On Sunday, May 29th, the people of Calvary Baptist Church in Mount Airy, North Carolina, officially installed me as pastor. Now I’ll have to confess: in one sense all the hoopla seemed a little anticlimactic. After all, everyone in the congregation has received me so warmly—and has made me feel at home so quickly and so completely—that it feels like I’m already part of this church family…and have been for a long time. But in another sense, the day served as a perfect exclamation point on what has been a wonderful beginning. I cannot fully express how grateful I am for the way that people have opened their hearts to me and my family, and I am humbled by the opportunity that now lies in front of us to seek God’s face together and to become agents of His purpose here in our community and across the globe.
All of this, of course, is just another way of saying that now the real work (and the real adventure and the real fun) begin. I am reasonably confident that this congregation did not call me so that we could just “do church” on Sunday morning and then go through the rest of the week unchanged (nor is this why I said, “Yes” to the call). Instead, I believe that God has brought us together so that we can partner in the journey of transformation—transforming ourselves as we open our hearts more completely to Christ and to each other…and transforming our world as we allow ourselves to be used by God’s Spirit.
The challenge, however, is figuring out what transformation will look like for this church in this place at this time. As John Tadlock—my friend and our installation speaker—reminded us, we will need to “interpret our cultures.” We must interpret our congregational culture, so that we can rightly discern the passions God has placed within us. And we must interpret our community culture, so that we can rightly communicate those passions in a way that makes it possible for others to understand them.
With that goal in mind, the leaders of our church (deacons and church council) will be having some “mini-retreats” in the coming weeks. The participants in these gatherings won’t be making decisions or implementing new policies—those are tasks for the church as a whole. But they will be engaging in some unhurried times of prayer, listening and dialogue; through which I believe a clearer picture of our priorities and our “next steps” will begin to emerge.
Now to be completely honest, I wish that I could involve every single member of the church in that kind of “retreat experience.” I think that if we made time to listen intently to each other’s stories—and to share the ‘dreams for Calvary Baptist’ that God has placed in people’s hearts—we’d be moved to a whole new level of love for each other and the Lord. I am practically minded enough, however, to realize that the planning required to pull off a gathering like that would be quite cumbersome – and might short-circuit the process before it even got started.
But having said that, I still want to involve as many as possible. So I’ve asked church members to do two things. First: Pray. Pray for me. Pray for our church leaders, and pray for each other – asking specifically that God will help us “interpret our cultures” by helping us discern how He wants to move (and, in fact, is already moving) in our church and in our community. Second: Join the conversation. Whenever they can…however they feel led…share with me (or a deacon or a committee leader or each other) their sense of what God wants to do through the family of faith that we call Calvary Baptist Church. And if they need a little “push” to jump-start their thinking, I’ve offered a wonderful question that’s borrowed from Thomas Bandy, a leader in church development: Where will Jesus be…five years down the road…in our zip code…and what price is our congregation willing to pay to join him there?
The installation is over. Let the journey toward transformation begin.