I’m typically not a “let’s look back at the past year” kind of guy, but I must admit that 2017 was a big year for me. Last January I was happily working in a church with people that I had known for almost a decade and a half and living in one of the most beautiful cities on earth. And then God said, “Time to shake things up a bit!” So in March, off I went to southwest Missouri to begin a new adventure as the Rector of All Saints Anglican Church. I’ve discovered that being a rector is like being a parent. You really don’t know what you are getting yourself into until it is too late. Nevertheless, it has been a wonderful experience and I have learned a great deal in the past year. So please indulge me for a minute as I get nostalgic and look back at the things I learned in 2017.
Always listen at least twice as much as you talk
Despite what anyone might think, being in charge is not about doing what you want or getting your own way. Quite the opposite, in fact. As a leader, your priority should never be what you want, but rather what is best for those you serve. To figure out what that is, you need to take time to listen. It is important to find out where people are coming from. What are their fears? What are their challenges? What are they excited about?
Since coming to All Saints I have been blessed with some wonderful guides and counselors such as Fr. Doug, Darla, our vestry, and many others. My prayer for the coming year is that the Lord might give me the ears to hear what his people are saying, the heart to understand it, and the hands to put words into action.
Building relationships is more important than building programs
I have had more than one person tell me that they don’t believe in “institutional religion.” And even though I always bristle when I hear that, I will admit that the church does often feel “institutional.” As a Rector it would be very easy to spend all of my time simply managing the programs of the church. Things like picking out Sunday school curriculum, planning Bible studies, organizing youth group events, planning services, and attending Vestry meetings are all important to the life of the parish, but they are not as important as the people who benefit from them. You can have a church without programs, but you can’t have a program without people.
Since coming to All Saints, I have tried to make relational ministry a priority, making sure that I always have time to meet with and talk to parishioners. Anyone who has ever popped in knows that I am always ready to take a break from what I am doing to talk. When people say to me, “I don’t want to take up your time, I know that you are busy,” my standard reply is always, “But this is what I was called to do!” My prayer for the coming year is that as we continue to grow and expand our programs here that I would not neglect to build real, meaningful relationships with the people of All Saints.
Don’t be afraid to share the load
When I first showed up at All Saints in March I was all set to preach every sermon, celebrate at every service, teach every class, and lead every committee. It didn’t take me long to realize that I was running myself ragged. So, I quickly began to share those responsibilities with others, and it has been a blessing not only to me, but I believe to the congregation as a whole. What a gift it is to be able to hear so many different voices all proclaiming a common Gospel message. The work before us can be overwhelming at times. However, I take great comfort in the fact that even if I am not preaching, the sermon is going to be relevant and orthodox. Even if I am not teaching, the class is going to be engaging and informative. Even if I am not celebrating it is going to be done to the glory of God.
Someone once made a comment to me that I’d better be careful because Nathaniel’s sermons kept getting better and better each time he preached. It struck me as odd because I’ve never seen myself in competition with Nathaniel or Father Doug or anyone else at All Saints. Instead, I see us all working together with a common goal of spreading the Gospel in Springfield and beyond. It is a blessing to be able to work with so many talented people. In the coming year my prayer is that the Lord will continue to provide us with gifted men and women to share the load of leadership and responsibility at All Saints.
You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room
I have known far too many people who not only assume that they are the smartest person in any room, but they insist on making sure that everyone else knows it. The problem is, sometimes they are wrong. Unfortunately, they will never admit it. This attitude often leads to arguments and occasionally damaged relationships. Additionally it leads to a stifling of the learning process for both the individual and those around them.
Now I’m not sure what the average IQ is at All Saints, but my guess is that it would be pretty high. This congregation is overflowing with brilliant people, from Bible scholars to doctors, college professors to CEOs and everything in between. I firmly believe that a person’s intelligence is not defined by how much they know, but rather by how willing and able they are to learn new things. One of the things I really enjoy about our Men’s Bible Study is that I am able to learn so much from the other men who attend. My prayer for the coming year is that we would always seek to have a humble spirit to learn from those around us.
You can’t make everyone happy.
Comedian Mitch Hedberg once said, “You can’t make all of the people happy all of the time, and last night all of those people were at my show.” I’ll admit that there are days that I feel like that myself. I am a people pleaser. I like to make others happy. I think a lot of people who go into the ministry are the same way. However, I’ve discovered that there are some people who are never happy, and I can easily spend countless hours trying to please them. The problem is that I am never successful and I wind up ignoring others in the process. In a way, it reminds me of a pot that we have at home. Over the past 20+ years this particular pot has become stained, and I have tried on more than one occasion to scrub that stain off the pot. But the more time I spend scrubbing it, the more the other dishes start to pile up in the sink. So, it is not helpful to me or the other pots to try to do something that can’t be done. All I can do it make sure that it is clean and then move on to the others.
As a Rector I am responsible for the spiritual care of the entire flock. It is one thing to leave the 99 to seek the one lost, but it is another thing to ignore the flock while pursuing a fruitless endeavor. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I plan to ignore unhappy people. I am called to love and care for everyone. But I have learned to be a good steward of my own time and energy, so making people happy cannot be my primary concern. My prayer for the coming year is that the Lord would help me to be a good steward of my own time and energy so that I might effectively minister to the entire congregation.
During my many years as an assistant I was often intimidated by the prospect of being a rector myself some day. I questioned my skills, my knowledge, and my ability. But I am discovering more and more that God does not necessarily call the equipped, but rather he equips the called. Thank you to everyone who continues to help me learn to live into this new role. Thank you for the grace extended to me when I make mistakes. Thank you for the love that you have extended to me and my family. Happy 2018!
The Rev. Eric Zolner
Father Eric is a 3rd generation Anglican and the Rector of All Saints Anglican Church in Springfield, MO.