Kevin DeYoung's Blog
June 12, 2017
I will be the senior pastor at University Reformed Church for a few more days.
This Sunday I will preach one last time as an installed pastor at URC. Come Monday morning I will be the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina.
Which has me thinking about Ecclesiastes 3. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (v. 1). A time to weep, and a time to laugh. A time to mourn, and a time to celebrate. A time for hello’s, and a time for goodbye’s.
I am excited for the next chapter of ministry. Everyone from Christ Covenant has been exceedingly helpful and kind in this transition time. I pray for God’s help to preach and lead and serve and love well in the months and years ahead.
But until June 19, I am the pastor of University Reformed Church, and I want the dear saints in East Lansing to know how grateful I am to have been their under-shepherd for the last thirteen years. I still have one more sermon to give on Sunday morning and then a few final remarks to share on Sunday evening. What I want to say in this public forum is simply “thank you.”
Thank you for taking a chance on a 26 year-old associate pastor with no senior pastor experience.
Thank you for always being more concerned about substance than style.
Thank you for always being interested in college students and internationals.
Thank you for coming out for the monthly prayer service and loving it.
Thank you for loving most the sermons that centered most squarely on the gospel.
Thank you for following along in your Bibles.
Thank you for using the hymnal.
Thank you for singing with gusto.
Thank you for generously supporting missionaries, capital campaigns, special projects, and the general budget.
Thank you for quietly and consistently replenishing the diaconate fund, whether anyone asked you to or not.
Thank you for no-drama congregational meetings.
Thank you for elders who work hard and pray hard.
Thank you for a diaconate that was eager to serve.
Thank you for a staff that could learn together, labor together, and laugh together.
Thank you for a support team full of godly, encouraging men, but not yes-men.
Thank you for letting me lead and keeping me humble.
Thank you for the opportunity to pray for you, marry you, baptize you, and bury your loved ones.
Thank you for loving my wife and kids and letting them be themselves.
Thank you for letting me be my own nerdy, silly, picky self.
Thank you for being hungry for the word of God.
Thank you for welcoming us into your homes and into your hearts.
Thank you for embracing the call to be plodding visionaries and hugging theologians.
Thank you for praying for your pastor.
Thank you for making Christ your all in all.
Thank you for calling me pastor. These 13 years have been better than you know.
June 7, 2017
You may have heard: East Lansing, Michigan, is in the news.
The city of East Lansing is now facing a lawsuit when it comes to the city's farmers market.
The suit was filed this morning after the city excluded Charlotte-area farmer Steve Tennes and his family from selling their crops at the farmer's market because of the family's religious beliefs.
The dispute started in August last year when a person reached out to Steve Tennes on the Country Mill's Farm Facebook page regarding their religious marital beliefs.
Tennes responded honestly stating he and his family will not book same-sex couple weddings at their farm because it is against their religious views.
Since then, the situation escalated and the city of East Lansing refused Tennes and his family a spot at the farmer's market and now the Tennes family is taking legal action against East Lansing.
Depending on whom you listen to, East Lansing is either standing up to bigots or violating the First Amendment rights of Catholic farmers. As the latest in a growing list of same-sex marriage disputes, it’s no surprise the story has been garnered local, statewide, and national attention.
I might as well put my cards on the table: as an evangelical Christian who believes in the historic definition of marriage, and as an American citizen concerned with the erosion of religious liberty, I support the Tennes family and am thankful that Alliance Defending Freedom has taken up their case. But rather than repeating the religious arguments in favor of traditional marriage or the legal arguments in favor of religious liberty, I’d like to offer a few personal reflections.
I live and work in East Lansing. Yes, I’m moving in less than two weeks to take a pastoral position in North Carolina, but since 2004 the Lansing area has been my home, and since 2012 I’ve lived in East Lansing.
