Taking a Step Down… and Moving Up! (Part 1?)

“Relativity” is a lithograph print by the Dutch artist M. C. Escher, first printed in December 1953.

The proverbial grapevine, like nature, abhors a vacuum – too often providing speculation and hearsay when facts and truth are not sufficiently strong and clear.  (And even then, there’s no guarantee that the grapevine won’t work overtime in counterproductive ways and wrong directions!)   That being so, I thought I’d share a little bit more about my recent decision(s) to step down as Senior Pastor of Strawbridge United Methodist Church [on Sunday, November 18], take a Sabbatical, and return to ministry as Executive [Associate] Pastor at LakeRidge United Methodist Church in Lubbock on January 15, 2013.

From the pulpit, I’ve already shared the “big picture” of the move:

In many ways, there are connections between this parable [of the Rich Fool in Luke 12:13-21] and the teaching this morning and my decisions to step down as a Senior Pastor, my decision to take a Sabbatical, and my decision to return to ministry as an Associate Pastor.   Two sayings help me flesh this out:

One of my mentors (at least in writing) is Henri Nouwen.  You have heard me quote him before.  He’s such a power example to me.  In his book, Letters to [his nephew] Marc, he talks about  how he stepped away from the high, prominent positions at Yale and Harvard that he once filled and found his way into a community of less fortunate people (mentally and physically).  The last ten years of his life, in fact, he was responsible for dressing and feeding people that were totally unlike those he’d encountered in the halls of academia.  And, to Marc, he talks about how the world presses for upward mobility.  You know: “Rise up, rise up!…  Everything is a stepping stone to something bigger and greater!”  And he talks about how the call of the Gospel – we even hear it this morning – is a certain call to “downward mobility” –divesting one’s self.   How did Jesus put it? “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.”  It certainly is no call to upward mobility, is it!?  I hear a call to “downward mobility.”

Still, again, Pastor Hinson (when I was at First Methodist, Houston) would often quote Howard Thurman at Boston University about “being true to the grain of your soul.”  We know what it is to be at odds with the grain of a piece of wood.  And, deep down – oh, we might not be able to articulate it, we may not have put our finger on it…  But, deep down, our souls know  what it is to live against the grain of our souls.

And the two quotes are related and they are connected.  And, they are related and connected  to my move, as I have said, to step down as a Senior Pastor and take a rest, to take a Sabbatical.  (Folks, when you’re on the drive for upward mobility, when you’re doing something you’re not wired for, it can really drain you.  And, I can speak to the ways my soul is drained.)  Those two quotes have a way of expressing how and why, when I return to ministry, I am going to happily function as an Associate Pastor: because I have listened to my life and I feel like this is being true to the grain of my soul. 

And, you know what?  There’s real joy and there’s real peace when you start living true to the grain of your soul.  It can sound selfish (it can feel self-serving to say it) but, deep down, I believe that, as I live true to the grain of my soul (“downward mobility” that it might mean),  it works out best for everybody.  Because this Church, for example, gets a Pastor more invigorated and passionate and confident in a Lead Pastor role.

Yeah, when we live true to the ways we’re wired, when we live true to the grain of our souls, when we live more true to the Gospel and find our way moving down into the will of God (or, as Richard Rohr says, “falling upward”), it’s good for everybody!

Not sure this says it all.  (Hence the “?” after “Part 1” in this post’s title.)  To add more, though, is to break, I believe, some bloggers rule out there about reasonable and appropriate post lengths.

For now, I leave it here — though with one final word.  Sadly, we live in a world that is compulsive about framing winners and losers.   Such an orientation defies and belittles the ways God can frame magnificent win-win solutions!  (In fact, the winning is not just dual [“win-win”] but multiple [“win-win-win-win…”] as each of us lives into His will!)  In regards to this transition I/we are about, for example:

  • I “win” as I live more fully into my wiring — the “grain of my soul”!
  • Strawbridge “wins” as it gets a Lead Pastor who is more wired for that role and this setting!
  • LakeRidge “wins” as it gets an Associate who is passionate and joyful about getting to lead Staff, Programs, and Small Groups to the next level!
  • (And these, I believe, are but the initial and immediate “wins” I see in this transition!)

And so, I have real peace and joy about stepping down as Senior Pastor of Strawbridge UMC — stepping away from a role and a title to which I am ill-fitted.  Yes, I have real joy about “moving up” to LakeRidge… and, more especially, moving up and into my truer calling in Christ — living more fully and faithfully to the grain of my soul!

I pray for you, Dear Reader, that you, too, would discover the joy of “stepping down… and moving up!”

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2 Responses to Taking a Step Down… and Moving Up! (Part 1?)

  1. God bless you and your family as you answer your call. I know everyone you encounter will be blessed. And what is so wonderful about technology, is that I can still keep up with your beautiful family and enjoy your writing.

  2. mark beneze says:

    I played the violin for years, second chair was my favorite spot. I like the harmony.
    I can understand fully your point of view. I also did the same thing in ministry.
    Looking forward to knowing you better.

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