Thursday, January 9, 2020

Reflections on the First 6 Months of Officership

So what's it like? It's crazy, alright. It's the hardest thing I've ever tried to do.  It's also the most rewarding thing I've ever done.  It's amazing. It's fun. It's stressful. It's hard.  It's everything that is a high stress high adrenaline ministry. 

Talk about a crazy series of events! You go from an environment of virtually total control over your life, to being put completely in charge.  You move from a close knit community of fellow believers, to living on your own, in a big house alone, and not only that, but to an area where you don't know a single person.  And you're in charge.  You are taking the reigns. Boy oh boy, that isn't easy!  But it's so exciting, to jump into the field, pull your boots up, and get your hands dirty, working, working, working, to put the many visions and ideas you've had into practice! What a great honor and blessing to get to do that!

I do see why pastoring is viewed as a difficult profession.  You have to be a little of everything.  The number of hats I wear in a day is sometimes astonishing. And everyone seems to have expectations of you. You put your own heart on the line, and people often will amaze you, but will often also disappoint you. It's painful, but also so exciting.  When you see someone really begin to change within, you see God's very hand at work.  It's beautiful beyond words.

My hats so far include administrator, teacher, pastor, bookkeeper, youth leader, counselor, public relations coordinator, staff supervisor, cook, janitor, preacher, bible study leader, soldiership instructor, driver, camp staff, financial manager, community outreach, committee member, advisory board leader, and that's just off the top of my head. 

I was nervous when I first started. I was afraid of dealing with my staff.  I was afraid of dealing with my own daily responsibilities.  I was afraid of a lot. But the key to courage is to feel the fear, and do it anyway. And slowly the fear disappears, until it's gone.

To be alone in a new community is not easy. Most people look at that, including people in my own family, and marvel at the fact that I can do it.  And I certainly can, but it's not easy.  I've done it many times already, but this time was different. This time it was just me.

The first few months were the hardest. It was all so new. And I didn't know how to do any of it.  Nothing can prepare you for all these various duties.  Some came easily, and I enjoyed, some came more difficultly, and I hated some of the duties.  Still gotta do them though.

The first challenge was driving back and forth to camp, with van loads of kids. It sounds deceptively easy, but it wasn't that easy.  I must've driven back and forth to camp about 8 times. It was stressful. But I tried to make the best of it.  I kept wishing I had volunteers who could do something like that, but it's rare for a corps to have a strong group of volunteers. But we're working on it. After the 7th or 8th time I felt like I couldn't possibly drive back and forth for those 3 hours one more time.  

I had spent the entire second year at training college praying for my congregation.  So it came together quickly when I got there.  We started having 25-30 at dinner church every Sunday night.  It was pretty awesome.  But I think the enemy, whatever regional power exists over the area where I serve noticed that pretty quickly. And we came under spiritual attack.

I found each of my people struggling with severe battles and struggles and it drove some of them away, at least for a time.  It was heartbreaking to see, but all I could do was continue to speak and continue to pray, and help guide them through the trials and temptations of the evil one. And we got through it, mostly.

It was all so new to me during the first few months.  Everything felt like a stretch to my soul, like I was creating muscles in my body that hadn't been there before. That was hard enough. But I had a lot of help. And I had friends in the community that were very welcoming.

I felt very quickly that I was exactly where God wanted me. That became clear, and I decided I would fully embrace it.  I wouldn't let any of my complaints or personal issues interfere with God's call. But you just know when God has you at the center of His will. Things happen in a way that makes it absolutely clear. But I didn't really know if I could do it. I felt I could, but I was also green as an apple.

I think the real acid test started the first kettle season. I knew that would be the real test as to if I could handle the challenges and stresses.  I knew I would be in a situation where I was everything. I was the coordinator, counter, depositor, driver, and ringer all at once. We also didn't have a janitor at the time, so I was cleaning as well.  

But what I didn't expect was the departure of the caseworker, in mid November.  That certainly made things much more difficult, though I had my part in all that. 

But let's go back to commissioning first. What an often difficult and disappointing time transposed with excitement, and glory, and miraculous growth.  My worst nightmares had all come true that June when I became an officer.  All three dooms landed on me. I had a picture in my mind of how it would be, I would go out with my wife, who I would meet at training college, we would go out together, to a medium sized city, in a warm area of the Midwest.  

But my worst fears had been realized. To my disgrace, I was sent out, a 34 year old man, as an assistant, a semi-officer. An almost officer, so it felt in my mind.  I felt disgraced in front of my session mates who so many had gone to such choice appointments, influential, on the up and up. And I'd been sent out in disgrace as an assistant, I rightly believed that my own propensity to speak out on difficult issues had bought me this disgrace.  I'd do it all over again if I could, and speak out even louder this time. Someone has to stand in the gap.