A few details for outsiders. Lansing is the state capital of Michigan. East Lansing is not just the eastern part of Lansing, it’s a separate municipality. With a little less than 50,000 residents, East Lansing is most well known for being the home of Michigan State University. It’s a great city and a wonderful place to raise a family. East Lansing has a small-town feel, but with a vibrant little downtown and world-class arts and athletics. There are nice parks, good schools (if partisan and liberal at times), plenty of places to run or ride a bike, and a lot of kind, decent people. There are more Christians here than you might think, and the non-religious usually respect people of faith. My son’s baseball team, for example, has been understanding that Sunday morning baseball games just aren’t going to work for us.
I’d like to say I was shocked to hear that my city denied a Catholic farmer the ability to sell his produce at the local farmer’s market, but East Lansing is a deeply progressive place. The city is overwhelmingly Democratic, with a strong Bernie vibe. East Lansing is passionate about diversity, inclusion, and almost any social justice or LGBTQ issue. Judging by responses I’ve seen from friends and neighbors on Facebook, I imagine most residents are proud of the city for barring the Country Mill from selling their fruits and vegetables here in East Lansing.
Toward a More Inclusive Inclusion
As a member of the East Lansing community (at least for ten more days), I’d like to suggest that this pride is misplaced. I want to assume the best about those who made the decision to push out the Tennes family. Maybe East Lansing officials are out to punish traditional Christians. But I think it’s more likely they believe strongly that people like the Tennes family and people like me are on the wrong side of history. They are probably convinced that tolerance and inclusion demand that LGBTQ dissenters be given no quarter and offered no compromise.
But what if this leads to a militantly exclusive form of inclusion?
I wonder if East Lansing officials see the radicalism in the position they’ve adopted. Do they really want to send the signal that evangelicals, traditional Catholics, Muslims, and Hindus, not to mention many visiting scholars from Africa and Asia, are human-rights abusers for believing in the historic definition of marriage?
And do they really want to inject culture war politics into every aspect of our community life? On the East Lansing webpage, it says ,”What makes the ELFM unique is that every item sold by vendors is 100 percent homegrown. Vendors must either grow their own produce or make their own products. Customers at the market enjoy authentic local Michigan goods.” Sounds like a great vision for a farmer’s market. But then in an official statement responding to the lawsuit, East Lansing defends its position against the Tennes family by saying vendors must “embody the spirit of the market.” You mean, like the selling homegrown Michigan products? Or like denying two millennia of church teaching on marriage?
Officials claim that the Tennes family violates the Public Policy section of East Lansing’s Civil Rights Code:
It is hereby declared to be contrary to the public policy of the City of East Lansing for any person to deny any other person the enjoyment of his/her civil rights or for any person to discriminate against any other person in the exercise of his/her civil rights or to harass any person because of religion, race, color, national origin, age, height, weight, disability, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, student status, or because of the use by an individual of adaptive devices or aids.
I get that the city of East Lansing thinks it is morally wrong for the Tennes family to disallow same-sex couples from getting married on their property. But the family was not denying anyone the right to buy any of the fruits and vegetables they want. They were minding their own business (literally) when they were told to not to return to the farmer’s market. So who is harassing whom?
For all the talk of diversity and inclusion, I’ve found that East Lansing can be disinterested in diversity that dares to circumvent progressive norms. The high school recently had hijab day where students were encouraged to wear the Muslim head covering in support of other cultures. You can be sure a similar day encouraging students to wear cross jewelry would not have been met with the same enthusiasm.
I don’t think people are trying to be insensitive. They just don’t realize that like conservatives, liberals can live in bubbles too. I can think of numerous times I’ve been talking to East Lansing friends and neighbors when the person talking to me will say something about gay marriage with the obvious assumption that since my wife and I are nice people and we live in East Lansing that we obviously agree with them. East Lansing wants to be a welcoming place, but it seems as if they prefer ethnic and sexual diversity to genuine intellectual diversity.
Besides being a possible infringement of First Amendment rights, the farmer’s market policy is unwise and untenable. Do we really want to make sexual expression and gay marriage the shibboleths for entrance into polite society? What about the sign I read at the East Lansing owned and operated community center that says men must not bring girls into men’s locker room? Is that a violation of transgender human rights? Or what about the fact that the farmer market itself advertises that children’s activities will be provided by Ascension Lutheran Church? I don’t know what the leaders of the church believe, but I know it is a member of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, which is a denomination that holds to the traditional view of marriage. I’m sure city officials are thankful to the church for providing a nice community service, one that has nothing to do with its views on Obergefell, so why not pursue the same sort of attitude toward farmers selling fruit?
