On December 24th 2017, I served my last Sunday at Austintown Community Church. I wasn’t asked to leave by the church board or senior pastor or denomination, but I left because I felt called to serve my home community in a new and unique way and to be closer to family as well. And while I feel confident in my calling to this new ministry opportunity, it hurts. It hurts because this was a community that gave me a chance to learn, to grow; a chance to make mistakes and then to learn from them together. It was my first full-time call, and I learned a lot.
I learned that vocational ministry is about relationships. I spent the first period at ACC leading from my position, and I did so because it was safe and, foolishly, I thought it was the easiest way to get things done. When we lead from position, we rob people of the opportunity to share their lives with us. In my leading from position, I had failed the congregation I was entrusted with serving in their ability to use their gifts to the glory of God. As a people who are called to be a part of the body of Christ, we work together to move forward. The hand cannot say to the eye that because they are not an eye they are not a part of the body. Likewise, I as the pastor of the church cannot say to the congregant, ‘because you are not a pastor, you are not necessary for the ministry of our church’…and for my first season at ACC I feel that’s what I was doing with my congregation and with my students.
When we as a church lead from relation, rather than position, we become the type of leader that Jesus was, and that Jesus is. Can you imagine Jesus telling Peter and John that because they were fishermen they’re not good enough for ministry? Absurd! Jesus is the one who intentionally sought out those who were not ‘trained’ to be the leader of the church to be the leader of the church and in his calling of the disciples, He was patient and gracious. The Gospels, yes are about Jesus coming to live, breathe, love, die, and return for God (perhaps that’s a bit reductionist of me); but I also think the Gospels are a way of showing those who are, and also those who are not, called to vocational ministry to lead a messy church. This doesn’t mean coddling people, and there are times where truth needs to be spoken and there are times where we need to say ‘no’ to people, however, truth is married with grace. Jesus spoke truth with grace, and Jesus was gracious with the truth that was being communicated.
In my seasons at ACC, my leadership changed from position to relationship; and in doing so, it was the first time in my ministry career that I felt like I was leading like Jesus. And in the middle of feeling great about my leadership, God called me to a new ministry opportunity of counseling incarcerated youths. I know that ACC will do good work because they have such a fierce passion for listening to the voice of God. The changing of seasons is always painful, for both parties. And yet because of a mutual love for Jesus, and the people that Jesus loves, we can move forward together as a body of believers.