My initial response is, “It stinks. I miss it. I miss the people and I miss being involved.” Two Sundays ago when my wife and kids returned from worship I said something like, “Being home Sunday morning is for the birds.” (No offense intended to anyone with feathers out there.)
I have, however, had some good time for reflection while I rest, heal, and bide my time sitting on the bench. Here is what I’ve discovered:
Injuries tend to bring the opportunity to learn humility; for me they have served as moments to pause and realize I cannot do everything. (A lesson that is always difficult to learn.) A month ago I saw no limits to what I could do or think through the implications of doing too many things. Now I’m happy someone can help me put on my socks. I’m learning what it means to lead from behind more than from up front. With our congregation council we’ve been using baseball analogies as a way to keep things light on serious matters. I find myself on the injured reserve and the best role I can play from there is to encourage my teammates and hope they get on base. (If you’ve heard the cheering, that’s me!) From where I sit on this bench the bases are loaded, the rally caps are on and the energy in the clubhouse is positive. As I am getting ready to check back in off the bench and into the lineup again I’ll be coming back a different player. I’m still going to swing and swing freely, but you’ll be hearing more cheerleading from me in the dugout, and I’ll be looking to help make the entire lineup stronger. It is good not only to lead but to be led, and I am humbled by the fine lineup we’ve been able to field in my absence. Thanks to our council. They have done an amazing job.
Our council members have not been the only ones to step up to bat since I’ve been on the injured reserve. I have been absolutely amazed and grateful by the many people stepping up in my absence. Not that I had any doubt of anyone’s abilities – we have a deep talent and faithfulness pool. But people have stepped up with happy hearts and a willingness to take risks and be stretched, and whenever those opportunities are capitalized upon; good things happen, learning takes place, and we all take another step forward walking with Jesus and alongside each other. Leaders continue to emerge, trust strengthens, and a gracefulness toward each other, to me, to my family, becomes our shared witness to those around us. Sitting on the bench and watching this happen has been a real gift in the midst of circumstances none of us planned on entering, and yet the Spirit guides, tends, leads, tugs, pulls, encourages, reassuring all of us. When we come out on the other side of this – we are going to emerge a stronger church.
As I sat the back bench in worship this past Sunday morning I experienced something many pastors do not have the opportunity to do. I entered the congregation with the eyes of a visitor, the eyes of a homebound member who was able to return, and the eyes of a coach, assessing the lineup. I came in late intentionally, as to not cause a scene or be a distraction, and all who saw me welcomed me. I also observed others greeting one another and exchanging friendly smiles. I often see this from up front, but saw it first hand from the back, and thought to myself – I feel very welcome here, coming back It feels great, and I was taking mental note of all the people doing things. I enjoyed very much the visual when the children entered after Kid Fun Time, enjoying the same welcome I did from the congregation as I could see in their young faces made me think that, this is who we are and what we are about, and called to be. That thesis was tested and experienced anew by the many people giving me waves and high fives on the way back from communion, and my hope was that everyone who enters this church can experience a slice of this welcome. I was very appreciative of Pastor Rip Hoffman’s leadership and proclamation, of the prodigal son being welcomed home just as we are in Christ. I loved experiencing the music and liturgy from within the congregation. The singing of the congregation, the senior choir singing acapela, the gospel rendition of “Precious Lord” that our Director of Music – Jon Yaeger played while everyone up front was clearing the altar afterwards made my heart sing too. I was on the bench, yet fully involved and part of the community that loves as Christ loves, welcomes as Christ welcomes, and challenges as Christ challenges, and grows in its understanding of grace and forgiveness as we go about our broken lives and gather once more to be made new. I left thinking… “Thanks be to God!”
Just to be clear, it is going to take a while to work back into the regular lineup in all walks of our life together. My plan is to take it slow, but get back to swinging the bat soon. It has been happening already from my laptop, sitting at home. It will become more visual when I work on the sermon for this coming Sunday, but other things will take a little more time, and my hope is to encourage from the sideline, keep entrusting the ministry we share in each of our hands as we rely on the Spirit to guide and lead us, and soon enough, I’ll be able to put on my own socks. After all, Easter is coming!
I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world. For God, whom I serve with my spirit by announcing the gospel of his Son, is my witness that without ceasing I remember you always in my prayers, asking that by God’s will I may somehow at last succeed in coming to you. For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you — or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. (Romans 1:8-12)
Interested in what happened? Check out, “So…I broke my head.”