I love East Lansing. As a place to live, I would recommend it to almost anyone. I’ve enjoyed meeting a lot of kind, friendly, decent people in East Lansing, many of whom think and worship differently than I do. But I hope the city will rethink its progressively partisan policies. There is a fuller kind of inclusion and a richer kind of diversity that can better embody the spirit of what East Lansing says it wants to be.
May 30, 2017
I'm convinced that more evangelism, more prayer, more fruitfulness, more holiness will flow from the fountain of our lives only when we start drinking more deeply of Christ.
If you want to be more merciful, look upon Jesus who cried out at the cross "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do."
If you want to be more loving, look upon Jesus who ate with sinners and welcomed repentant prostitutes and tax collectors into the kingdom.
If you want to be purer, look upon Jesus whose eyes are like flames of fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.
If you want more courage in the face of lies and injustice, look upon Jesus who drove out the money changers from the temple with a whip.
If you want to be stronger in the midst of suffering, look upon Jesus who did not revile when reviled and submitted himself wholly to the will of his Father.
If you want to grow in grace, look upon Jesus who reinstated Peter after he denied his Lord three times.
If you want more tenderness in your life, look upon Jesus who took the little children upon his lap and blessed them.
If you want to display the diverse excellencies of God, look upon Jesus who came from the Father full of grace and truth.
Our main problem is not lack of time or resources or the annoying people in our lives. Your main problem and my main problem is that we do not see enough the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. We are not amazed. We do not stand in awe. We are not rendered speechless in his presence.
Too many of us are toying around with gimmicks and looking for quick fixes and miracle cures. Too many of us are digging deep inside ourselves for the change we want. Too many of us spend all our time tinkering with sports and the internet and home repairs while neglecting the one thing that is most needful-to sit at the feet of Jesus, to see him in the preaching of the word, to gaze upon him in the Scriptures, to slowly meditate upon the pages of the Bible, to spend uninterrupted, unhurried time with the Lord. This is what we need.
Let us plead with God that we might behold his glory in the face of Jesus Christ. Implore him for eyes to see. Pray persistently and passionately to know him more.
Because there is no growing apart from gazing, and no becoming like Christ without beholding him in his glory.
May 22, 2017
Graduation season is upon us. Colleges have been handing out diplomas for several weeks, and the high school ceremonies are right around the corner. It can be a wonderful opportunity for honoring past accomplishments and looking forward to future adventures. If you are graduation this spring, I hope you enjoy all the festivities and have a great time with family and friends.
Just don’t believe everything you hear in the graduation speech.
The truth is: you can’t do anything you set your mind to. You can’t be whatever you want to be. You aren’t the last, best hope for planet earth. You shouldn’t always follow your dreams. You shouldn’t always believe in yourself. And you shouldn’t expect life’s most meaningful gifts to come through unchecked self expression.
Most commencement addresses boil down to three sentiments:
1. You’re amazing.
2. Follow your dreams.
3. Never give up.
While all three points can be appropriate in the right context, they don’t amount to much as a game plan for the future, let alone an approach to the good life. Central to the Western understanding (and later Christian understanding) of the good life are the four cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, courage, and temperance. This classic description of character is barely heard in today’s moral exhortations. Which is why most graduation speeches posit a different set of virtues: differentiation, self-expression, confidence, and a “don’t let other people stand in your way” stick-to-it-tiveness.
The cardinal virtues which anchored moral thought in the west for 2500 years have been largely forgotten. You rarely hear about prudence with its calculated pursuit of wisdom and its disciplined use of reason, and you certainly never hear about temperance with its emphasis on self-control, humility, meekness, and sexual restraint. Even popular virtues like justice and courage have morphed. Justice has come to mean a host of policy and political prescriptions (usually for others, not for ourselves), rather than a way of life in which we not only treat one another fairly, but we do our duty, show gratitude for what we have been given, and give God the honor he deserves. Today’s courage–as self-willed perseverance–bears some semblance to the older definition, but missing are the accompanying virtues of patience, magnanimity, and self-sacrifice for the sake of others.