So, in my mind, not only had I been disgraced in front of my session mates, my friends in The Salvation Army central, and my own family, who had all come to see the spectacle, I had gone out alone, unmarried, without any prospects on the horizon. None. An empty sky, that remains empty to this day.  

This I felt doubled my disgrace, for a 34 year old man, to be sent out as a lowly assistant, and not only that, but to be sent out alone, no wife, was a grave shame on my soul.  Many would argue with this supposition. But I felt at the time that to be married, was an indication of maturity, of growth, of being at that moment in life. I felt left behind by life, and by God, as I grew older, 34 years old, wondering if I might ever marry and have a family, a dream I'd had for years. 

And of course tag onto the end of that, I'd been sent to a cold area of the United States, central Michigan.  Just a little cherry on top. I have seasonal affective disorder, and I had hoped I might end up somewhere warmer, like Kansas or Indiana or Missouri.  And of course one little additional poke as well, I was hoping that I would not have to drive a minivan. I love cars, I really enjoy driving a good car. I used to drive a muscle car, I drove hondas, I love hondas, and I had a 1992 Mercedes Benz 190E, beautiful car, rear-wheel drive, so fun to drive. I didn't want something too fancy, a traverse would've been nice.  But for a single guy to drive a minivan, just felt like one more little insult from the Lord.  

I'd given my life to the Lord.  I'd left my home, in Wausau.  I left my family and friends.  I'd given away my possessions, and everything, and I'd gone to a place I didn't want to go, Chicago, for two years. I'd humbled myself, put up with insults and mistreatment, I felt, and then when the final moment culminated, each of my worst fears had been checked off on the list. I felt I'd been held up to public disgrace by the Lord, in front of everyone, and I was deeply ashamed. 

So the first six months were very difficult, coming from that perspective. But I did realize over time that my perspectives might not have fully displayed reality. In fact I realized I was probably wrong about most of it. But I'm still sour at times about it, God's will is always so tough! Why is it so tough? Who knows!

Of course the daily and weekly activities are taxing and difficult. Learning the community can be overwhelming. Trying to build up the programs is tough. Working on issues outside my strength areas is very difficult.

But I think what was surprising was the off time.  I didn't really expect to dread coming home to an empty house.  But I do dread that, and I've talked with many other single officers who feel the same way.  They just want to stay at work because going home to the empty house is just too much.  It's the loneliness.  And the pithy remarks of married officers certainly don't help at all. "It's hard being married too." "God's using this time to work on you."  Give me a break. 

But we were talking about kettle season.  So we made our goal, my first year, which was my hope.  I had to do a lot of it alone. But I had some volunteers who helped with things. I had Scott, who I called "the last soldier of the citadel."  I told him I was going to write a poem about him. The corps had been destroyed by an officer's indiscretion many years ago. While everyone had left, this one man remained, and so I thought it quite noble. And I had a few other volunteers who helped with ringing, counting, and pick ups.  We made it through.  The office was very short staffed during Christmas, and the only way that we managed to serve 40+ families toys was because my mom came for the entire month of December and helped in the office almost everyday. To put it into perspective, I have trouble sleeping at night, and have had that problem my whole life.  I didn't have problems sleeping during kettle season, I would literally pass out at the end of the day.

The spiritual attacks on the church continued, and intensified. We experienced increasing drama, rumors, gossip, and slander from within and outside the church unfortunately. And this hurt us. And we've continued to work, to try to unify the body that seems so divided. But the battle continues to this day. 

Six months later I realized that it's not a shame to be an assistant officer. It's a blessing in disguise.  It doesn't mean anything, aside from indicating that I'm single. I realized it wasn't a shame to go out single. It's not a sign of maturity to be married.  People get married at totally random points in their life.  And I realized it's not a shame to be in a cold part of the country, or to drive a minivan. So that's where I'm at now.  Am I still disappointed to be single? You bet.  Do I still have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about being an assistant? No doubt. Do I still gripe about the car and the cold? Yeah. But fundamentally I realize the truth now.  God is right, and I'm not.  That's OK. The emotions follow later. 

But overall what I can say is God is doing the impossible in our midst. He's gathered together a body of people who he is conforming to His image.  And we continue to pray for great miracles. And I really do love officership.  I also hate it at times.  But we keep fighting. I see why officers burn out over time, because eventually you think I just can't keep up with this anymore, I assume. But that's not going to be my story. Officership is crazy and amazing. So far so good. The battle is real, but God gives the victory.