This is one of the most difficult questions that I face as both a parent and a pastor: How do I ensure that I am living what I say that I value? My life is flooded with countless decisions that need to be made on a daily basis. Some of these decisions have a direct impact on what I say my values are, while others are only indirectly related to my value system. The tension that I experience is with regards to consistency or balance in living from this value system. No, this post isn't going to turn into a broad spectrum confessional time, but I will share some thoughts about how this is beginning to reshape my thoughts around what it means to value something.
As a parent and a pastor, my hope and desire is that my own kids and those whom I lead become critical thinkers as they grow into adulthood. More specifically, I desire to see them develop great character...Christ-like character, that will allow them to become who they were created to be. Now the development of character isn't something that I can foster by words alone. I can't say to my kids that we value honesty and then struggle with telling the truth. But what I can do is create an environment where this character formation can either be enhanced or hindered. In my opinion, character development and spiritual formation are linked; they are two sides of the same coin. Where the development of Christ-like character occurs, spiritual formation is taking place, and this formation is stimulated by a combination of the environment in which kids are exposed to values and their willingness to be led by the Spirit of God in their process of decision making.
This may sound all fine and dandy, but here is how this idea is reshaping how I think about and approach living out my values.
1. How do I measure success? As a pastor I've been drawn to measure what is the most easily quantifiable...numbers. If the experiences that I offer are well attended, then that must mean that I am a success, right? Well the truth is that this isn't entirely true. While numerics do tell a portion of an unfolding story, they do not represent or define success entirely. Am I successful when I only see an increasing number of folks engaged in experiences or environments that I've created? Or am I successful when I allow this same Spirit of God that I hope and pray is developing character in those that I'm connected with is also leading me in the same way? Does my definition of success become more about living obediently as defined by the values that I embrace than the numerical proficiency of my ability as a father or a pastor?
2. It's all about relationship. Character development and spiritual formation are linked because of their relational intent. What I mean by suggesting this is that humans are relational beings...we exist for the purpose of connection. The relationships we form help to shape us (spiritual or otherwise), and it's through this formation process that our character is developed. As a father, I am only part of the formation process of my own kids. There are many other voices that are involved in the character development process. I cannot believe the lie that suggests that I am the only influence in the life of my child. I may in fact play a very important role, but it's not the only one. The same could be said of my role as a pastor. I may play a very important role in the life of those that I have the honor of journeying with, but I am not the sole influence and it should never be my goal to be. I must be confident enough in my ability as a parent and a pastor to allow others to be a part of the character development and spiritual formation process for those under my sphere of care. What this means is that I must radically rethink how I personally define myself as successful as either a parent or a pastor. Success is no longer a static, linear process but something that is much more collaborative and mobile in nature. I can no longer believe that the environments that I create are the only (and in some cases the most important) ones that those whom I care about should be connected to. I have to recognize that relationships cannot be and are not defined in linear terms.
3. It's not really about me. This is the most difficult realization for me as both a parent and a pastor. Yes, I do carry great influence in these roles that I serve in, but these positions of influence that provide me with a platform from which to influence are not only about me. The self-seeking, self-effacing tension that plagues every individual who desires to be great at what they do has to take a back seat to the formative process of being who we are. I know, I know...it's sounds like I'm getting all philosophical here, but what I'm trying to embrace in this time of reorientation of my thinking and my practice is that what I do is linked to who I am...the values that I say I believe must influence every part of the life that I live. So while the process of character development of others doesn't really define me as successful, it is my own personal willingness to be formed myself that influences my ability to succeed.
Maybe it's time for us to be truly honest by what we value. We can't say we value spiritual formation and then elevate our preferred form of this process ahead of the process itself. Doing so speaks of a different value...compliance instead of formation. Maybe we need to just be honest about what we value. Honesty might just lead to less confusion, greater clarity and a greater opportunity to be developed and to develop the values we are hoping for.