To be sure, no one expects much from a graduation speech. The bar is pretty low. I know, I gave my high school commencement address (lo, these many years ago). But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen with discerning ears. Or that we can’t ask for a better use of 15 minutes in the future. What teenagers and twentysomethings need to hear is not another banal speech about all marching to the beat of our own drums. They need to hear that lasting success comes from hard work and delayed gratification, that the dreams worth chasing are dreams of character not of career, that going further than we thought possible never happens without embracing our limitations, that self-denial will make you more friends and make you happier in the long run than self-expression, that duty and joy are not mutually exclusive, that finding meaning in life comes when you finally forget yourself, and that being true to what is good and right and beautiful is more important than being true to yourself.
If you have to sit through another graduation speech this spring, it might as well be one that eschews the silliness of find-your-selfism and focuses on virtue instead.
May 16, 2017
This is an important book.
In The Death of Expertise: The Campaign against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters, Tom Nichols (Professor at the U.S. Naval War College and a former aide in the Senate) argues that the United States “is now a country obsessed with the worship of its own ignorance” (ix). Of course, there is nothing new about ignorance or indifference. Most people (myself included) know very little about almost everything. What’s new is the positive hostility we seem to have toward admitting our ignorance and listening to experts. “Never have so many people had so much access to so much knowledge,” writes Nichols, “and yet have been so resistant to learning anything” (2).
This is not a book long rant against ordinary rubes and common folk. Nichols is well aware that experts are part of the problem. His aim is to bridge the gap between experts and laypeople (xv). A functioning Republic depends on the former serving the latter and expects the latter to pay some deference to the former.
To act as if no one knows more than anyone else is not only silly, it’s a serious mistake. Nichols cites a survey from a few years ago in which enthusiasm for military intervention in Ukraine was directly proportional to the person’s lack of knowledge about Ukraine. It seems that the dumber we are, the more confident we are in our own intellectual achievements. Nichols relays an incident where someone on Twitter was trying to do research about sarin gas. When the world’s expert on sarin gas offered to help, the original tweeter (a twit we might say) proceeded to angrily lecture that expert for acting like a know-it-all. The expert may not have known all, but in this case he knew exponentially more than some jerk online.
We’ve swallowed the lie that says if we believe in equal rights we must believe that all opinions have equal merit. Nichols also tells the story of an undergraduate student arguing with a renowned astrophysicist who was on campus to give a lecture about missile defense. After seeing that the famous scientist was not going to change his mind after hearing the arguments from a college sophomore, the student concluded in a harrumph, “Well, your guess is as good as mine.” At which point the astrophysicist quickly interjected, “No, no, no. My guesses are much, much better than yours” (82-83). There was nothing wrong with the student asking hard questions, or even getting into an argument. The problem was in assuming he had as much to offer on the subject after a few minutes reflection as the scientist did after decades of training and research.
It Is What It Is
Even if we don’t like experts, no one can seriously deny there are experts. That is to say, there will always be people who know considerably more than most people about a given subject, and usually this expertise is distinguished by years of education and experience (29-30). I’m not an expert in cars, medicine, home repair, microbiology, or animal husbandry. Like you (and everyone else), I’m an expert in virtually nothing, but I’m thankful that in almost every area of human inquiry someone is.
At present, I’m about four-fifths of the way through a PhD program in early modern history. By this point I know more about John Witherspoon than 99.99% of the world. This isn’t because I’m a genius. It’s because I’ve worked for several years to read everything I can by and about John Witherspoon. One of the things doctoral work has shown me is how little I actually know about most things. When you see what expertise looks like, you realize you don’t have it! Even now, after five years of reading about Reformed Orthodoxy and the Scottish Enlightenment and Evangelicalism and Old Princeton, I’m more aware of the gaps in my knowledge than I was when I started. Becoming an expert takes a long time and a lot of work. We should be thankful there are people who have made the effort to know more about sarin gas than the rest of us.
