Monday, February 23, 2015
The Rev. Harold F. Mante, my first mentor and home pastor before and through Confirmation Class through ordination, has been home with Jesus for many years.
Yeeeeeeet, daily, I think of the best words of advice that he ever gave to me.
"Be slow! Be steady! Be solid!"
"Never learn how to use the ditto machine!"
My covenant brothers and I spent a week with Jan and Eugene at their home on Flathead Lake in Lakeside, Montana back in October 2011.
Eugene had just turned 80.
I did not ask Jan's age and she did not offer it.
While we're still "unpacking" that time, something happened to me beyond what was offered that rebirthed me soooooo much that I am more excited and energized for ministry in Belvidere, Illinois than I've ever been before in my entire life and ministry and retirement isn't remotely on my radar; which, I know, comes as a great disappointment to denominational jingoists and people still looking to satisfy their idolatries through religion only coincidental to a personal relationship with Jesus by the book.
I'll never forget Jan's candid observation about organizational/religious irregulars, irascibles, and irreconcilables: "Some people are like farts in the elevator. It takes just one. Everyone suffers. Nobody escapes."
Eugene offered so much that keeps coming to mind; and, like my first mentor's continuing influence, some words are part of my daily compass.
He is a man of "primary source" and explained devotional Bible reading as "more like sucking a lozenge than gulping down a meal."
He had lots to say about leadership in the church; including,..."As we do less, God does more...Pastors should never force their boards to do anything...I never tried to get people to do anything...Let 'em fail...No expectations...Lead to the water...Let go...No force-feeding...Moderate but don't dictate...Don't attend committee meetings...Don't interfere with committees...Get out of the way!..Direct/Guide/Shape/Pastor only when asked...Motivational speaking is often a sly way of manipulating...You don't have to motivate Christians!"
On worship: "Simple is profound...It's not entertainment...Be dignified but not stuffy...It's about relationships more than anything else...Just do it...My role was limited to preaching, praying, and presiding at sacraments."
He remains convinced vision statements and goal-setting are a waste of time; urging pastors and boards to focus on nurturing identity as God's people: "It's not what you are doing that's important; but who you are in doing it."
Over and over and over again, he said, "Get out of the way!"
Noting how pride often paralyzes pastoral/congregational ministries, he urged humility, trust, and submission in all relationships and especially with church boards and colleagues.
We're still unpacking those jewels.
While we'll never be able to catalogue or contextualize all of the blessings of that divine appointment, our lives have been forever changed for Christ's sake.
I've gotten lots of good advice/counsel over the years (check out the below for more); and if I would have integrated more of it into my life and ministry, I would have honored God and helped more people more often than I have.
Trying to summarize all of it, it comes down to this.
Father knows best.
Our best mentors know that; which is why their best only repeats His.
Blessings and Love!
Scratching the Surface
(A Brief and Incomplete Guide to Good Advice/Counsel)
David: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and light to my path.”
Solomon: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.”
Jesus: “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house of the rock…The house did not fall because it was founded on the rock.”
Paul: “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition…not according to Christ…All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.”
Here’s another way of putting it: “The only advice/counsel worth our attention is advice/counsel consistent with Jesus as the perfect pattern for life and ministry according to the Bible as the unparalleled witness to Godly advice/counsel.”
Or as one saint said while echoing Paul’s urging (“Imitate me as long as I imitate Jesus!”),
“Always compare everything I say to God’s Word. My wisdom is useless. Only God’s truth is valuable…Evaluate everything any human says and weigh it against Scripture” (cf. Isaiah 5:20, Matthew 7:15ff., 1 John 4:1ff., and related texts).
Now that’s/He’s good/Godly advice/counsel!
Whenever you hear/read anything from anyone about following Jesus, pay attention to it/them as long as the ultimate source is Jesus by the book.
Within the aforementioned context, I’ve received some good advice/counsel over the years.
My parents have been helpful in many ways in a Proverbs 1:8 kinda way.
James Brown – a founder of one of the most persuasive renewal movements in the PCUSA – noted a reality for/in undershepherds aka pastors that inhibits/enables revival, “Nothing can happen through you that has not first happened to you!” Or as a salty old missionary blurted, “You can’t give away what you ain’t got for yourself!”
Bob Imm – an elder in Pennsylvania – warned (slightly paraphrased), “Don’t get into a tinkling contest with a skunk!” Or as a shrink for corporate executives in North Carolina explained, “You are not responsible for what others say and do; but you are responsible for what you say and do and how you respond to what others say and do.”
Harold Mante – my home pastor – cautioned moments after I was ordained, “Don’t learn how to use the ditto machine!”
Martha Young – the first African-American elder in a large North Carolina church – urged, “You love ‘em and let God judge ‘em; and love ‘em enough to tell ‘em that God’s coming back to judge ‘em!” I like how Frederick Buechner observed, “A prophet’s quarrel with the world is deep-down a lover’s quarrel. If they didn’t love the world, they probably wouldn’t bother to tell it that it’s going to hell. They’d just let it go.” I like how Mr. Rogers used to say, “I love you just the way you are and too much to leave you just the way you are.”
Hans Kung: “The agenda for the church is “to discover what is permanent…originally meant, before it was covered with the dust and debris of two thousand years…This is not another gospel, but the same ancient gospel rediscovered for today!”
Old priest to young priest in Bernanos’ The Diary of a Country Priest: “Salt stings on an open wound but saves you from gangrene.”
Dorothy Haglage – a Kansas City elder and a founder of Presbyterian Elders in Prayer – “Tell people to tithe at least or you’ll be cheating them of what God can do through and for them.”
Here’s something that I’ve heard many times: “Sometimes it’s better to talk to God about some people than to talk to some people about God.”
When I asked a Trappist monk named Daniel how he could know so much more about the Bible than me considering I had so many more academic credentials than him, he responded with a smile, “I asked God what it means.”
A first hint of spending too many years in books about the book instead of the book itself came from seminary mentor John Robertson of Belvidere, New Jersey who seemed to beg, “Don’t separate yourself from God by degrees.”
Then there’s something that I’ve distilled from scratching the surface of the Bible: “Remembering you’re going to live a lot longer with Jesus than anybody else makes establishing life’s priorities a no-brainer.”
William Barclay was right: “The best that we have to offer is professional plagiarism; rephrasing, reminting, and reporting what’s already in the book so plainly and simply.”
Annnnnnnd here’s the best advice/counsel that I’ve ever received from the only One who really, really, really knows what’s best for me/you/everyone: “Come to Me.”
He is the perfect pattern for life and ministry from here to eternity by the book.
It’s like His Revelation through John in the third verse of the first chapter that provides the perfect path for everyone: “Read…hear…keep…the words of this prophecy.”
Jesus by the book.
The best because it’s/He’s the only Godly advice/counsel.
Are you still looking for a different way to do church?
Are you tired of the SOSO RELIGION?
Are you put off by posers in pews, politics, and pulpits?
Are you searching for something/Someone real, honest, timely, and true to…?
Try our family of faith on the corner of Lincoln and Main in Belvidere, Illinois!
Sundays at 7:20 and 10:00 a.m.
And so much…