In the first year of my first pastorate, one of my best friends, John, got married over Thanksgiving weekend. I had started my job at the church in June, and he called a couple of months later to find out if I were coming to the wedding. The conversation basically was:
John: So are you coming to the wedding?
Me: Dude, I can’t leave my church this soon.
John: (silence) What do you mean?
Me: Well, I’ll only have been here for five months by Thanksgiving. I’d have to take off a Sunday. I can’t do that to them. They need me.
John: (more silence) That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.
Me: No, it’s not! You don’t understand what it’s like to be a pastor. Don’t even bother sending me an invitation because I’ll RSVP “no.”
John: I’m sending you an invitation! I still have hope that you’ll come. And that is still the CRAZIEST excuse I’ve ever heard!
Not only did he send the invitation, but John continued to pester me about coming to his wedding. I shared the story with my parents, expecting them to share in my irritation that “John just didn’t understand what it meant to be a pastor.”
I was sorely disappointed when they replied, “We agree with John.”
What?! How dare they? Now I knew that no one understood what it was like to be a pastor! What if there were an emergency while I was so far away? Who would fill the pulpit? Would the congregation like the guest minister?
Somehow, some way, thanks be to God, I got over myself. I had unconsciously fallen into a mentality that is common not only to first-time pastors but also to many seasoned ministers: the idea that this congregation depended on my presence and leadership at all times. To deny myself the opportunity to learn and grow in a different setting was to deny the congregation a new opportunity as well. With the encouragement of John, my parents, and congregational leaders, I called upon a retired minister to preach and be on-call for me. I traveled to “my best friend’s wedding.” Unlike the movie of the same name, I did not try to break up the bride & groom (although Julia Roberts and I do have similar hair), and no one sang an impromptu version of “Say a Little Prayer for You.” I was able to worship in a different setting and experience an energizing rest with friends. In my absence, the church did not burn down, no one had a panic attack that Darian wasn’t preaching on Sunday morning, and life went on.
Changes in routine benefit all of us, especially churches. This past Sunday, it was a visit to a Baptist church that caused me to remember the lessons learned from John’s wedding. I had the honor of preaching and serving Communion at University Baptist Church of Starkville, MS, an amazing congregation that ministered to me as much as, or more than, I ministered to them. St. Luke UMC and Shipman Chapel were stirred to international evangelism’s call as Stephen Ludlam, director of Delta State University’s Wesley Foundation, shared of his mission trip to China this summer. All of these worship services were celebrations because the clergy and laity were open to something “out of the ordinary” on Sunday morning. How dynamic would our churches become if we carried this openness to change into all parts of our churches’ lives? In what ways can we disrupt our routines and structures of church life in order to experience a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit? These are big questions not too large for God to answer through us as the Church.
I am grateful that John called me “crazy” in my limited thinking five years ago. May we all experience rest and renewal by changing our routines, both in the Church and in our personal lives. May we get over ourselves and embrace the energy that God wants to bestow on us through new experiences.
all good things to each of you,
P.S. If “Say a Little Prayer for You” is now stuck in your head, or if you just need a good laugh, click here to see the clip from My Best Friend’s Wedding.
Read more from Darian Duckworth at her blog.