Again, Nichols makes clear that the problem is not that people are dumber than human beings used to be. We have more information than ever before. The problem is that we are more confident in our abilities and less willing to learn than previous generations—a lethal combination of militant arrogance and invincible ignorance. American colleges and universities have produced students who are undereducated and overly praised (77). We’ve mistaken critical thinking for relentless criticism. Which means we don’t engage with others “as iron sharpens iron,” but as an axe fells a tree. Public policy debates have devolved into shouting matches between equally uninformed persons duking it out with exchanges of contradiction, random factoids, and shaky sources (40). Too many online debates traffic in confirmation bias and conspiracy theories that are by definition nonfalsifiable. And when we aren’t pronouncing all the experts wrong, we are certain that anyone can be right. If the Declaration of Independence announced these truths to be self-evident, we now believe all truths are self-evident (x). Who needs experts when everything is obvious?
A Way Forward
So what can be done about this problematic death of expertise? While Nichols doesn’t provide a 12-step plan to bridge the gap between experts and laypeople, he does offer helpful advice for both.
For experts: don’t drive outside your lane. We’ve come to disdain experts because so many of them pontificate on things about which they have no expertise—scientists thinking they understand religion, journalists thinking they know science, movie stars thinking they know everything. Stick to what you know.
By the same token, stop making predictions. If your career depends on making predictions, then at least make them more tentatively. It’s hard not to want to stone the experts when their prophecies about the future are so often demonstrably false.
As for the rest of us, Nichols gives a number of helpful suggestions: Be ecumenical—don’t get all your information from the one source that magically you always agree with. Be less cynical—most people are not out to get you. Be more discriminating—consider whether the source you’re reading has editors, is tied to a reputable institution, is transparent about its sources, and present facts that are testable and checkable. As Nichols puts it, “Conspiracy theorists and adherents of quack medicine will never believe anything that challenges their views, but most of us can do better.” (168)
And finally, be humble. This goes for experts and laypeople. If you are an expert, use your knowledge as a servant not as a master. Pompous technocrats, bureaucrats, and professional haranguers are seldom popular. If you know stuff, use it to help others, not yourselves.
At the same time, all of us have good reason to assume we don’t know as much as we think we know. Let’s be humble enough to learn from others. When it comes to good ideas and good policies, facts are more important than feelings. This is not an excuse for being rude, but it is a summons not to confuse loud emotions with logical arguments. Political equality means every person should be treated the same in the eyes of the law. It does not mean that every opinion is equally important, trustworthy, or deserving of attention. A republic was not designed for the masses to make intricate decisions about complicated issues. From ending poverty to providing healthcare to combating terrorism, things are harder than they look. Let’s have the humility to admit as much. If the death of expertise—as a book and as a cultural conundrum—can lead to a little more modesty on all sides, then we’ll all have something for which to be thankful.
May 10, 2017
I haven’t written anything on my blog about my upcoming move to North Carolina. Pastoral transitions are difficult enough without trying to live out the whole thing online. As you might imagine, these have been months filled with a wide range of emotions–excitement and anticipation for the work at Christ Covenant (and the position at RTS), along with many tears in thinking about all we are leaving behind in saying goodbye to University Reformed Church and East Lansing. For the sake of both congregations (and my family and friends), I’ve thought it best to speak personally and privately wherever possible, rather than ponder the ins and outs of the transition on my blog.
Having said all that, it may be helpful–not least of all, for both congregations–if I lay out a calendar and hello’s and goodbyes over the next three months.
I will be the senior pastor at University Reformed Church through June 18. Starting on June 19, I will be the senior pastor at Christ Covenant (provided I pass my Presbytery exams later this month).
