“Stay a little longer” my friend Martin invited from Austria over FaceTime last August as I was planning my teaching trip for December. “We’re dedicating the new building the weekend after you finish teaching. So you should stay for that.” And so it was this past Sunday, (12.9.18) sitting in a marvelous new building, I was eking out enough understanding of German to not only celebrate the great new work there, but to recommit to my own work and calling in a fresh way.
I was reminded, both in the dedication sermon and the interactions with guests, that the work of God in a locale is bigger by far than any individual. Lacking this understanding, too many leaders develop Messiah complexes and make the work about them. Others hang on desperately to their titles and positions out of personal fear of letting go. Still others leave too soon out of odd ambitions, fear of conflict, or just plain laziness. All these options are toxic, both to the work and to the individuals clinging to, or fighting for, titles.
I’ve been visiting this Bible school as a teacher since 1995, invited by the principal at that time, named Phil Peters. Years later, Phil left, and Martin Buchsteiner took his place. Then, in August of 2013, the Director of Tauernhof, my good friend Hans Peter, died in a paragliding accident. His death came 25 years after the founding director, Gernot Kunzelmann died in a paragliding accident in 1988. Gernot began Tauernhof 22 years earlier in a facility that began as an orphanage more than five decades before. After Hans Peter’s death, Martin became the Director, and David Hines, a bi-lingual German who was studying at Gordon Seminary in the states, became the new principal of the Bible School.
What a joy to hear a sermon reminding us that the torch of leadership is only carried by any of us as individuals for a season and is then passed to a new generation. Gernot to Hans Peter to Martin. Phil to Martin to David. The torch passes and new generations carry on the work. The power of this was multiplied for me as I was able to share conversations with family members from each of these leaders. Garnot’s wife Gertraud was in attendance, as was Hans Peter’s son, and of course, Martin, Phil, and David (all three Principals of the Bible School during the decades I’ve taught there).
With each leader, there’s been a beautiful carrying of the timeless torch, the message of Christ as life, embodied in both the teaching and the life of the community. But there’s also been unique contributions from each leader, so that the whole is a reflection, like a prism, of the unique colors of Christ brought by each one.
I left the dedication ceremony and skied alone for a couple of hours, weighing what I’d heard, seen, conversed about. So many Decembers in this space, and a few spring, summer, and fall weeks as well. I’ve seen the changes – staffing changes, facility changes, senior leadership changes. But at the top of the climbing wall that sits at the back of the property there’s a banner which reads, “Jesus Christ. The same yesterday, today, and forever.” So leaders come and go, but the essence, the declaration of Christ in a way that moves people toward body/soul/spirit wholeness, goes on – bigger than any single leader. This, of course, is as it should be; must be if the work really belongs to God. I exhale, and rest, finding peace in the reminder that I don’t dare hold on to any role for a day longer than I should out of fear or pride (nor a day shorter out of laziness, or conflict aversion for that matter!) Rather, you and I are called to carry the torch of Christ into various spaces that are the contexts God has given us, and to be all in, all there, for those seasons God gives us, confident that whatever we build that has the mark of Christ will not have been a waste of days.
As I exit the gondola at the top of the ski hill, the valley rains that were my companion when I boarded the lift have turned to snow, the first real snowfall of the year. “Ah yes” I say to myself. “Another season has come, faithfully, finally, to the mountain. Thanks be to God.”
I came off the mountain and settled in front of my computer to listen to a live stream of the church I lead. I was privileged to watch one of our most recently hired pastors preach, and as I listened, I thought to myself, “yes God…your work will be fine for many years to come.” Strangely, in the act of letting go and trusting God with the future, I felt a sense of refreshment in my own work, and vision for the future – because vision can only fill empty hands!
O Lord Christ
Thank you for the timeless nature of your work in the world, bigger than any of us.
Thank you for the privilege of carrying the torch and using our gifts for a season to bless and serve.
Forgive us for any decisions we make about the future that are rooted in greed, or fear, or pride, or laziness.
Teach us to number our days and pour ourselves out fully in them, knowing that joy will be our gift.
Teach us to say goodbye at the right time, neither too early nor too late, but only in response to You.
And we will rest in trusting You with the future of the work, knowing it was Yours all along.
SPECIAL NOTE: I’m happy to be speaking at the International Ski Week from March 10-16 in 2019 and you’re invited. Ski instruction in the morning. Free time in the afternoon for skiing, napping, touring the area, and Bible sessions/worship in the evening. Here’s the link with details and costs, and here’s a link to a few pictures from last year.