I’m pretty good at being a pastor. It’s my favorite thing to do. When I’ve reached the point in my relationship with someone where we can be absolutely real with each other, it seems to work. Not because I have any particular people skills, but because God somehow makes rich and beautiful conversation happen regardless of where the other person is with their spirituality. Being a pastor is fun and rewarding and life-giving. But what I hate more than anything about my job is auditioning to be your pastor. That’s what’s crushing my soul.
I live in two different worlds simultaneously. One world is the world that I talk about with people who have decided to let me be their pastor. It’s the world where God happens. Strange serendipity takes place in this world. I run into people at just the right time. I go to a meeting with something burdening my heart and the first person that speaks is like an angel God sent directly to tell me what I needed to hear. In this first world, I’ve been given a vision for my ministry. And the glory of God turns up everywhere.
But too much of my time, I live in a second world, the world where I’m auditioning to be your pastor. It’s a world not dissimilar from the one inside the Hillary Clinton campaign revealed in those email leaks where everything is meticulously calculated. It’s a world at the mercy of the mysterious human psychological forces called momentum and traction and buzz. It’s a world where I’m supposed to be perfectly hip and on-point at all times. Where I’m supposed to be lighthearted and not have any actual emotions other than intuitively mirroring back whatever vibe is in the room. Where I’m supposed to exude the indifferent, playful confidence our culture calls cool that innately attracts people to me so that I never have to pursue anyone. Where I’m supposed to be endlessly available and not at all bothered when nobody shows up.
In the world where God happens, I’m having a great ministry with a small group of people. Among the students with whom I’ve developed spiritual intimacy, my heart gushes with love and joy. I’ve watched several students who had been exiled from the church because of their queer identity blossom and discover their spiritual gifts. I’m able to relax and be myself. I don’t feel like it’s my responsibility to manage every conversation that we have, because silence doesn’t feel like it’s my fault.
But in the world where I’m auditioning to be your pastor, I’m failing miserably. Sometimes you’ve given me some pretty obvious hints that you want me to go away. More often you’re sending me legitimately mixed signals. Sometimes you don’t respond to several messages inviting you to events, but then when I ask you how you’re doing, you answer without any annoyance or hesitation. I suppose what ruined me vocationally is that I was a union organizer before I was a pastor. And union organizers are trained to keep calling and leaving messages until you pick up the phone and say don’t ever call me again.
I’m willing to take no for an answer. But I’m very stubborn about taking hints, because sometimes persistence actually works. Sometimes people come after many declined invitations. There was a kid in the first youth group I ever led who wouldn’t come to church the first nine times I knocked on his door. I stopped by his house on my route every Sunday in our church van. Finally, on the tenth time, he came. That’s always stuck with me. That’s why I won’t stop inviting you to events. Because I refuse to accept the reality created by inertia and social awkwardness.
And that’s where I’m stuck. Because I can’t tell the difference between letting Jesus take the wheel and letting inertia and social awkwardness run their natural course. I know that you’ve already built a community for yourself that you’re perfectly happy with and the idea of adding a church family seems like too much with your 24-credit course-load, 20 hour work-study job, and 15 extra-curricular activities every week. I also know that your generation doesn’t go anywhere without a posse or at least a wingman, so coming to church is always a decision that at least one other person has to agree to, which means that unless your roommate is openly Christian, you’re not coming. I also know that I’ve missed the sacred window of opportunity the first two weeks of school before college students are locked into their social networks and their weekly routines.
These sociological maxims are my best hypotheses for explaining the extraordinarily difficult mission field I’ve faced over the last two and a half years. And having them rolling around in my head all the time is what make me insufferable,intense, desperate, and whatever else is weirding you out about me. Because in the world where I’m auditioning to be your pastor, the margin of error is zero and the odds of success are a million to one. I know that the harder I pursue you, the more you will say thank you, I’m fine. It’s like a basic law of social electromagnetism. I’m so tired of feeling like I have to play an endless game of emotional chess, trying to find angles and excuses to pay compliments or ask thoughtful questions without seeming creepy so that you’ll finally tell me real things about your life.
I decided to write this post so I could officially stop auditioning to be your pastor. It’s scary to give that up. There aren’t a lot of people who have decided to let me be their pastor, but I need to focus on them and be grateful for them. I need to live in the world where God is happening, even if that means that I fail. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying to find ways to be missional and support what you’re doing. It doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to stop texting you altogether (though some of you I will). It does mean that I’m actually going to exercise, do social things with people who aren’t students, and take at least one full day off every week. It means that I’m going to try again to hand this thing over to God and live as though God is working even when I’m not directly involved. If you come around, I’ll be happy to see you. The audition is over.