When Will God Save the People?

I need to confess: sometimes student ministry and pastoral church work in general kicks my rear end. I wrote last January 2013 about a significant time when I hit the 18-month wall in ministry, a make-or-break time for many student pastors in the field. You can read that post here. And now, I feel like I am going through another transitional season in ministry. 

Every year or so, given the rhythm of ministry and programs, along with natural breaks in seasons, I hit these walls when I rightly re-evaluate and re-think my current call to ministry. I believe that these times of reflection need to happen for long-term continuation in ministry, as well as for spiritual and ministerial growth. And most of the time, I negotiate these walls with confidence and vision. 

But I must confess that the last few weeks have hit me harder than usual this time. Our program and church have witnessed an influx of people coming and going from our community. This has been particularly painful for me, as it has been the first time I have witnessed a larger than usual amount of people leave my program and wider church body. 

As a pastor, I cannot help but to question why and feel a burden for the people who have left. In fact, my heart breaks so much over the few students who have decided to move on from our programs that many times I cannot help myself from dwelling on the few who've left rather than the many who've chosen to plug in and thrive in our community. Moreover, since I am a 7 on the Enneagram and an ENFP on the Myers-Briggs, this tension throws me even more into a tailspin than what this season of ministry really deserves. 

Also, during times like this, all growth and momentum come to a screeching halt, which for an achiever like myself, just kills my soul, creativity, and inspiration. 

All in all, my heart is grieving right now. I feel burdened for my people - both here and gone. 

Yesterday morning, I shared this with my wife. She listened and let me commiserate for a time before telling me a truthful statement. She said, "Ryan, perhaps you need to take this to the Lord, instead of me, and let God break your heart for the larger picture of what God wants to do in the church." I love my wife... so wise and straightforward!

I understood and took her advice. I drove away to work, praying a simple prayer: "God, break my heart for your church and the people still here."

Then, without skipping a beat, a song played on my iPod called "When Will God Save the People?", an ancient hymn set to new music by a killer New Jersey band called the New Ancients. The lyrics penetrated deep into my heart and spoke to God on behalf of me as a prayer. Take a look at the lyrics below and read them as your prayer for your people:

When wilt thou save the people,
Oh, God of Mercy, when?
The people, Lord, the people,
Not thrones and crowns but men!
Flowers of thy heart, O God, they are.
Let them not pass, like weeds, away.
Their heritage a sunless day,
God save the people!

Shall crime bring crime forever,
Strength aiding still the strong?
Is it thy will, O Father, 
That men shall toil for wrong?
'NO!' say thy mountains,
'NO!' say thy skies.
Man's clouded sun shall brightly rise,
And songs be heard instead of sighs.
God save the people!

When wilt thou save the people,
Oh, God of Mercy, when?
The people, Lord, the people,
Not thrones and crowns but men!
God save the people, for thine they are,
Thy children, as thy angels, fair,
Oh, save the people from despair!

When wilt thou save the people,
Oh, God of Mercy, when?
The people, Lord, the people,
Not thrones and crowns but men!
God save the people, for thine they are,
Thy children, as thy angels, fair,
Oh, save the people from despair,
God save the people! 

You may also listen to the song here:

As I listened to the song, I literally broke into tears for the people of our church - both for those who have left and especially for those who still remain. My heart softened from the hardness that I've been feeling over the last several weeks toward their decision to leave and the void I feel in our community. I miss those students and families who have decided to go elsewhere, but I cannot let their decision dictate my identity, call to ministry, and the good work and vision of God for us. I realized that I had assumed the burden and responsibility for their actions in an inappropriate way, as well as in a way over which I have no control.

Many other wonderful students and family still remain who deeply desire to participate in community and grow in faith. They need a fully present and devoted pastor who thinks about and cares for them, not just those who left. And if I am real honest, I need swallow my own pride and sadness from the sting of the recent weeks and let those who left fully disconnect from us and into another community that best fits them. Though our community must learn a new way of life without them present with us, I must also remember that God provides - God will provide for us in our sorrow, God will provide for us in the gaps that their absence creates, and God will provide for us new folks who desire to dig in, contribute, and fight for our community. 

I love the line from the song: "Flower of thy heart, oh God, they are." As much as I feel the pain of loss during transitions like these, when I stop and think about this line, my perspective shifts from disgruntled anger to gratitude. Let us remember this truthful lyric about our people when we face the disappointing and challenging seasons of transition and departure. 

When will God save the people? Now, is the time! 

QUESTION: How do you work through periods of disappointment, transition, and departure?