it’s going to jump out of our chest. These are very real physiological changes that take place. Perhaps taking several deep breathes to engage our parasympathetic nervous system may be a practice we can all engage in to help calm this “flight or fight” response that is hardwired into each of us.

2. Research

If there is something you don’t quite understand, it is natural for us to fear that thing/idea/person. The more we understand, the less we fear. The less we fear, the more open we become. This is one reason why education is so important.

Fear closes us off to others, but understanding opens us up.

3. Develop relationships

What would the world look like if we all took one meal and invited someone we least understood to share that meal with us? Maybe it’s a person of another religion, political view, ethnicity, or sexual orientation than us. How often do we ignore or pass by these people? If your like me, you try to not to engage with others you don’t understand. This will only contribute to the dual ways we see the world and perpetuate violence.

What would the world look like if every religious person took time to visit a different place of worship? What if they did so strictly to ask questions and learn and refused to share their thoughts, opinions, beliefs or reasons why they disagree. How great would that be?

Most likely, we all have people in our lives, people we interact with on a weekly basis with whom we know little or nothing about. Taking time to ask questions, do a little reading, and be intentional at developing relationships are practical ways to build bridges in our world.

Personality type and spiritual formation

If you know me at all you know that I am pretty obsessed with personality typing. I often catch myself talking to others about their Myers Briggs or Enneagram type. Sometimes, I confess, I take it a little too far and have to remind myself (or more accurately my wife reminds me) that there is more to the person than their personality type.

Some people believe that personality typing places people inside a box, but I have found that it actually exposes the boxes I put myself in and gives me ways to get out of the box – this is especially true of the Enneagram. Here are two ways that understanding personality has helped me grow.

  1. It brings compassion.

I heard someone talk about the Enneagram recently as a tool that increases your compassion toward others because you begin to understand that other people don’t think like you. I cannot tell you how many “discussions” (ok sometimes they are more than “discussion”) my wife and I have had concerning trite things like toothpaste, where something belongs, or how to go about cleaning the bathrooms. While at the time they always seem important, they are usually very small things, and they often reflect how we see the world differently. In hindsight I can see that our approaches differ because we have different personalities – thank God!

For example, I am an idealist who lives in my head and dreams of the future. My wife lives in the here and now (something that takes me a lot of practices to do and thus a trait I greatly admire) and takes the world in through her senses. She is much better at remembering street signs or where a certain grocery store is located. When we drive, I am daydreaming about what someone said, what I heard, what I read, or trying to make connections concerning some theory or model concerning the future of the universe (Yes I somehow tend to avoid collisions as I have only totalled one vehicle). My wife, on the other hand, is taking in all the information that is passing her by in the immediate “here and now.”

I also dislike (well actually cannot stand!) clutter. If it were up to me, my car would always be washed, waxed, and vacuumed and our house with minimal things inside. For my wife, clutter isn’t near as big of a deal as having fun, making memories, and enjoying whatever the present brings – I wish I were more like her and I am hoping that she will wear off on me.

Understanding that we don’t take in information, we don’t process information, and we don’t make decisions in the same way can bring about greater compassion for your spouse, your parents, your children, your boss, and all your relationships. I heard someone recently say that the different Enneagram types is similar to wearing different glasses – it greatly influences what we see and what we pay attention to. The struggle for me is reminding myself this on a regular basis as I so quickly forget.

2. Others experience/see the sacred differently.

This is one area I have been thinking about (or daydreaming) a lot recently. I often ask people their MBTI or Enneagram and I have noticed that some are more naturally drawn to things like contemplative spirituality while others find it much more difficult and less helpful.

For example, many NFs (particularly INFx’s) are almost mystic by nature. If someone is an Enneagram type four this is also true (and even more pronounced if they are a type 4 and an NF!). Many believe Thomas Merton was a type four and he is often seen as an example for many modern mystics. It is much more difficult for an extrovert (though obviously not impossible) to engage in contemplative practices and if that person is an S (sensing) or a T (thinking) on the MBTI it is even more likely they will find contemplative practices more difficult.

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I use contemplative practices as an example because as an INFJ I have found it very helpful, yet my tendency is to think that everyone would benefit from it in the same way I do and thus herald it as the thing.

What I have noticed in myself and in plenty of others is that we tend to think that how we view the world is how others do. As spiritual people we also tend to think that what works best for us may work best for someone else – this often leads to cookie cutter approaches to spirituality.  We can see this to be true in many others ways, e.g., exercise, diet, politics, education, parenting, leadership etc. I think we tend to forget that other people see the world differently and an exercise or diet that may work great for me may not work all that well for someone else.

In the end, the more I understanding the different personalities the more it opens me up to see and appreciate diversity – diversity of thoughts, opinions, worldviews, choices etc. I do still struggle, however, often thinking that my own opinions are the correct ones and that since I love yoga everyone should. Yet, I am reminded that while yoga may work well for me, some people just need an intense, high energy workout. While contemplative practices may be a more natural fit and very beneficial for me, others may need a place to serve, a place to share, or loud music to just let it all go. Sometimes I wish my wife saw the world exactly how I do, but would I really want to be married to myself? (just i case there is any question let me answer this clearly…hell no!)

There is beauty in diversity. Diverse foods, people, places, and things. I have much room to grow when it comes to compassion toward others and understanding that others may see and approach the sacred differently than I, but understanding the different personality types has helped me.

Perhaps you feel frustrated because others connect with the divine in a certain way that does not work for you.

Perhaps you found that certain spiritual practices, books, teachings, etc work well for others, but they just don’t work well for you.

Perhaps you wonder if you are odd because you don’t see God the same way that many around you do.

Spiritual formation, while leading us all to greater love and compassion, may look radically differently from person to person. As we better understand that we are all hardwired a little differently, maybe we can have more grace for the way others think and be more open to different ways and approaches to life and spirituality.