" Failure" and/or "Success" is always about perspective.
As an oldest child, Enneagram 3, task-driven, achievement-oriented kind of guy, success or failure is usually tied up not just in the completion of a goal, but a job well done and acknowledged. As much as I strive to be about the process and journey of discovery, over the past week I have been reminded in subtle ways how much I have let "the man" – okay, my ego, achievement needs and blindness – guide me into starting this new adventure called grad school. "Dr." before 40, acceptance by some ambiguous institution, validation by who knows who, etc.
No more I say . . . I have failed, and that’s okay. I have decided not to continue in the Doctor of Ministry Program that I just began this semester. Yes, it just started, but since the first day, there as been this nagging feeling that this was not a good fit. Discernment, prayer and a good couple of smacks in the head tell me that that "feeling" was God telling me that this is not the time, nor the place.
Because God works in percentages, why I have made this decision:
- 10% – Arrogance about the best way for me to grow;
- 10% – Naivety about the possibilities of the program/institution;
- 5% – Time, curses to only 7 days in the week;
- 75% – The "Still Small Voice" is now using a bullhorn;
I REALLY should have known better. Not only is it a huge amount of time, but I think I had a false sense of what I could get out of it. Why did I think that I could learn about the kind of church I think needs to take shape VIA taking classes that for the most part teach us how to thrive in the way the church is now?
My original intent for entering the Doctor of Ministry program was not for any financial or professional advancement, but for pure personal and pastoral growth . . . okay and the whole "Dr." thing. More specifically, I wanted to stretch in my understanding of what it means to pastor a postmodern/emergent congregation in an urban setting like San Francisco. What I have found is that I feel like Joey on Friends. He talks, people smile and nod, even love him, but basically they think he is a moron. A well-intentioned and good-hearted moron, but a moron nonetheless. I say that not because I feel unable to keep up with the academics and intellectual discourse, but because that exercise in itself is not fulfilling or particularly life-giving for me. In fact most of the conversations that I have had around my areas of interested have been, one, defending against those who dismiss any inferences to the emergent or postmodern church or, two, explaining and informing people about this "thing that have heard of". Okay, a little harsh, but you get what I mean. These has been ZERO opportunity to expand the understanding of my context, because the context in which I serve, for good or bad, is not here. And while this kind of discourse is overall positive and helpful, this can happen – and does – in other places besides a graduate theological class setting. I say this not to dismiss the validity of theological academia, but because my ministry needs have shifted since I was in seminary some 12 years ago. Because the discovery and articulation of my own postmodern worldview has reshaped my place, expectations and understanding of the dominant church culture; the graduate theological setting is not the place where I feel like I can venture out and grow in that ways I had hoped . . . bummer.
I am slow, but a few conversations/interactions over the past few weeks have been formative in this decision. I can boil them down to two basic perceptions of and reflections upon doing graduate work around the urban, emergent and postmodern church.
from the institution //
Looks and words that basically say, "Bruce, what the heck are you talking about?" or "These things of which you speak – blogging, technology, creatives, emergent, etc. – these are not ‘real’ church or ministry."
from those on the edges of my ministry //
"Why again are you trying to stretch your understanding of how you think/live ministry in a place that upholds a worldview so different than and is even dismissive of your own?" "Are you looking for affirmation/verification of what you think or do you need to be challenged in the trenches on the validity of what you claim is effective ministry?"
So . . . I have not given up on the whole personal and pastoral growth thing, but the focus will be different. I am still going to carve out some hours a week to tackle some wacky ideas that have been rolling around in my head. These possible movements in my own growth and the release of this overwhelming sense that this was not a good place to be, have me again feeling blessed about the possibilities.
Who knows what the future holds, maybe in another time, another program, another universe or even an honorary Doctorate from the University of "Oh Good my Daddy can Quit being such a Downer." Ahhhhhhhh a place of chaos and ambiguity, now that feels like home.
Thanks be to God.