Monday, April 13, 2009

Making Changes

In 1987 my family and I made a huge change in our lives. It shaped us for the next two decades. I left my role as assistant professor at Houston Baptist University and accepted the call to serve as pastor of the University Baptist Church. For twenty-two years, that has been our life. Melinda and I have raised our children here and it is here that they were spiritually formed, educated, and launched into the world. It has been home.

Four months ago, that began to change. I received an email from a friend of mine who teaches on the faculty of Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary. He told me of a position at Truett that was open and urged me to consider applying. I went on-line to read about the position. It was Professor of Christian Ministry and Director of Pastoral Ministries. The requirements outlined on the position description matched my own resume pretty closely. Melinda and I talked about it, and for the first time in twenty-two years I took a step that could lead to my leaving UBC. I put an application packet together and submitted it to Truett.

The next four months involved several interviews, conversations with trusted friends who served both as advisors and prayer-partners, and discussions at home with Melinda and Jenna. I talked to Alan and wrote to Taylor. As long as the door remained open, it seemed right to move toward it.

Finally, two weeks ago, the letter of appointment to the faculty arrived by FedEx. I signed it and returned it. Life is now in the transition mode.

In some ways, the decision to accept Truett’s offer was a no-brainer. I love teaching. I have a passion for theological education. UBC has been kind and generous to allow me to scratch that itch by teaching M.Div. classes for two seminaries. I have directed eight Doctor of Ministry projects for four seminaries. I have managed to continue writing a bit. And Truett is very fine school, with an outstanding faculty, and I’m a Baylor alum. It just all fits so well.

On the other hand, it was one of the most difficult emotional decisions I have ever had to make. I have so many valuable friendships among the congregation at UBC. These people trusted me to serve as their pastor when I was 34 years old. I knew a bit about biblical studies back then, but practically nothing about serving as a pastor. They have affirmed my gifts, encouraged me, humored my whims, forgiven my mistakes, challenged my thinking, and trusted my leadership. We have been partners in ministry for a long time. What I do know about Christian ministry and pastoral leadership I have learned from these dear followers of Christ. I have had the privilege of working alongside staff members who have been, not only co-workers, but my best friends. Deciding to leave this was difficult.

When I arrived at UBC I had some ideas about church and mission. I had some theories about leadership and ministry. I needed a laboratory, a field in which to put to the test these things I deeply believed. Now it is time to return to the classroom with all that. I look forward to the opportunity to engage the next generation of pastors and leaders who are preparing to enter the field.

The journey continues . . .

Friday, April 03, 2009

A Good Day Fishing

I went fishing with a friend on Wednesday for the first time since last May. I didn’t even have a valid license, so I had to go to Academy and get legal. I picked up some new line to load on my reels and some purple and chartreuse plastics that I heard were working well.

Last week I consulted with three fishing gurus in our congregation, explaining that we would be going in kayaks and wading. Their eyes lit up as they described their favorite place. They explained how to get there and even sketched a map for me (see photo). I was afraid that they might decide to shoot me after telling me. They told me stories about all the fish they’d caught there. I could already feel the taut line and taste the fresh seafood dinner. I was set.

We arrived at the boat ramp just after dawn and launched the kayaks. We compared the hand-drawn treasure map to our charts and GPS map and were certain we were on the way to a great day of fishing. The wind had picked up something awful and we paddled into it about a half-mile to the spot we thought we’d been directed to. The area looked perfect. We got out of the kayaks and waded the area for two hours, testing every likely looking spot. But the wind was fierce and we had no response from the millions of fish holding up in the area. No signs at all. No bait. No birds. Nothing.

We consulted the charts again and decided to move to another promising area a little further east. We headed into the wind again and after some effort arrived at a place I’m sure redfish hope they go to when they die. It was beautiful. Egrets and herons erupted from the tall grass as we paddled our way through. Once more we got out and waded for a couple of hours with no response from the billions of fish in the area.

Finally we decided it was best to head back home. The wind had shifted about ninety-degrees, so now we paddled back in a strong cross wind, struggling to keep the kayaks pointed in the right direction. I’ve never been more tired at the end of a day of fishing. And no fish.

That night at church someone asked me how it went. I explained that it had been windy and that it was physically tiring, but it was a good day. I told them, “I have never in my life said, ‘I wish I hadn’t gone fishing today.’”

That provoked a discussion from some who knew a few of my fishing experiences.

“What about that time your Suburban wouldn’t start and you had to abandon it on the tidal flat with the tide coming in, and had to hike back home in the dark?”

“Yeah, that was kind of hard. But it was a good day fishing.”

“What about the time you went out with the guide and the wind came up and you had to ride 20 miles back to the marina, full-speed into the wind and got drenched and your cell phone was destroyed?”

“Yea, that was a tough ride. But it was a good day fishing?”

Then I remembered on my own the trip to Colorado Bend State Park to catch white bass, when the deluge hit and Cherokee Creek flooded and we couldn’t cross at the low water crossing for a full day and were stranded. The river was the color of chocolate milk and the fishing was non-existent. Finally, just at dark I ventured across the river (idiot) in the Suburban with my wife, son, and daughter in the car. Other pickups had made it. Water was sloshing up over the hood of the Suburban. Just as we started out on the far side of the creek, the engine died. I prayed. I turned the key. It started right up and we drove out and found a motel and a dry bed.

It was a good day fishing.