What 40 years as a pastor has taught me: Ideals vs. realities (Part I)
Some people who know me might wish to title this series “HAVE YOU LEARNED ANYTHING AT ALL IN 40 YEARS AS PASTOR OF NCF?” That also would be a fair question. We humans do not learn or change easily. But, I do think I have, by the grace of God and God’s people, learned a few things through my 40 years as a pastor at New Covenant Fellowship, and I appreciated Kristin T. challenging me to reflect on that in a series of posts as I move toward retirement from the Senior Pastor role—to think about what some of those most important learning experiences have been.
I will start this series by noting a lesson that I continue to learn and re-learn. This is a truth that spans most of the other topics that I will reflect on in future posts in this series. It is also a truth that can only be discovered by pushing against one of my greatest weaknesses. It is a truth that demands WAITING and PATIENCE if it is to be discovered.
This is that truth: The REALITY of the church community has never lived up to my IDEALS concerning what we could be and should be—not 35 years ago and not today. That can be very depressing (and is very depressing for some people). However, I have learned that although all reality does in some ways fall short of my ideals, if I hang in there with God and God’s people, the reality often far surpasses my ideals, as well. And, this truth is not just one I have learned about the church community, but also about all of life’s most important relationships. Here are a few examples.
I have never fully lived up to my ideals of what I could and should be as a husband, and my wife has never lived up to my ideals (nor her own) of what she could be and should be as a wife. BUT, I have continued to find new depths of who she is, and new admiration for who she is and how she lives life for over 50 years now. I never dreamed that I could sit and gaze at a 70 year old woman and just be overwhelmed with admiration and thankfulness. If I had gotten my ideals, we would not have made some of the mistakes we have made, true. But, we would not have the deep and abiding relationship that we have either, because I did not even know such love and caring with such depth was possible. Thank God that God mercifully delivered me from being prisoner to my ideals.
Similarly, I have never lived up to my ideals as a Parent, a Pastor, a Friend, a Relative, a Grandparent, a Great-Grandparent, a Neighbor, a Christian, or even as a basic Human. And yet, in each of these areas, by the grace of God, I experience realities that I did not even know to ask for or to imagine.
So yes, every friend, every family member, every Christian, every human, every phase of New Covenant Fellowship’s 40 years, and even God have failed to meet my ideals at times. That could be very depressing. Or, it can be thrilling.
Don‘t hear me wrong. Ideals are important, because we were created to move toward goals—but not to be enslaved by them. And it is very sad that our failures, sins, and mistakes are so prevalent, so costly, and demand so much grace and forgiveness from God and from one another. But they are not God’s last word about us.
Real life, real love, real people, and the real God are thrilling, because the reality God creates is always higher and deeper than my ideals—if I can be PATIENT and WAIT for God. That is true right now in this broken age of God’s history with us humans. I can only try to imagine how much more true it will be in God’s age to come, when all of God’s ideals become God’s reality and God’s gift to us humans. I am very glad this future promise, too, will not be bound in any way by my ideals of what it might be like or should be like.
Thank you God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus the Messiah, for not being limited by my ideals! And, thank you Father for allowing me to be a part of this Fellowship that, although it does not meet my ideals nor the ideals of its other members, has far surpassed my ideals in the realities of life and love through knowing you and serving you together.
As always, if you have any thoughts, comments, or questions about this post, or if there is another topic you would like me to explore in a future post, please leave a comment. I always enjoy your questions and thoughts. / Ron