But anyway, I digress.....
I started reading the book for my next Pastoral Leadership Development class that is coming up here in a couple of weeks. For me, to get started on a book this early before I have to have it read is HUGE, and I'm glad I started this early. Said book is "Preaching for Church Transformation" by Bill Easum. The point of the book, from reading the back cover and table of contents, is that by reading this book, a pastor will be able to use preaching to help the congregation move forward. I'm all for that. Yeah! Then I read the first little bit.....
"You can't begin this series until you have a clear vision of where God wants your church to go, because somewhere in this message, you will need to share that vision with the congregation. If you don't have that vision, put this book down, take your Bible, and go off to a place where you can listen to God. Pray and ask God for a vision for the community he has called you to lead." That is page 1, paragraph 1.
Glad I got an early start on this sucker!
I thought of going into the sanctuary, which is where I go to pray a lot, but for some reason I felt I had to go out to the cemetery. That would be outside of town. I thought I'd drive, but for some reason I felt I had to walk. I've had feelings like this before, and I learned early on in my ministry not to question them. So I walked.
The question I thought I was supposed to ask when I got there and started walking around the graves was "What are some of the dreams you saw unfulfilled in your lifetime?"
Did I really think I would get a response? Apparently I did think I would get a response, and it felt weird walking out there (it's just over a mile outside town), but I knew that if I get "one of those feelings" I'm just supposed to obey. We did, after all, sing the hymn "Trust and Obey" this last Sunday!
I started walking around the grave markers, some of which were family names I recognized, and some were of people who are still in the congregation who have done their advanced estate planning. Good for them! I knew they were still well alive, but were planning ahead.
After wandering around for a bit I started asking "so, what do you hear?" The answer...."NOT A F***ing thing!!!!!!"
Seemed a bit brash for my inner voice to cuss me out like that, but then another voice came into my head.
"I am the God of the living, not of the dead. You can never take the church back to what it was because the people from that time are here, in the cemetery, not in the church. Go forward, not back. That is THE ONLY way to go."
So I started walking back to the church.
On the way back, I started thinking about dad and his death. In the months since he died, there have been times where I could feel his presence with me, and it has comforted me. In the cemetery, it felt like I was so totally alone. What happened to that "great cloud of witnesses" we talk about on All Saints Day? Is that just a bunch of baloney, or is it something we say to make ourselves feel better? If I say that we have to move forward and can't go back, is that dishonoring our loved ones, including my dad, who have gone ahead of us?
I think in that internal conversation on the road back from the cemetery to town, I felt a sense of release from the past. I don't think my dad ever lived in the past, and I also think that he would be proud of me for coming to this realization that I need to lead the church forward. This is something my head has always known, but I don't think my heart ever got the memo. And while I write this, yes, I can still feel his presence, and yes, his presence still gives me comfort, but I know that God will help me lead the congregations into the future. And dad will still be there with me.
Now I just need to get that vision!