I find myself doing a lot of comparing these days. I suppose that’s normal when you leave one place behind and move on to another. You can’t help but think about how things used to be and compare them to how they are. Lately, I've been comparing the church I used to serve with the one I currently serve, and the pastor I was in Charlotte with the pastor I need to be in Towson.
I think I basically had Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Charlotte figured out by the time I left them. Not much there surprised me after 11 years. I knew how they thought, I could predict how they would react, and I cherished the sweet comfort of the familiar. Now I’m with a congregation of people who seem to surprise me at every turn. I feel awkward and unsure of myself. It’s like dancing with a partner who knows all the steps to a dance I’ve never seen. I know that I need to learn quickly because I wasn’t called to Ascension to follow; I was called to lead. So I’m figuring it out. And as I do, I can’t help but compare the two dances, both beautiful, but distinctly different.
Last week my mind was drawn to the whole idea of diversity. My former congregation was known for its diversity, and it would appear that my current one has hardly any diversity at all. But as I get to know them, I’m starting to think about this in a new way. There’s more than one way to be diverse. At Ascension there is great diversity of thought, which is something I didn’t encounter at Holy Trinity because, for the most part, we pretty much all thought the same way. I've navigated diversity of thought before, in previous congregations, but I’m a little rusty in my skills of diplomacy (not that it’s ever been one of my strengths).
Today, I’ve been thinking about how easy it was to take risks at Holy Trinity because we really had no other option. When I arrived, we were one flush away from going down the toilet. I figured that if we were gonna go out, we were gonna go out following Jesus. So we went for broke and we did the best we could to follow the Jesus Way. It took us places most congregations wouldn't dare to go. In hindsight, I suspect that was exactly what we needed to do to become a church again, and God blessed us in a big way.
So, now I’m in a congregation that has so much going for it. We’re big (by Lutheran standards), and vibrant, and blessed with incredible leaders, and for the most part, comfortable just as we are. There’s no need to change, and there’s a lot to risk if we should try to do a new thing and fail. And yet, we seem to be stuck, and we’re going to have to risk failure if we want to move forward. I’m sensing that change isn’t going to be as easy at Ascension as it was at Holy Trinity, and if you know me well you know that I’m not the most patient pastor on the planet.
If this is starting to sound like a perfect storm, I want to assure that I'm not seeing any foreboding clouds on the horizon. I came to Ascension because I felt ready to be stretched in some new ways and that’s exactly what’s happening. It was a good move for me and I continue to be thankful for the opportunity. Although it’s challenging, I’m feeling up to it. Mainly because of another comparison that has become apparent to me over the past month. I praying more here than I did in Charlotte!