Wednesday, March 6, 2013

So I Went to a Pastor Retreat

Confession time: Even though I have been a pastor for over 30 years, I’ve never been a big fan of pastors and especially of pastors’ gatherings. 

Some of that is because I know myself.  I love Jesus and try to walk with him, but there is certainly nothing otherworldly or particularly holy about me.  My spirituality is earthy.  I have my scars and my baggage and my sins.  I don’t even like my own company sometimes.  I know plenty of laypeople who are better Christians than I am.  Why would I want to spend time with a bunch of pastors who are probably much like me?

Another reason I’m no great fan of pastors and pastors’ gatherings is because I’ve been to some.  And I’m telling you: you’ll find every bit as much ego and arrogance, as much competitive spirit and sense of entitlement among a group of pastors as you’d find among a gathering of doctors or lawyers or university professors (no offense and no law suits, please).  The big difference in these groups and a gathering of pastors is that doctors and lawyers and university professors usually don’t try to pretend to be something that they are not.  Who wants to hang out with a bunch of plastic, syrupy-spiritual, God-talking, mask-wearing pastors?  Not me.

Oh, and there’s one more reason.  As someone so aptly put it, “Pastors are a lot like manure.  Scatter ‘em around and they do some good; pile ‘em together and they stink to high heaven.”

I know what you’re thinking: “McCallum, you sound awfully cynical.”  (Note: see paragraph two.)  And I know what else you’re thinking: “Then why the heck did you go to a pastor retreat?”

I wish I had noble reasons, but I don’t.  I went because Larry White, the man who put it together, asked me to be one of the speakers.  Had I just seen the ad for the retreat without having been asked to attend, I am 100% confident I would have stayed home.  But Larry asked me to speak.  I enjoy speaking.  I’ve been a pastor for a long time, and I’ve taken a lot of notes along the way.  I hoped God would give me something helpful to say in spite of myself.  So I signed up.

And I’ll be darned if God didn’t sneak up on me and bless me in ways I wouldn’t have imagined.  I can just see God on Monday afternoon, elbowing some angel next to Him in heaven and, with a grin on His face, saying. “Watch what I’m going to do to McCallum at the pastor retreat.”

The angel stands upright with a jolt: “Not McCallum.  He doesn’t go to pastor retreats.”

“Well, he’s going to this one—had to put him on the program to get him there, but he’s going.  Just take a peek at what I’m going to do to him there.  I’m going to get him good.”  The Cosmic Sneak! 

And it was good.  I enjoyed it.  I met some wonderful men, faithful men.  I heard three great speakers, and God spoke to me through each one.  I also heard our state convention's new Executive Director who is so white-hot passionate about reaching Arkansas for Christ that I wouldn't have been surprised if he had spontaneously combusted right there in front of us—I'm pretty sure a saw a couple of sparks anyway.  Good speakers all.  And not once did I hear any pastor ask another how many he had in his church.  Not once did I hear any pastor brag about his church.  Not once did I sense a competitive or arrogant spirit among the group.  Not once did a speaker try to convince us that we needed to be “visionary leaders” or “culturally attuned” or do church according to the latest fads, the current trends, or the most recent book by a mega-church pastor.

Instead, we were called to be broken before God, to seek a deeper connection with Him, to love our people, to recognize that no matter what size the church we serve, if we minister to our people we are being “the greatest pastor of the greatest church.”  We were called not to be shop-keepers or CEOs but pastors—shepherds of God’s flock under our care.  Talk about a cool fresh breeze in the wake of so much hot air promulgated by big shots and big dogs in big churches with big budgets and big staffs who seem to take more cues from Madison Avenue than the Via Dolorossa, from Fortune 500 companies than from the early church, from leadership gurus than from Jesus Christ—the one Peter calls “the Chief Shepherd,” by the way.

So God got me good, all right.  I hope He got a belly-laugh out of it, because on my way home from the retreat, I kind of did.  Here I was anticipating arrogance and ego filling the room, and I’ll be dogged if it was mostly mine.  Here I was kind of dreading the experience only to find blessing in its place.  Here I was thinking, “Maybe I can help these guys,” and I’m the guy who was maybe helped the most.  Go figure.  Don’t you just love God’s sense of humor?

So I went to a pastor retreat … and if they do this again next year, consider me signed up already.

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