This week marks my last full week of pastoral responsibilities at URC. Tonight will be the last time I chair a session meeting at URC. Sunday (May 14) will be the last time I preside over communion as the senior pastor of URC. I am preaching all three services (9:15, 11:00, 6:00) this Sunday. We will also be welcoming a number of young people into membership by way of profession of faith, and several of them will be baptized. It’s going to be a momentous day.
Next week I’m taking a study week in hopes (probably futile hope) of making a little progress on my dissertation. At the end of the week we will officially sell our East Lansing home. We are so grateful to the Lord that we can sell our home to Christian friends in the area. We didn’t even have to list our home (and get it cleaned up!).
For the next month I’ll mostly lay low at the church, either worshiping elsewhere on Sundays or quietly slipping in and out. I want to give space for others to preach and lead. On May 21, however, I’ll preside over a final congregational meeting at URC. The church will be voting on new officers and voting on names for the senior pastor search committee. We hope to introduce the proposed committee members this Sunday.
On May 22, my wife and I will fly to Charlotte to close on our new home. We found a beautiful home in Mint Hill, about 10 minutes from the church, and are grateful to be able to purchase the house from a delightful retired couple. On May 23, I’ll travel to Fayetteville, NC to take my transfer exam for the Central Carolina Presbytery. Trisha and I will return to Michigan on May 24. On May 27, I’m going to try my first half marathon, the Bayshore up in Traverse City, MI. (I’ve needed something to do for stress relief in these past few months!)
After Memorial Day we will be full-on into cleaning, purging, and packing. When we aren’t getting ready to move all our earthly possessions (and boy, do we have too many of them!), we will be doing a few last-hurrah events with family and friends. The moving trucks will come sometime in the first week of June.
But we won’t move our family until the middle of the month. My wife will be taking our oldest daughter on a field trip to Mackinac Island on June 12-13, and I’ll be at General Assembly in Greensboro, NC from June 13 until June 15. The kids have school until June 16. I’ll preach one more time at URC on the morning of June 18, and that evening will be a farewell service (I’m bringing lots of tissues). We will drive out to North Carolina early in the morning on June 19.
Once in Charlotte, it will be a few weeks before I jump in to all my new responsibilities. I have a quick trip to the UK at the end of June to speak at EMA and meet with my supervisor. Once I return, we’ll take another week or so to get settled and spend time together as a family. I will start work in earnest on July 10 and will begin preaching on July 16. That evening will be my installation service. I’m thrilled that my good friend Lig Duncan will be coming in to preach.
If you feel led, my family would benefit from your prayers, so would both churches. Mike Ross will retire and finish his 11 year ministry at Christ Covenant on June 11. He’s been an indispensable part of this transition process and a faithful pastor. Pray for him. Pray also for Trisha’s dad, Roy Bebee, who, at 69 years old, is terminally ill with stage 4 colon cancer. Much love to all.
May 9, 2017
Namely: “The Internet….is nothing like a library” (110).
In the recent conversation about who’s in charge of the Christian blogosphere, I saw in at least one place that the blogosphere was likened to a great big library–a place where diverse viewpoints are housed, a place where people come to seek truth, a place where ideas are not censored and readers need discernment. Without wanting to deny these general points as they relate to Christians in the blogosphere, I believe it is a necessary part of discernment that we realize the internet (of which the Christian blogosphere is a part) is nothing like a library.
Yes, a library has many different volumes. And yes, we can go there to search for answers and acquire knowledge. But a library is a highly curated collection of knowledge. We have a Michigan State University librarian in our church. She has a master’s degree in library science. She oversees a section of materials related to European history. She is constantly reading through journals and periodicals to find the most important new books to purchase. She also gets rid of old stuff that has proven to be relatively worthless. She is also a wealth of information when people have questions about where to find the best, most important stuff. She doesn’t have an ideological grid when it comes to what goes in the library, but she does have an expertise grid. Almost all the books that get into a library like MSU’s are by people with credentials, with academic positions, or with institutional legitimacy.
I’m not suggesting the internet should be like a well staffed research library (it never could be like that). But the analogy with a library makes it sound like this wild proliferation of online opinions and ideas is just what we’ve always had. It’s not. The internet is only like a library if anyone can come to your library and put their term papers wherever they want, scatter their files on the floor, and line the walls with pornography.
