I think we are all born with an inborn sense of wonder, as we begin to take in our world. We are curious, and we seek to explore. But life has a way of taking away our sense of Wonder.
About four years ago I began serving a pastoral vacancy at my church, New Creation Lutheran Church. I spent a great deal of time wondering what the future held for New Creation. I was also wondering about my future; I was working as an operations manager at OfficeMax and enjoying my job. It was an awesome time; I marveled at how after 25+ years of full-time church work I was now using my gifts in a new way. It was fun to see the opportunities for ministry open up at New Creation, and at OfficeMax.
Life at New Creation was full of wonder and awe at all that God was doing; we had some of the largest confirmation classes we had seen in years; there was excitement about the future. God seems to be always opening and closes the doors of his choosing. We decided to close the preschool, which was not an easy decision for a church trying to reach out to young families. All I while I wondered about the future and what the Lord had in store for New Creation. I started working with our Esperanza is Hope ministry and marveled at all that was being accomplished in the community through that ministry. I saw great potential for ministry to the growing immigrant community in Shakopee and was convinced that we needed at Bi-Lingual Pastor to help us move into our future.
After 18 months of vacancy, the Lord made it clear to me that he wanted me to step up and serve new creation as their Pastor. Which if I were ordained would not have been a big step, but I was a lowly Commissioned Lay Minister, and this step would mean going back to “Pastor School” and trying my hand at Pastoring a congregation. It became apparent to me very early on that I was in over my head. Ministry seemed to be continuing on OK, but there was very little direction.
As I began my studies at Concordia Seminary, I was surrounded by a group of great men in my cohort who were also seeking God’s direction in ways very similar to me. It was a journey filled with wonder, as I watched what God was doing in my life, in their lives, and the life of New Creation. Inspiration was everywhere. I seemed to be filled with wide-eyed wonder at what God was doing in and through me. Life was good. I marveled at the things I was learning, the level of trust I was developing in a God who constantly reminded me that he was doing the leading, and I just needed to come along for the ride.
A time of visioning was born at New Creation, and the congregation came together to create a new mission and vision statement. My amazement and wonder continued to increase. We began to look at what it would mean to be a congregation that lived out our mission statement. Our Esperanza is Hope ministry continued to grow, and it was a joy to watch ministry happen all around me. It was time to move forward, and we did. We launched a stewardship/capital campaign to raise our stewardship and secure funds for loan repayment of a proposed Capital Improvement Loan. Pledges came in; we were excited about the many changes proposed at New Creation and the new opportunities they would present.
The loan process which should have been a few week process turned into months and months of waiting. Finally, word came we were going to receive the loan, and we could make plans for the repairs and new opportunities this would mean for new creation. Within days of that work, we received other news. Someone was interested in purchasing New Creations building, or at least the land it was on. I stood in wonder at the timing and rejoiced that we had not done any projects on the building before considering its sale.
But then something happened, I can’t point to a day or even to an event, but a season. We began to see our church attendance wain but I worked with the Elders, we devised a plan to help draw people back to worship by more contact and communication. Ministry came to a halt in many ways as we considered the options of relocating. This was all coupled with some membership losses, retirements, relocations, etc. and a marked drop in giving.
I soon found myself wondering less and worrying more. In a shift that I didn’t even notice at first, I was less inspired, less excited, and even less in awe of what was happening at New Creation and in my life. I had made a move, the move from Wondering to Worry. It is a shift that brings with it a focus, away from God, and anticipation of the new amazing chapter in this journey, and an inward focus on planning what I needed to do next.
This journey continued, and I spent more and more time on pondering and planning. Pondering has always been my strong suit. I love to Ponder what God is doing in my life and the lives of those around me. I enjoy it so much I started a blog and ministry called “GodPonders” later renamed to “PonderingGod.”
Now, however, the pondering what not about what God was doing, but upon what I was not doing, or what I needed to do next. All my focus was now on me, on my talents and abilities. This proved to be a bad plan. Attendance continued to decline, and we were facing enormous financial concerns.
Every so often I would open my eyes long enough to see God at work, the partnership with a ministry called Link Twin Cities, a new vicar beginning his studies to be our Hispanic Pastor. We would take a group of Congregation leaders to a conference in Phoenix, and they would get so excited, they would begin to wonder what the future held for New Creation and them. But even these would be short-lived. I would find myself lost in worry; I seemed I had even lost my desire to wonder. Pondering God was replace by Pondering finances, pondering attendance, and pondering the weather. Winter and Spring storms came, the boiler quit working, services were canceled when we could hold worship attendance was low for it was too cold or the snow was too deep to venture out.
I had plenty to worry about. The scariest part of the journey from Wonder to Worry is the simple fact that I was oblivious to the shift. This morning a podcast came up on my podcast player “The Carey Niewhof Leadership Podcast” Carey was doing an interview with Kevin Queen leader of a huge megachurch In Nashville about the transition into leadership, following the founding pastor. I tried to change to something else. It was not a topic I could relate to, but technology does not always work when you want it to.
Rather than skip to a different podcast, it simply skipped ahead in the episode, and I heard Kevin Queen talk about the shift he had made from Wonder to Worry. It was not the heart of the message, but it was more of a passing comment in a march larger story. But those words continued to ring in my head. I arrived at my office and just sat in my desk chair for about an hour wondering, pondering about that Wonder to Worry shift Kevin Queen was talking about. Had that happened in my life? Was I trapped in a cycle of worry? Yes, I was.
Words my wife spoke earlier in the day began to make sense to me; she said “you sure are sleeping in more these last few days,” and she was right. My urgency to get at the day, my wonder to see what God was going to do today had been replaced by a burden or worry.
So here I sit at Monkabeans Coffee shop – a place where I often came to PonderGod – and I can not get these words out fast enough. I believe the move is on – the move from Worry to Wonder. I pray it is a light switch type of move, but I will settle for a slow downhill roll toward Wonder and away from worry.
Lord help me wonder more and worry less…
Psalm 77:11-14 ESV
 I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.  I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds.  Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God?  You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples.