I’ve turned forty-one. It’s not a milestone. Last year was the hilltop. The descent begins, but here I’m still close to the crest. Momentum hasn’t yet kicked my decline into high gear.
When I turned forty, I was certain I wouldn’t have a midlife crisis. It took me half my life to live into my vocation, and I was still only ankle-deep in my first pastorate living out God’s call on my life. But before forty-one rolled around I was asked to resign. I spent half the year, at the half point of my life, feeling only half alive—like I had nothing valuable to contribute. I doubted my gifts, my calling, my vision and my ability to lead. I was crippled by shame. I didn’t just feel like I failed as a pastor. I felt myself a failure, all the way through.
I don’t share this from a place of victory. I haven’t moved on to some other mission field and I don’t speak with an enlightened disinterest. This is my story and I’m in the middle of living it. If not victory, perhaps I have experienced some measure of healing. When I resigned at the church, I had a mental of list of things I had failed at:trust I didn’t cultivate, conversations I didn’t have, questions I didn’t raise and issues I shouldn’t have. I made mistakes there, by the grace of God, I will never make again. But with time and perspective I see a couple of other things more clearly today .
First, I may have failed but I tried. I really did, and recognizing this has helped me be gracious with myself. I cared about the people, I worked to impact where I live. I wanted people to see God’s big story and our place in it. I looked for missional opportunities. In the end, I was the wrong person, for that church. What they needed I lacked. I spoke a different idiom and didn’t have the requisite experience to steer them through some major challenges. I had passions and creative vision which didn’t fit with who they were. We didn’t always get each other. Something had to give. It is God’s mercy (on both me and them) that we parted ways. All of this has helped me clarify some of the things that are important for me with the next congregation I serve (i.e guiding convictions, mission, ministry philosophy, approach).
Because this too I know: God isn’t finished with me yet. I have experienced God’s healing through the grace extended by colleagues and friends. Some have walked a similar journey and have empathized. Some spoke life to my dead bones, affirming my calling and that God would finish his good work in me. Others just listened. Some shared ways my life has impacted their own. Others made me feel I was not alone. I’ve emerged from shell shock and shame, still vulnerable but hopeful for what lies ahead.
This isn’t the forty-one I imagined. But God has me in his grip. I have a wonderful wife and children which fill me with joy. I have an abiding desire to see God’s kingdom manifest in people’s lives. God has planted a vision in me for deep fellowship, community transformation, reconciliation and justice, engagement with God’s word, courageous and compelling discipleship, a Spirit-empowered life and a prayerful devotion to the Triune God of grace. This is what I’m living for. It is my figgy pudding and I won’t go until I get some. Forty-one here I come.