23 February 2011

I Honestly Don't Know If I Can Do This

So here's a visual representation of the last twenty-four hours:

 At this point I can only wish I were the guy on the left.  That guy is reality.  I'm the one on the right getting kicked in the balls.  Figuratively, at least, which is about the only silver lining at present.

As one might have expected, the financial situation in our campus ministry has been a cause for concern since roughly the end of 2009 or so (it's been a cause for concern in ALL of the campus ministries across the country, frankly).  There are a ton of factors in the equation: the economy, congregational giving going down, synods and churchwide grants remaining stagnant, etc.  We knew things would be tight.  They have been for a couple of years now.  But tonight we finally put enough numbers together properly to realize just where we are, and how long it will be until the money runs out completely.  It's closer than I ever imagined it could be.  Thus, the kick in the balls.

I love my call.  Here's what I got to do yesterday:
  • I registered for our Synod Assembly, where I'll shake a lot of hands, hand out a lot of fliers and hopefully answer a lot of questions about campus ministry, including "why, yes, we do accept PayPal!"
  • Spent an hour or so answering emails and reading blogs/news etc.
  • Started planning this Sunday's worship service.
  • Ate lunch with my wife and started planning a high school youth retreat for this fall.
  • Made coffee for our weekly conference pastors' text study that meets in our building
  • Attended said study and met a new colleague from a nearby church who had been looking for a study group.
  • Got interrupted by a student texting me to see if I could talk.
  • Spent about 90 minutes with the student and a good friend counseling through a family emergency.
  • Went to the gym (no, it isn't specifically ministry-related, but people there know I'm a campus pastor, and it's good for my spiritual, physical and mental health).
  • Went to our Executive committee meeting where the above-mentioned kick in the balls occurred (in the kindest possible way from the person doing the kicking, and for that I thank her with all my heart).
  • Came home, helped put the girls to bed.
  • Baked cookies for Bible study, made coffee, put water on for tea/cocoa/etc.
  • Sat in on the first part of the Women's Bible Study, then went away to read this week's Newsweek.
  • Said goodbye to the women as they left our house, started this blog post, went to bed.
This is all part of what I do.  I love doing it.  It feeds my soul in ways I can't even describe.  Better yet, in some areas I seem to be good enough at this work that it feeds other peoples' souls as well.  The conversation today was just one example of hundreds of holy moments I've experienced here in Ames, not to mention the hundreds more I was privileged to experience in my former call in Minnesota.

I always said I would hold firm to expecting compensation in line with Synod guidelines from the places to which I was called, but that was before I knew how much I would sacrifice to be able to do this work.  I haven't gotten a raise since 2009, and we didn't budget for one this year, either.  We knew it wasn't in the cards, but I love this job and I don't want to let money be the deciding factor.  Yet it seems that it just might be after all, unless we can turn some things around right now.  I used to despise the pastors who said they didn't insist on guidelines pay like it was some badge of honor:  now I'm about to join their ranks (minus the bragging, of course). 

Thing is, I don't know if I'm the kind of entrepreneur who can get us where we need to be.  I have a lot of skills that are essential to being a campus pastor.  I'm genuinely interested in the students with whom I work, with helping them see where God is active in their lives.  I'm a loyal member of the ELCA and hope to be until the day they put me in the ground.  I'm a decent preacher, pretty good with a guitar, I bake a mean oatmeal raisin cookie, and you don't want to try my coffee if you're not interested in long-term consciousness.  I find nothing more invigorating than a good Bible study conversation that ranges all over the place.  I love finding ways to craft worship experiences that touch the daily graces of living in a campus environment.  But I'm lousy with the niceties of church politics.  I don't have a head for financial numbers (obviously).  I'm absent-minded enough that I'm afraid I'll never be more than a barely competent business manager.  If that's what this calling is going to morph into, then it's probably time for me to move on.

The best plan, of course, is to find the people that do have those skills and put them in places where they can put them into action.  It appears we've done that, and even with the level of discomfort where it currently is, I'll take this over not knowing six days a week and twice on Sunday.  The question is, do I as campus pastor have the wherewithal to do what must be done, to work through the conversations and invite people to partner with us over and over and over again?  I'm not sure, honestly - this is a challenge of skills I sorely lack, in an arena where I'm genuinely uncomfortable, and it's going to be really, really hard to know what to do next.  Other than pray, of course, which has been constant ever since a hot Saturday in 2003 when I was ordained into this mess in the first place.

Ah, holy Jesus.  Creator of all life, Holy Spirit dwelling within us all:  bless us with a renewed sense of your power and a faith to serve you well.

Grace & peace,


  1. I experienced this as a small church pastor. It's very hard, when you love what you're doing. You have my prayers.

  2. Oh boy. I'm majorly bummed out about this financial news. I'm going to pray more faithfully for LCM. I love what God's doing there through you and the community of believers that gather each week at ULC. Like last Sunday: the clicker didn't work, the roof leaked a little, and not many off us can clap at the right time, but God still managed to work in it. Your sermon was great, our time looking at 1st Corinthians has been amazing. I LOVE the cards you gave us about how both sides are true, such a good representation of the "sinner and saint." I trust that God is good despite the circumstances, I hope it is in his will to prosper LCM.

  3. What Songbird said. We'll be praying for you.

  4. O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us....

    Prayers are with you.

  5. You can do this! You can adapt. You are great at out of the box thinking. Why go the traditional routes. Make your own path, blaze a trail.

    There are many opportunities that meet your skill set to reach your congregations goals.

    Don't get caught up get creative!


  6. I will continue to prayer for you and Campus Ministry. I believe that you can find a way with God's help!

  7. You can. We can. And we ask God to help and guide us.

  8. Rats. You and yours are in my prayers.