Whenever clergy go to a new church, we need to reinvent our ministry according to the context in which we now serve. At the same time, some church members will invariably seek to remake us into the pastor they are hoping we will become for them. I’ve learned the hard way that I can only lead effectively when I am authentic, and I can only be authentic when I know who I am and who God wants me to become.
I remember being appointed to a large church fairly early in my ministry and asking myself, “Why me? I’m not a city person. I don’t come from wealth. I’m not well-versed in the finer points of etiquette. What can I offer?” A wise friend said to me, “Laurie, just be yourself. Remember, your congregation is made up of people with the same hopes and dreams that you have. Just be you, and you’ll make out fine.”
In the end, isn’t that what God asks of each one of us? Spiritual growth is in large part a journey toward knowing not only who God created us to be but who God is calling us to become. At a transition point some years later, I was attempting to discern my future in ministry. After several months of being stuck, I heard a clear word from God, “What you end up doing and where you end up serving is not nearly as important as who you are becoming.”
How can we continue to “become” as God’s beloved children?
- Be a continuous learner. Read, listen, think critically, and engage in holy conversation.
- Be self-aware and transparent. Take time for prayer and self-examination, and be willing to change.
- Take regular time away so that you can regain perspective.
- Seek honest feedback from others so that you can grow in skills, emotional intelligence, and grace.
- Don’t cling to who you were in the past, but empty yourself and seek to be transformed into the person God hopes you will become in the future.
For many years I had a painting in my office with these words from the 20th century Swiss theologian and Catholic priest Hans Urs von Balthasar: “What you are is God’s gift to you. What you are becoming is your gift to God.”
Bishop Laurie Haller is bishop of the Iowa Conference. She blogs at www.lauriehaller.org and is author of Recess: Rediscovering Play and Purpose (Cass Community Publishing House, 2015), available from Cokesbury and Amazon.