Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Learning to Pastor

Learning to pastor a church is like learning to speak Dutch: a practically infinite learning curve, regular feelings of inadequacy that gradually (though never fully) become displaced by a sense of confidence, and an unpredictably meandering path toward "completion" of the process...

And I guess that now I can say that I've "completed" both.

When I first started with Dutch, I just picked up a few phrases here and there. A "Colloquial Dutch" cassette tape/textbook package gave me the basics for pronunciation and such. Over time, as opportunities presented themselves, I just started practicing -- sometimes with a degree of effectiveness, and sometimes with embarrassing and/or laughable results. Slowly, slowly, I gained "fluency" in different aspects of the Dutch language: first it was "restaurant Dutch" -- then "tram Dutch" and "casual-greetings-with-a-stranger Dutch." Eventually, I was able to enroll in Dutch classes and gain more regular exposure to the language (personally, I think the greatest benefit of these classes was simply the opportunity for systematic exposure to a Dutch-speaking environment, more than the formal education process). Along the way, I discovered ways to express more complex thoughts in Dutch and communicate more effectively with Dutch-speakers. I found that my greatest strides in language acquisition came as I was able to build friendships in Dutch and experience both successes and failures within a loving and nurturing environment. So when I finally took the NT2 Staatsexamen 2 (Dutch as a Second Language National Exam Level 2), it was merely a formality when the results came back saying that I could officially speak Dutch. The slip of paper with my passing scores -- although valuable for authenticating my linguistic abilities for strangers -- did not essentially alter the universe... It just officially recognized what had already come to pass on the practical level.

In the same way, learning to pastor started very simply and casually. I learned how to lead small group Bible studies and simply serve within the context of a church community. Over time, I took more responsibility for other tasks and "shepherding" people's lives on the most basic level (organizing teams of volunteers, forming deep friendships incorporating accountability and learning together about God, handling "problem" issues that might come up in a small group setting)... I made lots of mistakes along the way but also learned how to allow God to work through me to produce good spiritual fruit. When other opportunities for leadership fell in my direction, I was able to trust God and see Him work in bigger and more varied ways in my life and in the lives of those around me. And with systematic exposure to pastoring opportunities, I was able to grow in my ability to pastor. Over the last year or two in Amsterdam, God's work in my life (and in the life of my good friend Todd) seemed to gain a wider recognition among the church here. So when it finally seemed right to lay hands on us and formally ordain us as pastors for Zolder50 (this past weekend), the ceremony simply served to officially recognize what had already come to pass on the practical level.

Even so, there is something meaningful about an ordination ceremony (my analogy paralleling this to the NT2 Staatsexamen 2 is a bit imperfect). The laying on of hands is a symbolic act, concretely representing something that happens on the spiritual level -- kind of like a baptism. And more than a formal ceremony, ordination is an impartation of blessing from one generation to the next. Thus, it was especially meaningful to have Daniel Goering (director of Great Commission Europe and founding pastor of the movement's first European congregation in Dortmund, Germany), Joe Dunn (director of Great Commission Europe, off-site pastor of Zolder50, and personal mentor for the last three years), and my father, Dave Asp (who also happened to be a pastor for the better part of two decades, as well as being my life-long mentor) lay hands on us and pray for us at the Zolder50 Soul Gathering this past Friday. It happened in the newly acquired (but still-unfinished) ministry facilities at the Herengracht 88 -- which seemed to be an appropriate setting for the new beginnings represented in the ordination ceremony itself.

No less meaningful was the follow-up recognition at our Sunday afternoon worship gathering in De Poort this past Sunday. All of the home group leaders and members of the board of trustees for the church gathered around me and Todd to pray for us and bless us in our roles as pastors for the church. Again, on the one level it was just a formality -- but on the other level, it was a very special, very meaningful symbol to demonstrate something truly deep and powerful in the life of our young church. And in the lives of two young men given the task of shepherding the flock in Amsterdam.

Todd and I are still very much learning and growing. Pastoring is like Dutch -- not our first language, not our most natural state of being. We've come a long way, and God has taught us lots over the last few years. Following the past weekend, we've got the "official" recognition of the role that we are playing. However, we still make mistakes, and we've still got lots to learn. Thanks to all of you who are praying for us. Please don't stop now.


At 11:59 PM, Blogger Stef said...

so excited for, and proud of, you guys.

i wish i could have been there.

know that my prayers for, and belief in, you both continues.

At 12:04 AM, Blogger e.e. said...

awe-some! I am really excited for you guys!
Wish I could have been there!

At 7:33 AM, Blogger Timothy Goering said...

Just wanted to express how excited and encouraged I am about how you and the entire church have really been doing such a loyal and great job!

At 5:44 PM, Anonymous Mark Groff said...

Well ... it's been a long time coming for you both, and not a moment too soon or too late. Please know that our prayers will continue for you during your first year of 'marraige' to the church there. Great saints, dependant circumstances ... can it get any better than this?


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