Those who follow me on Twitter and Facebook know I spent the last couple weeks participating with my denomination in our quadrennial legislative gathering known as “General Assembly and Conventions.” My plane landed back in Utah a mere 42 hours ago. I am not sure when my brain will land back in Utah but I am hopeful!
With that said, here are some stray thoughts about the last two weeks:
1. It is so possible to be lonely in a crowd.
Somewhere between 20 to 30 thousand Nazarenes gathered in Indianapolis. While this was wonderful, it did not lend itself to community or intimacy. Instead it led to thousands of awkward conversations. Hundreds of them were cut abruptly short just so the participants could go have another one. Nobody seemed to have time to really sit still. Denominational leaders were the chief offenders. They were politicking, which means they wanted to give everybody equal attention and time but also wanted to cut every conversation short so they could give someone else attention and time. I desperately didn’t want to monopolize anybody’s time, especially that of the high profile names, so I walked away from every conversation feeling guilty. This isn’t anyone’s fault, but it is a sad byproduct of gatherings of 20,000 people. We have short, curt conversations and leave each other feeling guilty. It was not uncommon to hear people say, “This is what heaven’s going to be like!” I can’t help but think, “I hope not.” In heaven we might finally have time for each other.
2. I am still a young clergy but I will not be much longer. Five years ago I became a senior pastor and a father. Since then, I have often quipped that I am getting lamer by the day. I feel like I am all ready 50. But last week I stayed in the “young clergy house.” I hung out almost exclusively with people in their 20s and early 30s. I went to young clergy gatherings and was called “young” by several older people. I am still young! But I won’t be much longer. Four years from now, at our next gathering, I will be in my late 30s. I will be almost a decade into ministry and well on my way to glory. This became painfully obvious in the awkward conversations I had with those in their teens and early twenties. One conversation was with a recent college graduate, who is a full decade younger than me. He is starting a leadership training network with a podcast on preaching. His goal is to teach us older pastors how to be good leaders and how to preach. This without any experience himself in such things. I know calling out that hypocrisy sounds crotchety but really I just wish I could be that young and arrogant again! I tell you, kids these day!
3. There are 3 things you don’t want to see made. . . The old quote from politics goes, “Two things you don’t want to see made are laws and sausages!” I would add a third to that, “the Manual of the Church of the Nazarene.” The purpose of General Assembly is to amend and tweak our manual. It is a very messy and complicated process and I walked away with severe doubts about it all. But I don’t know of any better way to do it. This seems to be who we are and what works best for us. On that note, I found I was not just frustrated by what should have passed and didn’t or vice versa. My primary frustration was with what should not have been codified and was. There are some things that are good and true but that don’t need to be institutionalized. We went ahead and codified almost 200 of them! If I ever become a GS I might declare a “quadrennial of jubilee” where we delete half the manual as unnecessary! (Don’t quote me on that.)
4. The most powerful moments celebrated our international identity. There were multiple times I was moved to tears of joy last week. The first was when several thousand of us gathered around the altars to pray with brothers and sisters from other countries. That was powerful. The next came during the incredible rendition of “The Revelation Song” which was sung in over 13 languages. (You can watch the video below.) The next two were the elections of Dr. Filimao Chambo from Africa and Dr. Carla Sunberg who grew up in Europe. These were powerful times! In the age of increasing polarity, nationalism and xenophobia, we did something profound. We not only celebrated our diversity but we became more diverse. I walked away delighted that we got that part right!
5. I didn’t want to come home until the last day. I had so much fun that coming home was downright undesirable. I wanted it to last forever and dreaded the return flights home. The night before those cursed airplanes carried me to Utah, Deirdre Brower-Latz, the Principal of one of our schools in England, spoke to the young clergy. Among other things, she advised us to pastor small churches. She spoke poetically as she suggested we settle down in those churches, learn to love the people there and stick with them over the course of decades. I was profoundly grateful for those words because after an incredible experience with 20-30,000 people, she reminded me that small churches are even more incredible. She released me back to the 40 or so crazy people who gather on Rosewood Lane in Layton, UT so that we could further work out with fear and trembling what God is all ready working in us.
In closing, retiring General Superintendant J.K. Warrick quipped, “I love our church. We are a mess. . .but I love us!” I could not agree more but after this wonderful time together, I think we are little bit less of a mess.
And for that, I rejoice.