Running away must be such an easy short-term victory. In The Runaway Pastor I began telling the tale of a runner. Trent Atkins is a pastor who can't stand it any longer. And so he runs, from both his church and wife.
I've been so grateful for all of the people who work other occupations and yet identify with this urge to run. I've heard from business owners, nurses, wives, teachers and seemingly a representative from every occupation under the sun--that running is a temptation. Yet, I want to beg the attention of all non-clergy here for just a minute. I want you to consider that perhaps the temptation to be a runaway pastor is a bit different.
What if your occupation was to lead your best friends in their obedience to God? What if you believed the very future of your community and world depended upon how well those you lead succeed in being the person and presence of Jesus to their world? Trent ran, not because of the many details of his work, but because the ONE OVERRIDING purpose of his life and calling was not being met: To usher in the kingdom of God. Trent, like most pastors would gladly deal with the pressures, if he only believed he was leading a congregation full of people who were committed to world change. Surely, Jesus asks no less of any of us who claim to be his followers.
Pastors despair, in my opinion, not because of the difficulty of the task--and it is difficult--but because of the seeming irrelevancy. We are called to change the world, and soon find ourselves maintaining an institution.
A week ago Sunday, I laid down a dare to my congregation. In so many words I said: "I either have to find a way to lead us into meeting the needs of our community, or I need to quit and get out of the way so that someone can. The urgency of God's calling in my life is beyond just trying to preach good sermons to good people. The core of what Christ wants to accomplish in our world is so far beyond just 'growing a church,' that the very terminology sickens me.
"I live in a methamphetamine blemished county. I live near parents who can't or won't care for their children. Our school system is drowning in academic needs, and trying to fix human problems with government dollars; all the while what they really need is for someone to love kids into a new way of doing life. We as Christians must quit insisting on putting a layer of insulation between ourselves and the needs around us--such as giving money or old clothes to someone else to help people who are hurting. What our community needs is the very person and presence of Jesus rubbing up against the hurts and agonies that plague us."
"In Brown County, Indiana, we have excellent teachers who love the children in their classrooms, but simply cannot be the physical, emotional, spiritual and academic lifelines of so many. We have outstanding administrators and principles who are giving their lives to see the children of our county know academic and life success. It is time for us to quit trying to bring children into our building to hear a sweet lesson about a sweet Jesus. Instead we need to go and be Jesus, live him and touch the rough edges of young lives. If they are hungry, we need to feed them, if they need a call in the morning to get them up for school, or a ride when they miss the bus or someone to help them learn to read...we need to be present."
And perhaps--if I may be so presumptuous to hazard a guess--this is why so many people are tempted to quit whatever it is they are doing. Is there a disconnect between our tasks and our passions? Do nurses have this hidden desire to nurture and care for patients instead of paperwork? Do teachers have some strange latent passion for students to read or write, instead of trying to work their way up to some well-to-do community, where the pay is better and the pressures fewer?
I do not have the answers. But I've decided I can no longer stand aside, or worse yet run away from the problems. And so, as a new year begins, I have decided to run toward them. And I may fail. And my leadership may fall far short of its passions. But for now, while I have a chance and before I am empty of strength, I will continue to run toward what I perceive to be the need around me.