The biggest blunder in my ministry – and the one which has impacted me the most since – was going to a church without really “going to” that church. The second biggest was leaving that church before it was time, because I had never really “gone to” that church in the first place.
One of my heroes in the ministry once opined that there are two kinds of pastors in Georgia: the ones who want to go to Atlanta, and the ones who want to leave. I’ve been both.
Sixteen years ago, I was serving my first church out of seminary. It was small, rural and south of metro Atlanta. Our church was the product of that Southern Baptist phenomenon, “evangelism by church split.” A friend got himself recommended to the search committee of a 100-year-old church in the city of Atlanta. At the same time, he had just accepted a position at one of our seminaries. So he passed my name along to the Atlanta committee.
Long story short, God led me to northwest Atlanta. I went.
About the same time, I was learning about the strategic nature of cities in God’s redemptive plan for the nations. It seemed like a perfect fit: a city church in need of renewal, a neighborhood on the cusp of renewal, and a pastor who was hearing God talk about the importance of cities. There’s where the first big blunder happened.
Instead of embracing God’s call “to” that church in that neighborhood in that city, I chose to carry on the myth of suburban pastor commuting with the majority of his people to a building in that neighborhood in that city and then retreating to the “safety” of the suburbs. Like the majority of my people, I paid lip service to the desire to see God do something new in that church in that neighborhood in that city. I listened and nodded as the older members spoke lovingly of the church’s “glorious past,” and commiserated with the long-time members about the glory days. All the while, we met, we ate, we sang, we prayed, we wrung our hands, we wondered, we reminisced, and we went home to our comfortable and safe suburbs.