This is my first time to sit with one of my questions from the Presbytery of the Pacific's examination for a little while longer. In my last post I mentioned four such questions. Today I will be exploring question #1: Since you have been ordained for only five years, what has this transition been like for you?
True life confession time: I am a young pastor in just about every sense of the word. In just over five years of ministry I have served two congregations. All that equates to not much time in the pulpit and not much of a variety of experience. Also, age wise, I am considered a young pastor at 35--despite our Lord and Savior giving his life for us and for our salvation, as tradition holds, before this age. Compiled on top of all this, I look young, or so I have been told. I was told that this will be blessing later, but can be a drawback at the present time.
All of the above is just to say that I understood why I received a question like this, even if I was not prepared to answer it on the spot. What I had prepared for were questions regarding my various theological positions. What I actually received were questions regarding my ministry.
So, what has this been like for me?
In a word, challenging. When FPC Omak began this process I was convinced that it would be brief and that I would skillfully lead the congregation to my predetermined conclusion that we would just swap the sign for ECO and move on with our life. It would be a simple switch without much pain.
My youth was on full display in my approach in the early months of our process. I wanted to define who we were as a congregation and then use that to determine our best fit (which I was already convinced was ECO). What transpired was a good lesson in humility for me. I learned that the congregation I serve is not confused about who it is--not even the slightest. Some of our official language (e.g. our mission statement) is lacking, but the sense of identity of the congregation is firm and firmly grounded in the Word of God written. We are people who put faith in Christ front and center and follow the Holy Spirit as we seek to proclaim the Gospel and minister to the needs of the community. There is room for improvement on this front (some will say a lot of room), but that is who FPC Omak is.
It also became clear to me in the course of our process that ECO was not a good fit for me or for the congregation. The thing that disturbed me most was the continual top-down approach of ECO regarding its formation, despite all of the rhetoric to the contrary. When the Fellowship leadership made wholesale changes to the Essential Tenets document in the Theology section regarding the doctrine of election without consulting the membership, I became greatly vexed and disillusioned by the new body. Further, ECO seemed to have a focus on large suburban, urban and ex-urban congregations and FPC Omak seemed outside of its wheelhouse, so to speak.
Further, as we began to explore the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), I learned that I had been fed a lot of misinformation about the denomination. I instantly knew that I had found a denominational home for myself and the congregation had found not only safe harbor, theologically speaking, but also a greater focus on evangelism and ministry both collectively and individually.
The process was challenging and we have seen members leave the congregation. The process generated stress and conflict both in the congregation and in my own relationships, both personal and professional. For those who like to avoid conflict, this was almost an untenable predicament. Conflict has not really bothered me and so I simply needed to deal with the stress of the situation--which I handled mostly unsuccessfully, but now it has passed.
The reason for making the move was the theological unwinding of the PC(USA). As the denomination that nurtured me through its member congregations into being a pastor continued to walk away from the unique Lordship of Christ and downplay the authority of Scripture, I knew that I would not retire as a PC(USA) Teaching Elder. Much like my seminary experience, either I would go now or I would go later when it was more difficult. My response was to go now and trust that God would lead us all through, which, of course, He has.
I am sure in my rambling response now and then, I have begun to answer this question. As we complete the process I may revisit this.