As I make the journey from idealistic-yet-not-willing-to-do-the-hard-work-to-be-change twenty-something to something more in touch with reality, I’m noticing something really big;
Change does not take place typically in one big-fell-swoop moment. Change comes from consistent attention to both the big-picture and the details, with constant readjustment and moments of needing to take account of failures and successes. In short, change is a relationship, just as being in relationship brings change.
My grandfather told me about two years ago, “Nate, ten years from now, people aren’t going to remember the words of your sermon or even what you preached about, but they will remember the times you came to visit, and times you cared enough to listen to them.” Those were wise words I needed to hear at the time, because I had the naive view that pastors would be remembered for the way they presented themselves and how compelling their sermons were to those participating in worship with them. And this is true, but my grandfather was calling me to an even deeper reality; they’ll remember you more because of how much you invest in relationship with them. This is such a compelling thought, and has come back to me time and again since he said that; sometimes it is comforting to me, sometimes a bit challenging, sometimes shoves a metaphorical knife in my ribs in my failures, but always calls me beyond the temptation to think that as a pastor, I will be defined by what I do “up front” of our church family.
I thought about it yesterday when I had maybe the biggest challenge yet of me being a pastor. A 17-year old young woman named Amy Caracofe was tragically killed in a car accident last Thursday, one that is the second of the year for Fort Defiance High School. The other was senior Travis Williamson. I was given a tremendous responsibility by the family to give the message at the memorial, which I wrestled with and wrestled with and wrestled with before I had to prepare something to say. There were 600 people there seated all over the church; from the main sanctuary to side fellowship halls with only speakers to follow along with to people sitting in rows in the nursery with one small speaker to people sitting in the courtyard looking in the windows. That certainly didn’t help my nervousness, but Amy’s mother was so encouraging with her eyes even in the midst of her deep sorrow, and I heard from many that they had prayed for the memorial service, with some going to the extent of fasting, and I sensed that I was being carried through this challenging time; along with a deep sense that God can work far above and beyond my words in that time.
So, given that I’m writing this post in light of my grandfather’s wisdom, was my leadership during the memorial important? Of course it was; people were there yesterday that needed to hear something that could help shape them (along with me) to live for what they’ve been created for. They needed something that could hold the power to transcend the surface of the tragedy to go beyond. That’s the power of spoken language in times of crisis like this memorial service.
The above being said, is the message at the memorial the most important thing in the crisis and beyond? With all my heart, I believe, “No“! It will be the commitment to walking beside Doug and Angie (Amy’s parents), speaking when needed, and silently being with them when silence is needed. Because almost anyone can come up with something to say (even something deeply compelling) at a time like the memorial, but the real challenge is whether I (others in my church family, and others surrounding the Caracofes) have the guts, the patience, the trust, and the room for Doug and Angie to show the wide range of emotions that will take place; all of this within the context of consistent relationship.
For those reading this who have different roles in life, I believe that my grandfather’s wisdom applies across a spectrum of roles, though, far beyond “pastoring.” It applies to coaching, dating and marital relationships, work relationships, friendships, public service roles, and a variety of others. Effective leaders don’t have to be the ones “leading from the front,” but can be in the most obscure of roles, and through their attention to long-term vision and details can transform the relationships of those surrounding them; in more situations than not these persons can bring about positive change much more than the person who’s supposedly the one leading…the one everyone sees.
I guess I would like to say that I don’t ever want to be defined by Nate the “pastor.” I could talk for hours about how unhealthy it is to take one spiritual gifting, yank it out of the context of the church family, make it a professional role, and impose persons on church families who supposedly “know what they’re doing” who don’t know the slightest thing about the unique personality of the group. But that’s not the point I’m trying to make. If you check out the link to the message (also above halfway down the post), you’ll find that I emphasize that every single one of us through the basic act of living influences our reality in ways we could never even conceive of. Every thought, prayer, speech, and action that flows from our life out has a ripple effect out from our most immediate relationships and beyond, helping to shape the world in ways that benefit it or destroy it. A simple look at Genesis reminds us that we have been called to cherish the world the way God does in all its fullness and astonishing variety. This sounds like business leadership gobbledy-gook, but I do believe it is true. We are all connected in relationship with the rest of the world in obvious and deeply mysterious ways whether we’re intentional or not; I intend to do my best to maintain consistent attention to who I am in relationship with others.