If you’ve been a reader around here for a while, you’ve seen my dad show up once in a while. I hit the jackpot when it comes to having a built in mentor, coach, cheerleader and colleague woven into a relationship with my own dad. Another post is coming this month as I further reflect on what it’s meant to serve alongside Dave Beckett as a United Methodist pastor for the past 20+ years.
Yup. That’s my family!
But, now it’s his turn! I asked him recently if he’d be willing to share some highlights of what he’s learned through serving six churches and as conference superintendent in Alaska. Here you go!
Learning #1: Smile. That’s it. It’s so simple and easy. But when I smile and I know that I am smiling I feel God’s love in my heart. And this feeling often helps me be a gracious person with other people. If you ask me what I want to do in retirement, part of the answer is, “I want to continue to smile my way through life.”
Learning #2: Grace is better than judgment. Claiming grace for ourselves and for others is harder than judging. Why is it that judging is easier than extending grace? I have discovered that most judging we do begins in our minds. Do you engage in a process to renew your mind? Are you aware of some of the thinking errors happening in your brain? Romans 12:2 says, “Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature.”
Learning #3: Children should not be the absolute center of our lives. This is not to say that children don’t deserve attention. They need loving attention from parents, teachers, and churches. Early in my first church in Alaska I flew to a remote Athabascan village on the Yukon River. It was Thanksgiving and the entire village had gathered in the school for a feast. After a prayer it was the elders who went through the line first. I returned home to my congregation and at our potluck meal it was the children who were allowed to go first. These simple acts from two different cultures were teaching people about what each community values. Personally, I believe that respect for our elders is a very important value that children need to learn. When I see children always being first I wonder if they are catching this important value.
Dad preaching at St. John United Methodist Church in Anchorage, Alaska while serving as Conference Superintendent.
Learning #4: It is worth every ounce of time and energy to discover your true self, the person God wants you to become. We humans expend energy propping up our false or small selves. We pretend to be someone we are not. We pose in front of others to make them believe that what they see is our real self. But it’s not. God dearly loves your true self, your inner self, your real self with all your warts. Let go of the false images. Let go of the secrets. Let God love you just as you are with all of your warts and failures and sins.
Learning #5: Never stop learning and growing. I love a definition of maturity I heard years ago. Maturity is realizing that the most important lessons in life are the ones we thought we already knew. In this country we live in a culture obsessed with linear thinking. We are always moving forward…from point A to point B. We tend to believe that what we learn at point B is part of our knowledge base and so we never have to return to point B. When I was a young science teacher in my first teaching position it was more important to me that I appear to know what I was talking about than actually knowing what I was teaching!
Learning #6: Learning how to talk with people who are different is worth it. Loving and respecting others means we need to step out of our bubbles of security. Sure it’s easier to be with people who look like us, talk like us, with the same cultural experiences as us. Didn’t Jesus go out of his way to engage with people who were at the bottom of the social strata? I confess that it is not easy for me to relate with people who are different than me. I don’t see my skin color, but people of color do see it and the privilege that goes with it. Remember the bike metaphor? Being non-white in this country is like riding a bike against the wind. You notice the wind when it is in your face. You have to pedal harder to keep going, while being white is like riding with the wind. You don’t notice that life is easier with the wind at your back. I am only now beginning to notice my tailwind. And I yearn for a world where everyone no matter our differences will be an equal chance at life and love. This is what justice means. I have so much to learn.
Hanging out in his church office in Soldotna, Alaska. Note the old school computer and more importantly, all our art work on the wall. I learned early on that kids mattered to God.
Learning #7. The generation gap is real. One of the reasons one generation does not understand another generation is the pace of change in the world. If you were born in the 1930’s raising children in the 50’s you likely lamented the behavior of young people. Remember Elvis and his gyrating hips? The top three problems reported by teachers in the 40’s was chewing gum, talking out of turn, and running in the halls. Compare this to today’s problems of school shootings, rampant drug use, smart phone attachment, and teen suicide. The change from one generation to another has not been slow or gradual. The changes in the past 25 years have been supersonic! So it is no wonder that older generations cannot comprehend the lives of their grandchildren. They have grown up in two different worlds!
Learning #8. Purpose is more important than preference. Did you know that only 10% of churches are growing and vital? 90% of churches are stuck…stuck in the past…stuck in ruts of too much institutional structures. The commonality is this idea of purpose vs. preference. Churches in the 90% category cater too much to the preferences of its members rather than the church’s mission. Ten percent churches understand that their purpose to make disciples of Jesus is more important than the preferences of the members of the church.
We loved cheering on the St. John softball team. Dad would lead them in joys and concerns after each game. I learned that our faith could be named in unlikely places.
Learning #9 is about how churches grow or don’t grow. And it has to do with attitude more than anything else. Congregations will experience many obstacles in their growth as long as they hold on to the notion that they need to know everyone. When a congregation lets go of this notion it actually helps to create an environment where new people can be accommodated. In this system pastors will spend more time developing leaders than direct ministry with all the people. If the congregation accepts this reality they are actually strengthening a system that will be able to grow.
The first time I got to welcome Dad to preach at the church I get to serve. What fun to honor him as he led us that day.
Thank you to my dad and to every single pastor who is retiring this year. You’ll be celebrated and thanked. We’ll clap and pray. Then you’ll walk out of your office for the last time and drive away.
Your call is shifting. I can only imagine how it will feel. We celebrate the moments you feel light and free as you set down this work. We stand with you in the moments it feels lonely or isolating. We get curious with you to see what Spirit unfolds next in your life.
Know there are thousands of us continuing the work you love. We get to build upon what you picked up from the generation before you. One day, we’ll set it down and you’ll teach us then what you’re about to learn now.
Thanks in advance. Well done, good and faithful servants.