The Road Goes Ever On

The Road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
~Tolkien 

Dear Reader, I launched this blog five years ago last month. When I started The Life of Things, Rachel and I had four of our five kids. I was a carpenter by day and student of theology by night.

I needed a place to share my love for the Bible and my love for reading. At the time, I didn’t say things that way. I talked about ‘The Great Books’, Western Civ., and the ‘Western Canon’. I was a carpenter who caught the learning bug, and I wanted to share things with the world.

I finished studying for a theological degree and started blogging about Christianity and Culture. I wanted to see how Christians could benefit themselves and their surrounding culture by reading their Bibles with more knowledge and the great literature of the west with more heart.

I’m thankful I’ve never lacked for good friends willing to talk with me about these things: Ole’ Abe, Adam, Joshua, Nathan J., Chris, Thomas, and Nathan F, and Matt Bulman, who has worked the angles here on this blog.

Following my ordination in 2017, I wanted to write for new reasons. I wanted The Life of Things to feature a conversation, a picture of the many sides of evangelicalism making its way through the sea of discipleship and culture. At the same time, I wanted to write more about my own life. I still plan to continue the project that I and others started at The Life of Things, but I wanted to share another project that I’ve been working on. 

A few months ago (sorry for hiatus), I began working on another blog to be able to write from my perspective as a husband, father, and pastor. Dear reader, would you mind checking out my new site, bdlocklear.com? Take a moment to subscribe, there won’t be any cross posting from this site. To give you a feel for what I aim to do on this new blog, I’ve copied the following from my ‘About’ page below:

I’m an assistant pastor at Grace Bible Church in Winston Salem, NC. I’ve been married for fourteen years and I have five children. My writing here reflects my calling as a husband, father, and pastor.

As with my marriage and parenting, my pastoral work came with a learning curve. I initially understood pastoral work to look something like the life of a monk- hidden away for the labors of reading, writing, and preaching. I wasn’t prepared for the need to become a generalist, a practitioner of the everyday. Greek grammar and old books (as important as they are) need to be coupled with small talk, prayer, and life together with the congregation.

Pastors are more like shepherds than church CEOs. This blog reflects my effort to be an observer- to ask how we’re handling ordinary life and finding ourselves being formed into the people God intends us to be. Many of us complain today that our mental lives are distracted and shapeless. I’m writing here to pause, to observe, and to pay attention to how we’re making our way through the Babylon that is our American culture.

I’m learning that the pastoral calling is often a haphazard and messy process. Eugene Peterson once shared an anecdote about William Faulkner in his memoir, The Pastor:

William Faulkner was once asked how he went about writing a book. His answer: “It’s like building a chicken coop in a high wind. You grab any board or shingle flying by or loose on the ground and nail it down fast.

Like becoming a pastor.

Hope to see you there. The peace of the Lord,

Bobby Locklear

Missing Practices

I led my first small group at my church nearly ten years ago. After assuming the title of Assistant Pastor of Discipleship and Small Groups (helpfully abbreviated APOD&SG), I started reading everything I could on small group ministry. I rarely found what I was looking for.

There was plenty to read and consider: recruiting and training leaders, practicing hospitality, writing discussion material, and easing through small group dynamics. I also learned how to develop our small groups without cannibalizing the church itself.

But the most popular materials never seemed to mention the practices of writing or prayer- practices that became necessary to do my pastoral work at all. I’m sure no one would say these practices were unimportant. They were apparently assumed. I suspected they weren’t mentioned because they weren’t practiced.

If we assume a ministry is attending to prayer without consistent instruction and practice we can create a kind of ecclesiastical Ponzi scheme. No real work is really being done in prayer. Why else don’t we have more to say about how these practices should shape our small group ministries? Pastoral work without prayer and writing is as useful as carpentry without tools.

Limited experience taught me that prayer opens my eyes to the presence and work of God. How else could I learn repentance and petition, confession and blessing? Prayer taught me that God had taken the initiative in every situation I entered. Rather than asking “what do I need to do to get things going,” I began to ask, “what is God doing here that I need to be aware of?”

“I can be a pastor who prays,” wrote Eugene Peterson in The Contemplative Pastor. Peterson was a lone voice in my wilderness:

I want to cultivate my relationship with God. I want all of life to be intimate—sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously—with the God who made, directs, and loves me. And I want to waken others to the nature and centrality of prayer. I want to be a person in this community to whom others can come without hesitation, without wondering if it is appropriate, to get direction in prayer and praying.

The Contemplative Pastor Page 29

In time, writing became a physical expression of my praying. Like prayer (at its best), writing clarifies and reflects meditation. “As I mused, the fire burned.”* Pen and paper now take on new energy as I consider the normal difficulties of ministry. We need more leaders in our church. How can I train the leaders we have? How will I handle this difficult conversation?

Small groups have great potential for helping the church in her task of spiritual formation. We all have a lot of work to do. As for me, I will write and pray.

BL

*Psalm 39:3, ESV

They might have a point

One of my books took more than a year to write, ten hours a day. Another took three weeks. Both sell for the same price. The quicker one outsold the other 20 to 1.

A $200 bottle of wine costs almost exactly as much to make as a $35 bottle of wine.

The cost of something is largely irrelevant, people are paying attention to its value.

Your customers don’t care what it took for you to make something. They care about what it does for them.

~Seth Godin, Cost and Value

Pastoral work familiarized me with the feeling of doing work others found less than helpful. You have to get used to unattended meetings and sleeping congregants. At times I would question the spiritual maturity of the flock. If they only knew, they would hear my sermons and read my writing with rapt attention. They would remove their sandals and bathe in my glory.

Writers like Godin help me reconsider. I might actually be boring. Am I creating value? Am I speaking and writing in a way that helps my congregation see things they’ve always wanted to see? Am I causing the Bible to seem boring and useless for everyday life?

I’m aware that it is God who gives growth (1 Cor. 3:6). The gardener can plant and water, but photosynthesis needs to do its thing. Pastoral work, as with most of life, often involves planting seeds and praying for their success.

Unfortunately, many pastors use this truth as an excuse for shoddy work. We leave our seed in the bag and commend its growth to God. Rather, the Apostle Paul would say things like “I worked harder than any of them” (1 Cor. 15:10).

I can safely assume that I could have done something better. I can always speak with more vitality and clarity. I’ve never prayed too long over a sermon.

The trick is to work hard on the right things in the right way. Your congregants don’t care what it took for you to make something. They care about what it does for them.

So, why church?

“The short answer that I had come to embrace through the years of my pastoral formation….is that the Holy Spirit forms church to be a colony of heaven in the country of death….Church is a core element in the strategy of the Holy Spirit for providing human witness and physical presence to the Jesus-inaugurated kingdom of God in this world. It is not that kingdom complete, but it is that kingdom.

It has taken me a long time, with considerable help from wise Christians, both dead and alive, to come to this understanding of the church: a colony of heaven in the country of death, a strategy of the Holy Spirit for giving witness to the already-inaugurated kingdom of God.”

~ Eugene Peterson, The Pastor (110)