Change Makes Me a Better Pastor

by Lori Bievenour, Senior Pastor, St. Peter’s United Church of Christ, Carmel, Indiana

Ministry is fantastic… and exhausting.  As I look ahead to my 16thyear with the same congregation, I am struck by the dynamic nature of ministry… even in the same setting/location and with the “same” people.  Ha!  We all know that the people in our congregations and ministry settings change, but it is easy to slip into the flawed thinking that the people are the same year after year, month after month, week after week, in the same congregation.  The opposite couldn’t be more true.

WPLP has helped me to become a better pastor in this same, yet changing, setting.  It has caused me to see people as they grow and change, and it has helped me to see myself in different ways, even if I am still sitting at the same desk that I sat at fresh out of seminary.

Ministries mustchange; change is what gives ministries life! I am grateful for the many ways in which I have learned this (from those wiser and more experienced in ministry, from children who point out the most basic of changes as the most amazing things, from the natural world that bursts with moments of transformation more often than not, from readings, art, music, and from everyday life…)  Change is for real, and change makes me a better pastor.

In the midst of Lent this year, I had the opportunity to make a change in my routine and take a silent retreat at the Fall Creek Abbey in Indianapolis.  We were encouraged to write a colloquy… a conversation with Jesus.  Specifically, we were invited to imagine a conversation with Jesus while he was in the tomb. This was the result of my prayerful imagination:

Lori:     Jesus, is there any chance that you are relieved to be in the tomb?

Jesus:   Yes, I am free… There is a quietness.  I have space to think.

L:         Who’s been exhausting you?  It seems obvious, but maybe not?

J:          True – even the ones who love me – who truly love me for who I am – exhaust me. I need this time, quietness, space to simply be.

L:         The ones you love exhaust you?

J:          Yes, it hurts even more because then I feel guilt on top of the pain… I want to love, love, love, but I am spent.  I am spent.

L:         Can you rest?

J:          I must.  I don’t have the time.  I want to rush right back out there, but my body is crying out and my spirit is crushed. I need to breathe, to get cleaned up, to clear away the clutter and refocus on who I am.

L:         Who are you?

J:          Lover. Innovator.  Bold voice.  Risk taker. A lonely leader.

L:         But you still want to do this work?

J:          I have no choice.  This is my call, and I could try to do something else somewhere else, but this is who I am and where I am to be.

L:         Why not let it all go?

J:          It’ll find me.  One cannot escape a call that is planted in one’s heart.

L:         Does your heart break?

J:          Every day.  Sometimes all day.

L:         How do you fix it?

J:          Slowly.  Don’t patch it.  Allow the hurt and let others see it.  To hurt is not a flaw.  It’s a sign of life.

L:         I need a minute, Jesus.

J:          Take it.  Take all of the minutes.

There’s obviously a lot in this colloquy.  I have been changed by this dialogue with Jesus, and for that I am grateful.  WPLP planted seeds of change within me over a decade ago, and I continue to grow spiritually, emotionally, and theologically as a result of this experience and these friendships.  Here’s to the changes to call us to new life!

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