This doesn’t mean the blogosphere should be limited to those with degrees and tenure track appointments. Anyone with access to the internet can put their ideas out for the world to see (or ignore). The genie is not going back in the bottle. The point of this post is not to try to tame the internet (who could be trusted with that power?). The point is that we must expect the internet to be wilder than a library. I’d say the internet is like the buffet at Golden Corral–something for everyone, much of it unhealthy, but plenty of good stuff if you know where to look–except that a restaurant must meet all sorts of health and safety standards. I can’t bring my gluten free cookies and plop them down on the dessert tray.
At best, the internet is like a wild forest. No one controls it. No one manicures it. It just grows and grows. And in the forest you’ll find plenty of beauty. But be careful, eat the wrong mushrooms and you could die.
At worst, the internet is like a wide open garbage dump. Every day people dump more and more onto the pile. Sure you may be able to find something valuable, but you’ll have to wade through a lot of trash first.
So, by all means, enjoy a meal from time to time at the internet buffet. Explore the overgrown trees and breathtaking vistas. Bend over and pick up that love poem surrounded by rotten banana peals. The Christian blogosphere has plenty that is good and true and beautiful, and plenty that is nasty, brutish, and rarely short. Expect to find truth. Expect to find error. Just don’t expect it to be a library.
May 7, 2017
May 4, 2017
Recently I spoke to a gathering of women at our church. It was a bit of a farewell for me and my wife. During the question and answer time, our friend (and leader of the group) asked “What have you learned as a pastor while at URC?” There are dozens of things I could have mentioned, but here’s what I said.
Note: the following is a loosely edited transcription of my remarks, hence the lack of polished prose.
I’ve learned a lot.
When we came here we weren’t old. Now I’m almost 40. I’ve been here a third of my life. Trisha and I have both lived in the Lansing area longer than we’ve lived anywhere. Hopefully I’ve grown as a pastor. Hopefully we’ve both grown in a number of ways.
I often tell people that when I came to URC I told the search committee that my philosophy of ministry boiled down to three P’s: preach, pray, and be with people. Those are all really good. They’re still what I want to do in ministry. But I’ve had to learn a fourth P, and that is patience.
I know I was naïve in how change happens—how long it takes to address things and how you have to build up trust and confidence. I always joke about when I first came there were some particular issues that I told the elders would be taken care in six months. Then I said, well maybe in another six months. Then I said six years. And now I think, well, maybe in heaven.
I know I’ve learned about patience. I wish I had more patience with my children—children are often the last hardest area of impatience in our lives. But I think I’ve grown in understanding how things change and how long change can take.
There are lots of little things you learn as a pastor, and some of them are simply part of growing up. Like how you appreciate little notes of encouragement, or when to send flowers or a sympathy card, or when to write a short two sentence email that says, “I love you and am praying for you.”
And here’s the last thing I’ll mention. It goes back to the Bible story about Jacob wrestling with the angel. You remember, Jacob is touched in the hip socket and starts walking with a limp. It is true: given enough years, everyone ends up walking with a limp.
It’s not all equal by any means. I’ve had less suffering than most people. But if you live long enough, you’ll find that everyone is hurting. You’ll discover people’s marriages aren’t as good as they seem, or their kids are more troubled than they let on, or there’s a miscarriage or infertility, or there’s a parent who’s sick, or someone whose death is still the source of constant sadness, or there is a strained relationship, or there is an addiction, or there is an invisible illness. There’s just a lot of pain out there.
Everyone you talk to is a sinner and a sufferer. As a young person filled with good theology, it’s easier to know the sinner part. And we can’t forget this, otherwise we will be poor friends and I’ll be a poor pastor. Compassion without follow through or correction is not real love. But that’s only one part of the equation. You have to remember people are carrying around a lot of hurt, a lot of sadness, a lot of fears. I’ve had to learn that people are not just sinners; they’re sufferers too. And that shapes how you deal with sin and extend mercy. I hope I’ve learned that.