Some of our best-known story lines portray a character returning home after a period of absence. Depending on our story, the main protagonist returns from a protracted absence to confront circumstances that cannot be ignored and that only she or he can face. Moses is one such character in the Bible, returning to Egypt to lead his people out of slavery. You could probably think of many other stories in popular culture.
Have you ever faced returning, either to a situation or a role in life, that you left behind?
Brent reflects on two transitions in his life, one leading him away from a role as a Pastor of a medium-sized church and the other, leading him back into the same role (in another church). His journey involved a period of working in a large Christian organisation, which although similar in some ways, was quite different to the church role he left behind.
Talking about his time in his church role, Brent mused, “being a Pastor is very relationally intense. I thought that it would do me good to get away from that kind of intensity by accepting a job for an NGO. But then I soon came to realise that I simply traded one set of challenges for another.”
He goes on to explain that his initial transition was meant to be an opportunity for him to hone his skills as a teacher and strategic leader.
“I was spending more time in areas of work where I thought my main gifts as a preacher and leader were being under-utilised. So, the move was an attempt to tailor those skills a little more.”
He admits that there were other factors at play, including the significant number of hours spent in one-to-one interactions, which left him drained. Operating as an Associate Pastor for a church of just under 100 people meant that he became the focal point for the many pastoral conversations within that community.
An opportunity to develop his gifts
Brent recognised it would not be a permanent transition. By moving into a state-wide role representing a Christian NGO to local churches, he believed he would be not only able to develop his primary gifts, but also develop a more panoramic perspective on the wider church since he would be required to preach and interact regularly with many different churches in Queensland.
“It did give me a wide experience of churches and helped me to nail down exactly what I was looking for, when I eventually would return back to church-world.”
He also wanted more time to read and reflect on some of the deeper things related to his faith.
So, what happened?
“I started to feel a little like a talking head rather than a preacher. While I was preaching, what I soon realised was that preaching to a group of people that I wasn’t in relationship with or invested in as their Pastor, didn’t quite have the same feeling as preaching to a congregation with whom I was walking as a Christian.”
As a deeply reflective person, this caused Brent some discomfort. “Even though I shared my knowledge with people, without the relational context it didn’t feel like it had any legs.”
Achieving what you want
Brent further reflected that he did in fact achieve the things he was hoping for. He did manage to experience a wide range of churches, he did manage to explore his under-utilised gifts and he did read more books. But he also gained other things, which he hadn’t expected.
“Being a Pastor, you are more the master of your own time. Even though there are many things to attend to, you can largely determine the order you deal with them. But when you move into a large organisation, where you are not the head honcho, you have people over you, and they have people over them, and I soon realised that my time was being split in many different directions. It could be random requests with short deadlines, such as contacting someone, or writing a blog or reviewing some piece of writing. These were the nitty gritty details that wouldn’t necessarily come out in an interview.”
Understanding your voice
Brent also had to come to terms with managing the dynamics of speaking with the “organisational voice”. Even though he worked for an organisation he was clearly committed to, there was still for him an issue of how this affected his own voice.
“When you work for an organisation, you have to represent it. So, to an extent you represent someone else’s voice, especially when you preach. Yet, as a leader you feel a compulsion to lead from a place of authenticity. This was challenging as I realised that I was not the master of my own voice.”
It is only now as Brent reflects that some of these conclusions dawn on him, more than 18 months after returning to a role as a Pastor of a church.
“When we think of transitions, we think ‘once I get that job, or move into that place’ or whatever, we think that everything will be fine. Well, it just doesn’t work that way. There are always elements that you didn’t expect, or things come along that surprise you.”
He then puts on his theological lenses, “as a Pastor I immediately go to the idea that all things, no matter how good they are in this world, are marred by sin.” Rather than this being a defeatist note for Brent, it reflects his worldview that understands we all live in a world where people, relational dynamics and environments are all affected by a natural entropy or decay that must be anticipated and dealt with, no matter what our circumstances. Can anyone deny the reality of this?
“I came back with new eyes to value the rub of relational intensity. I came to realise that I could not practice my gifts outside the context of deep relationships with people who knew me. My gifts were not effective on their own. It seems a bit strange that I left the church a little burnt out on relational intensity and then I came back into church-world looking for relational intensity.”
He has also discovered the value of accepting his identity as a unique individual.
“I became a Christian as a young adult and became a Pastor soon after. I saw all the Pastors around me and thought, ‘well, that’s what a Pastor should look like and sound like’. But I realise now that I was putting on a façade as I deleted a whole bunch of quirks out of my personality. The only problem was that those changes had nothing to do with being the authentic person that God had created me to be.”
I ask how does the concept of identity interact with his faith as a Christian?
“We have so many pressures in our lives to conform to some sort of ‘normal’: our society, the people we interact with, our co-workers etc are always putting burdens and expectations on us, which we carry. I believe that it is only when we come to know God, through faith in Christ, that we can truly understand our value as unique individuals. So, it is like once you take that step, once you find your identity in Christ you are freed to be truly and really yourself for the first time in your life.”
Yet, isn’t the narrative today that the church and religion put other burdens on you, equally or in a more restrictive way than those of broader society?
“That’s what it looks like from the outside. It looks burdensome. It feels burdensome – from the outside. But from the inside, you realise that the heart of Christianity is not about being moral. It has moral elements, but the idea of the Christian faith is that we find relationship with God. We find our true identity in such a way that we are able to grow in a relationship of love, with God and people.”
Brent finishes with one more reflection, “Maybe this is all part of maturing. You go somewhere else, looking for something else but you come back with greater recognition that it is you who needs to change, not the context. The biggest thing that I have learned is that as much as I sometimes find relationships difficult, I actually need them to be the person God created me to be.”